Fish Walk on the San Lorenzo

Steelhead and coho play key roles in our coastal ecosystem. Learn all about them on a March 19 walk through Henry Cowell with Barry Burt of the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project.

by Carol Carson

March 14, 2016—“We’ve got our best chance of seeing steelhead at this time of the year!” says Barry Burt, educational coordinator for the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project, about his upcoming walk on the San Lorenzo River on March 19. The walk is sponsored by an environment education grant from the San Lorenzo Valley Water District.

The nonprofit MBSTP includes an impressive team of fishermen and biologists who have dramatically reversed the loss of local salmon and steelhead in area streams. The group has a long list of accomplishments, including building and operating a hatchery and rearing facility in Santa Cruz County.

In addition, Burt and other members developed a project called STEP, the Salmon and Trout Education Program, which has been used in over 100 classrooms in our area and spans grade levels from kindergarten through junior college.

Students incubated, raised and released thousands of steelhead fry for 30 years. They learned how their efforts increased the population of native fish and were rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment in their formative years.

See how the project worked on a video by local videographer and naturalist Fred McPherson.

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STEP developed curriculum for participating teachers with information on steelhead life cycles, habitat preservation, water conservation, and the use of natural resources. The two-day course costs $275. That course has been condensed and customized by Burt for our watershed walkers to two hours and offered free to you by the SLV Water District.

Burt and I believe that commonly shared experiences are the most powerful way to learn and remember. We’ll look beyond the surface of the San Lorenzo River and develop our “fish eyes” to see through it. Perhaps we’ll spot a camouflaged steelhead lying motionless on the sunny bottom.

On a river walk one day, Burt’s class of third graders suddenly stopped to see a female steelhead by the bank turning on her side and slapping her tail on the bottom. This lifted the sand and silt, and the river carried them away. Because their STEP education taught them the life cycles of the steelhead, the children knew what was happening—she was creating a “redd,” or nest, in the gravel. While the female laid her eggs in the pit, a male approached and emitted sperm.

Steelhead may spawn several times, and if the adult has not died, it may swim back to the ocean and return to spawn the following year.

The students stood for a half an hour, transfixed by the creation of life in the river.

FISH WALK WITH BARRY BURT is Saturday, March 19, 10:30am-12:30pm, at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park on Hwy 9 in Felton. The walk is free, but the price to park per vehicle is $10, $9 for seniors, or you can park outside on Hwy 9 on the shoulders and walk in.

As soon as you pay at the kiosk, turn right into the picnic area and go all the way down to the end and park at Lot 3 by the restrooms on the left. The walk is open to all ages, but space is very limited. To register and receive more information, please contact Carol Carson, Grant Administrator and Certified California State Naturalist, at