The annual Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival is the most recent in what will likely be another round of event cancellations starting off 2021. Last week Friends of Lake Sonoma announced that its festival, which was slated for Feb. 21, 2021, is canceled due to COVID-19.
While the festival takes place largely outside, it attracts thousands of people every year. In 2019, the festival brought 6,000 people and in 2020 it hit record attendance with 14,000 attendees.
“We fully studied all our options – even the possibility of a virtual event – but came to the conclusion that we need to step back for a year and concentrate our energy on 2022, when we hope things will return to relative normalcy,” said Brad Sherwood, chairman of the Friends of Lake Sonoma, which operates the event, in a statement.
In a regular year, families who attend the free festival can play corn hole or take a trip through a maze, and kids can participate in junior fishing and make art projects.
The festival is meant to raise awareness and funding for the visitors center and native fish preservation in the Lake Sonoma and surrounding watershed, especially the steelhead, a subspecies of the rainbow trout that is anadromous. Unlike the rainbow trout which spends its entire life in freshwater, steelhead go to the ocean to mature before returning upstream to spawn. They are considered a threatened species.
“The beauty of the event is live interaction with migrating fish, booth sponsors, art projects and all sorts of fun activities. It’s not really something we could translate to online efforts,” Sherwood said. “One of the most popular activities for the kids is fishing. It’s kind of hard to catch a fish via Zoom.”
According to Sea Grant California, who runs a steelhead monitoring program at the University of California, an estimated 547 hatchery adult coho salmon returned to the Russian River watershed from December 2019 to February 2020 — the third highest number in the nearly two decades that Sea Grant has been tracking salmon and steelhead. Sea Grant noted in its winter 2019/2020 to summer 2020 update that adult steelhead returned in high numbers, with spawning activity noticed in 30 streams with an estimated 1,606 redds (depressions in a stream where they lay eggs). The amount of redds marks 154% of the five-year average, though some redds were stranded in dry streambeds due to dry conditions in the spring.
Despite having to cancel the 2021 festival, the date for the 2022 festival is already set for Feb. 12, 2022.