Proposed salmon center would be one of a kind

Christopher Dunagan
Bremerton Sun Staff

February 2, 2003

Visitors, students and researchers literally could see eye-to-eye with spawning salmon in a world-class, $18 million "salmon center" proposed in Belfair.
If fund raising is successful, the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center would be constructed near Belfair's Theler Community Center. Trails would connect out through the Hood Canal Wetlands nature preserve at the edge of Lunch Cove.

Focused on salmon, the new center would combine tourist attractions, scientific research and educational programs in a 40,000-square-foot complex. That's bigger than the main floor of Kitsap Pavilion.

The project, unveiled Thursday night, represents the 10-year "vision, dreams and passions" of a lot of people, said Al Adams, president of the nonprofit corporation formed to develop the center.

Adams hopes to receive funding the next two years from private foundations, corporations and government agencies.

A completed conceptual design, funded by an anonymous donation of $50,000, calls for an exhibit hall, museum, small theater and computer lab on the main floor, with research facilities for students and professionals on a lower level. Offices, a conference room and a small library would be on the top floor.

The main entry and lobby are dominated by a two-story solarium that looks down upon an artificial stream of rushing water filled with adult salmon.

Visitors could descend to a viewing level, where aquarium windows look into the stream and beneath the gravel to reveal the natural behavior of salmon, including spawning in the fall.

The 220-foot-long artificial stream would be self-contained, using recirculating water fed by a well. That allows for experiments without the risk of introducing disease or other problems to a natural stream.

Nearby Sweetwater Creek, which has been channelized through the years, would be restored to its original streambed south of the salmon center.

Options have been acquired on properties needed to contain the center and Sweetwater Creek within the 25-acre site.

Bruce Dee & Associates is the principal designer. The Miller Hull Partnership worked on the building concepts.

"The concept is a journey -- a journey through the building and a journey along trails through the wild salmon ecosystem," the designers say in promotional materials.

Mike Kuttel of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offered ideas for education and research throughout the planning process.

"It's amazing how this has come together," Kuttel said. "The vision is to pull together salmon recovery for the whole Pacific Northwest."

Hood Canal contains six species of salmonids, two of which are considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The salmon center could draw together information about salmon recovery from not only Hood Canal but all of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia and even Alaska, Kuttel said. Computers could help analyze what conditions help salmon and what conditions harm them.

"Salmon managers are always asking questions about whether the money is being spent wisely," Kuttel noted. "To me, that's one of the biggest elements missing in salmon recovery."

Knowing that the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center must raise $18 million, some people might see this whole thing as an impossible dream. But that would ignore the people behind it, Kuttel said.

The core group for the salmon center includes the Mary E. Theler Organization, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, North Mason School District and Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Working together, the Theler Organization and the school district have transformed what was thought to be a worthless marshland into a nationally known nature center that draws about 300,000 visits a year.

During the past five years, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group has managed $6.9 million in salmon-restoration projects throughout Hood Canal, with another $5 million slated for this year.

Neil Werner, director of the salmon enhancement group who has put extensive time into the salmon center concept, predicts it will draw at least 500,000 visitors a year.

"There are other salmon centers," Werner said, "but they don't do what this one will do."

Reach Christopher Dunagan at (360) 792-9207 or at


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