17 Apr Salmon Spiral: Walkable art in North Mountain Park
Simple art: rocks and dirt.
Made as a community art program.
Created in 2014.
Photo essay published in 2023.
“The Salmon Spiral, constructed as a community program for the Bear Creek Salmon Festival, is a favorite outdoor feature for visitors and students alike.”2016-2017 Annual Report, North Mountain Park Nature Center
Walkable art in North Mountain Park
Salmon Spiral began with a creative idea in 2014
As I walked through North Mountain Park with Nature Center Manager Libby VanWyhe in February 2023, we stopped to look at the Salmon Spiral. This large spiral has intrigued me ever since I first noticed it years ago during one of my first walks in this park. I could describe it as simply “rocks and dirt,” which I did in the first line of this photo essay. I could describe it as “nature art” or “natural art,” the way it blends into the environment. I could describe it as interactive art, the way it draws you in and invites you to walk the spiral journey. Libby described it to me in terms of its creativity.
Libby spoke enthusiastically about Linda Chesney, previously the Nature Center Stewardship Coordinator for more than twenty years. Linda had been a mentor to Libby in many ways, yet they also became collaborators who were both passionate about how North Mountain Park and the Nature Center could uplift and educate the people of Ashland — especially the children. The Salmon Spiral is one example of their collaboration. Libby said, “Linda was always so game for creative ideas. She’d see something somewhere, or I’d see something, and we’d say, ‘What’s stopping us? Let’s just do it. It would be cool.’ That’s the way we ended up doing the Salmon Spiral as well, that spiral labyrinth with stones. That was another joint idea. Linda saw a spiral somewhere when she was on vacation. She came back and said, ‘We need to do that!’ So we figured out how to do it.”
Five years of making the Salmon Spiral anew each year!
For the first five years of the Salmon Spiral, the rocks it was made from came from Bear Creek — then the same rocks went back to Bear Creek after the Salmon Festival. Here’s how Libby VanWyhe and Linda Chesney explained it to me: For the first five years of its existence, we re-built the salmon spiral every year. The idea came from a local fisheries biologist and Salmon Festival committee member, Eugene Weir of Freshwater Trust. He suggested that the rocks be returned to Bear Creek to improve the salmon spawning habitat. The first year, it was convenient that a Boy Scout troop was looking for an outdoor community service project. The scouts got to learn about Chinook salmon life history and about the importance of stream complexity for salmon health. This part of Bear Creek has been “scoured to bedrock” historically and kept in a channel to try to prevent flooding and property damage. Slowing the creek flow through stream complexity would help both the salmon and the surrounding riparian areas. This became a community program for five years, in which we re-built the salmon spiral every September, in preparation for the Salmon Festival. Colorful rocks decoupaged with bright strips of tissue paper, were a children’s craft during the Salmon Festival. Also, during the Salmon Festival, the staff would hang blue cotton strips from the nearby trees. Adults would write their wishes and intentions on them..
People walk, Salmon swim
The Nature Center 2014 Annual Report described the Salmon Spiral as “a favorite outdoor feature this fall. Constructed as a community program for the Bear Creek Salmon Festival, the stone spiral intrigued and delighted visitors and students alike. Many walked meditatively through the spiral, contemplating the salmon’s journey and holding positive intentions for rain.” The salmon’s long journey from inland spawning grounds, downriver to the ocean, then years later back to the river where they were born, is one of the wonders of nature. Walking the Salmon Spiral is a very small journey in comparison!
People add personal touches to the Salmon Spiral
A magical, snowy day in North Mountain Park
The Salmon Spiral is transformed into a new work of art through nature’s dusting of snow.
Let’s circle back to the wonderful Salmon Spiral aerial view, taken soon after it was created.
P.S. Did you notice the color of this photo essay’s sub-headings? They are “salmon colored.”