ARLINGTON — A new virtual tour and river mapping system gives people a rafter’s view of the Stillaguamish — from steep, narrow rapids to expansive tide flats — on their computer or smartphone screens.
It’s also a way to track and share data for habitat restoration and salmon recovery efforts throughout the Stillaguamish Watershed.
FishViews, a sort of Google Street View for waterways, created its first panoramic tour of an entire watershed in partnership with the Stillaguamish Watershed Council, Stillaguamish and Tulalip tribes, and Snohomish County.
“You can get a feel for how diverse and dynamic rivers are,” said Brian Footen, president and co-founder of FishViews. “A lot of places on the Stillaguamish are places you can only get to if you’re on a boat. We can offer virtual access to places on the river people normally don’t go. In a broader sense, it’s a chance to remind people of the importance of these rivers.”
The company aims to create a digital atlas of as many of America’s waterways as possible. That’s millions of miles of rivers and streams. Since its beginnings in 2014, the company has mapped nearly 800 miles.
Equipment goes down the rivers in a boat or raft, with six cameras above the water, one underneath and additional devices to record water depth and quality, Footen said. A global positioning system tracks location while photos and data are captured every few seconds, and all of it is merged together into a virtual tour of the watershed.
The data that is mapped lets people see where salmon spawn, where high and poor quality habitats are, and the characteristics of those stretches of the river, such as depth, oxygen content, flow and acidity.
“People can kind of get a sense of how habitat influences salmon use in the river,” said Jason Griffith, fisheries biologist with the Stillaguamish Tribe. “I think that kind of education is an important part of the project.”
Watershed Council members also can use the mapping tool to put large amounts of data into context.
“It’s really nice to be able to see the river, but it’s not just about the pretty pictures,” Footen said. “It’s about merging all that data with the visuals.”
There is a recovery plan for salmon in the Stillaguamish watershed, which is used by eight salmonid species for spawning and rearing. Two of them — Chinook and Bull trout — are endangered. Aspects of that plan are built into the mapping, too. Images show where invasive plant species may need to be removed, or where there is quality habitat that can be used as an example for teaching others about salmon recovery.
The tool also can be used to take a tour of the river with virtual reality goggles. For recreation, Griffith notes that fishermen may be able to spot new locations along the river to try, and a number of public access points have been marked.
“We’ve basically captured the major channels of the North Fork, South Fork and main stem all the way to the tidal channels,” Griffith said.
In the future, Footen said he and his colleagues at FishViews hope to map the Snohomish and Skykomish rivers, as well.
The Stillaguamish Watershed Tour can be accessed at arcgis.fishviews.com/public/stillaguamish-main.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.