No salmon are visible in the Adams River yet, but preparations for their big homecoming are well underway.
Construction noises compete with the sound of the river flowing by as a number of workers rush to ready Roderick Haig Brown Park for the dominant-run Salute to the Sockeye.
The new parking lot is well laid out, with a large circular drive that will accommodate buses and a drop-off zone for people with disabilities.
Adams River Salmon Society events co-ordinator Jeremy Heighton explains the site has undergone many changes since the last dominant run in 2010. He points to where the food vendors will be and, with another wave of his hand, reveals the location of the artisan and souvenir tents before heading off down a wide trail to explore changes to the viewing areas as well.
Humans are not the only ones to have created changes in the layout of the park, particularly along the riverside portions of the trail.
Describing the Adams River as being extremely dynamic, Heighton a former liaison officer with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, says the old viewing platform was a victim of the power of water and removed after the 2010 run. It is replaced by a new one at a more stable point along the river.
Keeping river power in mind, Heighton points out two reasons why people need to keep to the trails: Pointing to a bend in the river where a huge debris pile has formed, and remained for a very long time, Heighton says anyone who falls in ( or chooses to enter voluntarily) is likely to be pushed into and sucked under the large mass of logs.
“That’s it, there’s nothing we can do for you then,” he says of the extreme danger.
Farther along the trail, he points to a hole about the size of manhole, another area to avoid. Beside the hole that has been created by bank erosion, is a clump of three tall trees that are already leaning toward the river. Another freshet, another rain-laden storm, and the bank could give way, toppling the trees into the water.
On the trail again, Heighton heads to a wide swath of rocky beach considered safe enough for viewers to get near the river.
Pointing to a fly fisherman nearby, Heighton says there is a legitimate rainbow trout fishery on the river. Heighton explains that rainbows will bump into female sockeye, which releases a few of her eggs and provides them with a nourishing meal.
This leads to an explanation about seeing many dead salmon along with riverbanks with holes in their stomachs.
“Eagles will drop the salmon on the beach and poke them in their bellies to get to the eggs,” he says, pointing out that salmon do not eat once they enter the river and travel against the current for 485 kilometres before arriving at their spawning grounds, where the females use their flagging energy to dig a receptacle for their eggs.
“By the time they arrive here, there is no nutrition left in their flesh,” he says. “That’s also why bears go for the eggs in the belly or the head for the brain.”
After the mating dance, the males often depart, but the female, with about seven to 10 days left in her life, stays to guard her eggs until they harden, in about four days.
As life wanes, it becomes harder and harder for her to remain in the current; harder still to fight her way back each time she drifts downriver. Finally, spent, she succumbs to the power of the river.
The Salute to the Sockeye is a joint effort by the Adams River Salmon Society, DFO, BC Parks, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the Pacific Salmon Foundation.
During the salute, which runs daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Oct. 3 to 26, experts will be on hand to educate and answer questions. The grand opening is at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5.
Visit www.salmonsociety.com for a map of the newly developed site, fees, practical tips, and more information about the run.