Walking down the Rainbow Trail with her 11-month-old daughter Taylor on her back, Jennifer Whishant follows her son Jake. He loves fish, so she brought him to Taylor Creek to watch the Kokanee salmon spawn.
"The more times we come, the more he'll get out of it," said Whishant, a South Lake Tahoe resident.
Every year, the Kokanee salmon make their way back to the streams where they were born. The salmon mate, produce and deposit their eggs, a process called spawning, and then die. To celebrate this cycle of life, the Kokanee Salmon Festival will be taking place this weekend at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. This will be the festival's 18th year.
The festival will be hosting activities that include a play about the life cycle of the Kokanee salmon, a barbecue, creekside learning stations and trail runs for all ages.
Some places have elephant seals, or butterfly migration, but people can come see the Kokanee close to home at Taylor Creek, said Michael St. Michel, Taylor Creek Visitor Center director.
"It's very unusual to get this close to observe the spawning," St. Michel said.
Just a couple of feet from the Rainbow Trail, at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, people can view the spawning. The males are 14-15 inches long while the females are a few inches shorter, St. Michel said.
Sometimes after the eggs are laid, mallard ducks will fly in and paddle the eggs up with their feet so they can eat them. Other birds, such as the mergansers, fly in and eat the salmon. These are just other cycles of life, St. Michel said.
After hatching, the salmon swim out to Lake Tahoe. The Kokanee salmon are silver and blue when they are in the lake.
After their life in the lake, which can last up to four years, they swim back to the streams where they were born to spawn. As they enter the stream, the salmon begin to use all the fat stored in their bodies for energy. As this process occurs, they turn red and green as they complete their spawning process, using all available muscle and fat they have left.
Walking by the stream profile chamber, which provides an underwater view of the salmon, St. Michel quizzes visiting students on which Kokanee salmon are male and female.
All the kids point to the red and green fish with the humped back and the hooked jaw to identify the male. Females don't develop those characteristics, St. Michel said. They just turn red and green.
The festival is great for families because of the interactive activities provided, which teach children about the Kokanee salmon's life cycle, said St. Michel.
With the knowledge everyone gains from the festival, people will have a better understanding and respect for the environment, he said. Then residents will be more likely to take action when it comes to protecting the area.
Whishant said she likes bringing her children out to places like Taylor Creek because she thinks it's important for them to learn about the ecosystems they live in.
• Kokanee Salmon Festival
Tahoe Creek Visitor Center
10 a.m.-4 p.m. today and Sunday
• "The Drama of the Kokanee Salmon: An Interactive Play"
Lake of the Sky Amphitheater
2 p.m., today and Sunday. Free.
• Barbecue Salmon Plate
(fish brought in from outside source) Tahoe Creek Visitor Center
11 a.m.-4 p.m., today and Sunday
• Creekside Interpretive Programs
Rainbow Trail 10 a.m.-4 p.m., today and Sunday. Free.
• 1/2K Tadpole Trot
Taylor Creek Snopark parking lot
9:15 a.m. Sunday
• Kokanee Trail Runs 5K and 10K
Taylor Creek Snopark parking lot
10 a.m. Sunday
Race day registration begins at 8 a.m. Early registration can be done from noon-4 p.m. today at the Camp Richardson Oktoberfest.
call (530)542-3424 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.