MILL CREEK — They don’t smoke salmon at the Smokehouse these days.
The old building, which dates to the late 1940s or early 1950s, is just a graffiti-covered, abandoned shell, an eyesore, as one City Council member recently referred to it, close to the city’s northernmost boundary.
Soon, however, the building will be torn down, the land on which it rests excavated and cleaned up. In its place, with the help of a local environmental conservation group, the stream that runs next to it — Mill Creek — will be restored, possibly to the point that trout and salmon can return, and the area can be preserved by the city.
“If Mill Creek wants to have salmon flow through creeks in Mill Creek, it’s critically important to preserve what’s left of the riparian zones and to enhance them,” said Tom Murdoch, director of the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, the nonprofit foundation based at McCollum Park.
His organization took the lead on negotiations with the property owner, the Clevan family, and successfully reached an agreement with the family to transfer title to the 8,600-square-foot property in exchange for the city’s paying $1,200 in taxes, said Bill Trimm, the city’s community development director. The transfer was finalized May 15.
“We decided to make another investment that would be beneficial to the environment,” said Mark Cleven, in a prepared statement. “My mom and my brother decided and I decided that we would donate the property to the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation and work with them to remove the old building and restore the creek back into natural condition.”
In 2006, the Washington Department of Ecology asked the nonprofit to survey North Creek and its tributaries to find ways to improve fish and wildlife habitat and prevent pollution.
“During that survey process, we found Mill Creek flowing literally on the foundation of the Smokehouse,” Murdoch said in the prepared statement. “Removing the building and restoring the stream banks back to natural condition will significantly improve the headwaters of this creek and help its recovery back into a salmon stream.”
Adopt-A-Stream got a $41,800 grant from the National Fish &Wildlife Foundation to pay for demolition and removal of the old building and to restore the stream banks.
On a recent tour of the site, Murdoch explained how he, foundation ecologist Loren Brokaw and others will set up fish trapping “block nets” with catfish bait up- and downstream from the Smokehouse to trap and remove trout from the creekside bank areas, where demolition work will be in full force from June 15 to Sept. 15. That’s when work on the creek will have the least impact on spawning fish.
“We don’t want fish traveling up and down the stream,” Brokaw said.
Larry Fountain, who now runs the Mill Creek catering business Larry’s Smokehouse, owned the old building from 1983 to 1992. He said it was formerly a bakery.
“We used to do thousands and thousands of pounds of customers’ fish,” he said. “We haven’t smoked our customers’ fish in probably six or seven years.”
He said he sold the old Larry’s Smokehouse site because parking was a problem and because of increasing property taxes.
“I just gave up,” he said. “I said, ‘It ain’t worth the taxes.’”