It was a blessing for both the past and the future at Donkey Creek in downtown Gig Harbor.
Up to 5,000 years ago, the space where people gathered to see the opening of the Donkey Creek project was filled with the Puyallup Tribe’s ancestors, said Brandon Reynon, archaeologist for the Puyallup Tribe. As they hunted, fished and lived, they enjoyed the land in the same ways many in Gig Harbor do today.
The city’s Donkey Creek project was officially dedicated Wednesday morning. Speakers included Gig Harbor Mayor Chuck Hunter, council members Steve Ekberg and Tim Payne, former Congressman Norm Dicks, Frank Ruffo of the Harbor History Museum and Lindsey Johnson of Harbor WildWatch. All thanked the multiple agencies that came together to fund and build the project.
Young girls from the Canoe Family danced to songs and prayers that blessed the salmon, the ground and the canoe. The girls, dressed in handwoven regalia from the past and tennis shoes from the present, danced to the sound of drums and singing that echoed into the foggy morning.
“Our people have traveled on the water for thousands and thousands of years,” said Connie McCloud, the head of the Canoe Family.
The family joined city representatives to open the new phase of the creek.
The Donkey Creek project hasn’t been going on for thousands of years, but it has taken a long time. Payne talked about how the city council referred to the opening of the creek as “one day” for years.
Wednesday was finally that day, he said.
Beginning in March, the project started to restore the stream and estuary in the space between Donkey Creek Park and Gig Harbor Bay. The project also included road improvements that widened sidewalks and built a bridge on North Harborview Drive.
Notably, the bridge removed a 300-foot pipe that salmon previously had to swim through in order to reach spawning grounds.
“I get claustrophobic just thinking about it,” Dicks said of the fish swimming through the pipe.
David Duenas of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians said the opening of the creek is good for the environment and will allow the salmon to run as they did thousands of years ago, when native villages populated modern-day Gig Harbor.
Johnson said the removal of the pipe takes away a large barrier for chum that face an already difficult upstream swim to spawning areas.
The project brings together the old and new in the area. An ancestral area set behind the newly built Harbor History Museum, the creek and estuary will have interpretive signs posted on concrete pylons that have been buried since 1950.
A new chapter for the creek began when Hunter cut the ribbon.
“I think we did it right,” he said of the project. “And that’s important.”
Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.