The 80’s

The Adopt A Stream Foundation (AASF) was established as a private non profit 501(C)(3) corporation in  August 1985.  AASF’s mission is “to teach people how to become stewards of their watersheds.”  

It evolved from an “Adopt A Stream Program” established in 1980 by Tom Murdoch while he was working for Snohomish County’s Planning Department.  “At that time,” Murdoch says, “we were trying to get people interested in taking care of local creeks and stimulate their interest in managing land-use in the surrounding watershed…the surrounding land that drained into their creek.”  After scrounging up some support dollars, Murdoch set up a small “Adopt A Stream Grant Program” to be used as a “carrot” to attract schools and community groups.”

Things took off from there.  Stanwood HS agriculture students stopped pollution going into Church Creek, Bothell HS students created salmon costumes that they used to to teach elementary school kids about the life cycle of salmon, and Scouting groups restored stream banks.  Several community groups “got their feet wet” restoring stream banks and putting up stream identification signs. Their efforts  caught the attention of the media.  Newspaper and TV accounts led to interest in “adopting a stream” from around the country. 

In 1985, a group of community leaders joined in the effort to turn the Adopt A Stream Program into a private non-profit that would not have any geographic boundaries.  In the fall of that year, the newly constituted Adopt A Stream Foundation staffed by a great team of volunteers hosted an “Adopt A Stream Conference” that attracted people from the NW States including Alaska and a few visitors from Japan…everyone attending was an environmental educator or involved in stream restoration.

In 1986, AASF hosted another Adopt A Stream Conference where more than 300 environmental educators and “stream people” gathered to exchange information with “experts” from around the county…this was a very high energy affair with some levity provided by Bill Nye, “the Science Guy.”

During the next couple of years, AASF continued to provide small grants and technical assistance to schools and community groups who wanted to adopt streams.  “Sister School” exchanges were set up between Washington State, Canada, and Japan.

AASF also secured funding to publish a book on the process.  In 1988, Adopting A Stream: A NW Handbook was published.  In 1990 a companion book was published – Adopting A Wetland: A NW Guide.  These two books earned AASF the American Fisheries Society Haig-Brown Memorial Award for environmental education publications in 1990.

The 90’S

In 1990, Japan’s Come Back Salmon Society invited AASF to bring students involved in Adopt A Stream projects to a Children in the Environment conference with students from Canada, Russia, England and Japan who were also protecting and enhancing streams.  More than 5000 people gathered together  to plant salmon in the Tamagawa River in Tokyo, and, thanks to Japanese Television stations and newspapers, the conference speakers (elementary, middle, and high school students) were able to share their messages with millions.

That year also marked a major transition point.  AASF received funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology to develop standardized watershed inventory and stream monitoring procedures for volunteers, and to conduct a series of training programs state-wide.  For the first time AASF shifted some its workload from volunteers onto paid staff who spent the next two years on the road conducting what evolved into Streamkeeper Field Training conferences.

Parking lot behind WSU Extension Building prior to excavation. July, 1994.

 Snohomish County Parks and Recreation (Parks) and AASF established a partnership in 1992.  Parks offered AASF a long term lease on 20-acres of Mc Collum Park to develop a regional environmental learning facility.  The result of that partnership is the Northwest Stream Center.

Through the mid 1990’s, the US Fish and Wildlife Service sponsored AASF to continue that effort for audiences in Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, California and Nevada. The Nevada/Tahoe Resource Conservation District contracted AASF to conduct Streamkeeper Field Training for California and Nevada.  And the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans had AASF conduct training in British Columbia.

Not only did AASF trains thousands of Streamkeepers during this time-frame, but it used that time to draft and field test the Streamkeeper’s Field Guide: Watershed Inventory and Stream Monitoring Methods.  First published in 1996, that book is considered by many in the country to be the best publication available on that topic today.  It was written in active voice, contains great science and illustrated by a team amazing editorial cartoonist…its a fun read and you will enjoy the reviews.  In 1996, AASF also produced the Streamkeeper video starring Bill Nye the Science Guy.  

The mid-90’s began another AASF adventure. We expanded our efforts beyond environmental education into the stream and wetland restoration arena.  A series of WA Department of Natural Resources Jobs for the Environment grants enabled AASF to hire a few additional staff to restore streams and wetlands that had been degraded by human activity.  After removing several barriers to fish migration and installing log fish habitat structures in streams, AASF jumped into a major project: restoration of three-acres of wetlands from a parking lot on the grounds of the NW Stream Center.  We also restored 5-acres of wetlands from a golf course at what is now the Trafton Trailhead to the While Horse Trail along the Stillaguamish River.

The EPA contracted AASF to initiate two watershed management plans.  In partnership with the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council,  AASF stimulated farmers to allow volunteers to monitor water quality on Couse Creek near Milton-Freewater, OR; and the farmers agreed to take steps necessary to restore salmon to that creek including fencing livestock out of the waterway.  On an international front, AASF linked the Langley  Environmental Partners Society (Langley, WA) and the Bertrand Creek Enhancement Committee (Aldergrove, BC) to establish a watershed management plan designed to restore salmon to that creek that flows from its urban headwaters in British Columbia through the lower reaches that are primarily in agricultural use.

