New bridges unshackle Skagit tributary

Illabot Creek has room to roam now that a major restoration and bridge construction is complete in the upper Skagit River watershed.

While the floodplain restoration work began years ago – phase one was finished in 2013 – the two new 100-foot-bridges are the most conspicuous elements.

Illabot Creek provides spawning and rearing grounds for chinook, chum, coho and pink salmon, steelhead and native char. However, about a half mile of the creek was constricted in the 1970s when road construction forced it under the Rockport-Cascade Road bridge.

“Back in 1998, our biologists documented how the river was shackled by just this one bridge,” said Steve Hinton, restoration director of the Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC), the natural resources extension of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes, which spearheaded the project.

Removing dikes and constructing the new bridges will give the creek more space to meander during high water events, said Devin Smith, SRSC restoration ecologist. The excavation work eventually will reconnect historic channels and increase habitat, while large engineered logjams built in both phases of the project add complexity to the habitat and create pools and cover for fish.

SRSC completed the project in partnership with Skagit County; landowners Seattle City Light, Sierra Pacific Industries and Pauline Ryan; and grant funding from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund, NOAA Fisheries, state Salmon Recovery Funding Board and other sources.
All together both phases of the project cost $5.3 million.

“You can’t put a price on something that’s going to benefit our children and grandchildren and the next seven generations,” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby.

A crew installs girders for a new bridge over Illabot Creek. Photo: Kari Neumeyer