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Trip Report    

Puyallup Loop Trail-Home of the Great Blue Heron

Just as spring buds emerge on the cottonwoods, we caught what appeared to be a heron rookery high in trees on the Puyallup Loop Trail with at least thirty-one nests.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Clark's Creek is a rich riparian habitat to an abundance of wildlife including salmon and trout species. As a kid I remember walking through the backside of the fish hatchery observing fish in tanks that are a temporary homes before continuing their life cycle into the waters of Commencement Bay to Puget Sound and out to the Pacific.

    The Maplewood Springs which feeds into Clark's Creek has its own rich history in people history too. The Puyallup indigenous people known as the "generous people" thrived here. My non native great-grandparents were Pioneers here and had a farm just above the area where the Old Line trolly ran between Tacoma, Fruitland and down through the springs to Puyallup. Having no cars, the trolly was the only means of transportation that connected work and family life between Tacoma and Puyallup except by foot. Our farm consisted of the farm and then the back 15 acres made of old growth trees where I played and magically grew up.

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    In recent years the history of the spring and hatchery that connected the two worlds of wild to urban Puyallup was saved by several groups who began advocating for the structure at the hatchery location that has been on the land since the 1940's. It now houses school groups with an education center, provides tours by appointment, and is currently being renovated to include more salmon in the hatchery. Each year the release of thousands of small fish are enjoyed by local kids in a grand celebration.


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Trip Report: On this mid-spring day our group set out on the Puyallup Loop Trail in downtown Puyallup. We had just started out as I mentioned a small pond below that often had herons in it as we passed. Almost immediately one flew across the horizon on cue.

We adjusted our clothing on a wide part of the path and talked about the alternate trail just ahead that lead down to the back side to the hatchery and its history. 

A hiker luckily had brought a pair of binoculars and took a look around as we gathered our packs. Something caught her eye as she spotted wings in the distance of what she said was, "...about five nests high in the trees". At first thought she said perhaps eagles but upon a closer look, she saw and out reported herons.

Making note of the area and distance away I wondered if I could gain a better look from the fish hatchery side which was directly across from the tall stand of trees that housed the nests. I decided to return on a later date.

We continued our hike with a lovely day filled with trilliums, a unknown flower I used my phone id that identified it as Annual history and many lovely red currents in bloom on the other side of the trail heading down.

Four Days Later: Gathering up my dog and husband this time, I returned to the fish hatchery and sure enough spotted the grove of cottonwoods with no less than thirty-one heron nests. We were amazed at how many lived in the trees obviously perfectly placed in this rich and diverse habitat.

SE4_8984.jpgA Century or More: Living in Puyallup my entire life. I never imaged I would see such a rich and diverse display of wildlife in our urban backyard from salmon and trout to heron. I've always thought of the downtown area as urban and covered in concrete unlike my childhood days growing up in the trees of South Puyallup. 

Puyallup Tribe: The Puyallup Tribe Fish Hatchery housed nearby also contributes to the salmon population as well. A recent project was to build log jams in Wilkeson that help strengthen the grounds and waters where salmon eggs naturally are.

In addition to chinook salmon, the tribe is also planning to raise steelhead at the facility. The Puyallup Tribe is already participating in another steelhead broodstock program with the Muckleshoot Tribe on a nearby Puyallup River tributary.

It Takes Everyone: Steelhead counts throughout the Puyallup River watershed have been dropping at an alarming rate for more than 10 years. If anything is an obvious success to gaining ground for fish habitat it is the observable heron and rookery that has taking up residency in the trees above. The largest I've see in my life might very well be living in my own backyard; testimony to the resilience of a species with some help when humankind offers to improve its natural habitat.