At the end of the decade, after several years of being vagabonds in donated office space, AASF found a more permanent home.  We moved into the Visitors Building of the Northwest Stream Center.  And began hosting Streamkeeper Academy classes and events designed “to teach people how to become stewards of their watershed.”

The 2000’s 

Snohomish County Parks and Recreation and AASF teamed up to establish the North Creek Greenway.  We secured grant funds from the County’s Conservation Futures Fund and the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, then AASF “knocked on doors” of property owners of land riparian to North Creek…the stream that flows next to the NW Stream Center.  Landowners were offered cash in exchange for keeping riparian lands in natural condition in perpetuity.  Several properties next to the NW Stream Center are now in “conservation easement status” and not be developed in the future.  King County Parks and Natural Resources stepped into the partnership and provided AASF with a small fund that enables AASF to inspect  each easement property on an annual basis.

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Washington State Department of Ecology (WDOE) contracted with AASF to survey eight local watersheds to identify man-made barriers to salmon migration.  The Bad News: we discovered 350 barriers caused by undersized pipes under roads, culvert outlets perched above streams, and culverts that were installed with a steep slope – half were owned by public agencies.  The Good News: the public agencies agreed to place each barrier they owned on their capital improvement plan for repairs…and AASF secured additional grant funds from from WDOE to establish partnerships with private landowners to eliminate fish passage barriers on private lands.

During the first 15 years of this century several public and private partners joined in the AASF’s stream restoration efforts.   North, Swamp, Little Bear, Quilceda, Mac Aleer, Lyon, Thornton, Maxwellton, Pilchuck, Sorgenfrei, Woods, and Winters Creeks and the Sultan River have benefitted from our efforts.  Bridges were installed to replace culverts, fish ladders constructed, new log and stump fish habitat created, streambanks stablilized, and many stream side lawns replaced with native plant landscapes.  We even removed a dam on Whidbey Island , created 531’ feet of new stream channel, and completely restored a salmon spawning channel that had been under a road for several decades – you can check out the salmon response to that project on King TV!

We built on the Streamkeeper Academy success of the last decade.  Now 25 adjunct professors  from natural resource agencies, zoos and aquariums, colleges and universities teach classes along with AASF’s in-house staff.  Thanks to the great programs, audiences have gotten larger.  Now, we are averaging 3000 students a year who learn about the habits and habitat requirements of fish and wildlife in the Pacific Northwest and how to become stewards of their watersheds.  We are pleased to report that several thousand Junior Streamkeepers from local elementary and middle schools now can explain to you the definitions of following terms: watershed, riparian zone, and benthic macroinvertebrate.  They picked up a lot of what they know from the Adopt A Stream Foundation’s Sammy the Salmon!  

Our Nature Store now distributes environmental education material around the US and to a few countries overseas.  The Streamkeepers Field Guide, now in its fourth printing is the most popular publication.  And the Streamkeeper video starring Bill Nye the Science Guy is still in demand on DVD.

Photo by Ian Terry

2014 was a banner year and marks the Adopt A Stream Foundation’s 29th year of “teaching people how to become stewards of their watersheds.”  Stream restoration projects continued in the Snohomish and Sammamish River tributaries and more than 3000 attended Streamkeeper Academy events.  Cutthroat trout are flourishing in the Trout Stream Exhibit and construction of the Elevated Nature Trail began!

2015 opened by planting thousands of trees and shrubs next to salmon streams in the Snohomish and Sammamish River basins with the help of several hundred volunteers. At the end of June the last of over 50,000 screws were installed in over 5000 deck boards of the Elevated Nature Trail and in July, the County Inspector said it was the best boardwalk that he had ever seen! By December, Streamkeeper Academy events had attracted over 3000 students and the Adopt A Stream Foundation reached another milestone – 30 years of “teaching people how to become stewards of their watersheds”…and gearing up for the next 30!  The Northwest Stream Center is projected to open to the public during the summer of 2016.

In 2016, unique Interpretive signs were produced and installed along the route that will teach you about Northwest ecology. Mutual Material donated 1200 square feet of “Eco Priora” paver bricks  and CalPortland Aggregates donated “sub-drain” gravel delivered by Evergreen Topsoil, Sand and Gravel.  Volunteers began installation of the  “porous pavement” portion of the Entry Trail and the porous walkway was extended past the Trout Exhibit Viewing Windows.  This was the last piece of the puzzle before 

The Northwest Stream Center opened to the public for special events in the spring of 2017. Sammy the Salmon hosted six Junior Streamkeeper classes for elementary school audiences; and our in-house Stream Team conducted six riparian restoration-training events next to local streams along with two Streamkeeper Field Training events.  Also, 20 volunteers completed a Docent Naturalist Training Program and are now turning visitor’s strolls on the Elevated Nature Trail into wonderful outdoor learning experiences. After several years of discussions, we are very pleased to announce that, during December, that a  family partnership donated 12.78 acres of forested wetland to the Adopt A Stream Foundation.  This property borders the eastern edge of the Northwest Stream Center. 

As of 2018, During the spring months, the Northwest Stream Center is open to the public Thursdays through Sundays 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM–(last admission at 3:00 PM). Check out our calendar for upcoming events!