STANISLAUS RIVER PARKS, Calif. -- If the salmon spawning in the river shallows enjoyed the party, they didn't show it. But they were the guests of honor Nov. 7, at the first Stanislaus River Salmon Festival, at the Corps' Stanislaus River Parks.

Hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps at the park's headquarters on the Stanislaus River, the event attracted more than 1,500 people, organizers estimated. Their goal: to educate the public and build community involvement in protecting the river habitat of the threatened Chinook and steelhead salmon species.

"It's great. Everyone seems really pleased," said Stanislaus park ranger Norm Winchester, who was the Corps' lead organizer for the event. "Hopefully (the event visitors) will understand the importance of keeping the river clean and taking care of the environment, and providing a good habitat for the fish."

Representatives from the California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Coast Guard, the East Stanislaus River Conservation District and other agencies hosted educational booths and activities to teach visitors about each salmon species' unique life cycle and habitat requirements. One popular exhibit was a field dissection of a salmon carcass on the river bank. DFG biologists discovered the carcass before the event, and used it to teach visitors about salmon anatomy.

For many visitors, though, the real attraction seemed to be the live salmon spawning along the river bottom. Onlookers peered down from a bridge above the river, pointing to the fish that wriggled upstream to spawn in the clear shallows above the gravel stream bed.

"We started with the purpose to educate and inform people about the value of restoration for salmon, but also for functioning rivers with clean water," said J.D. Wikert, USFWS habitat restoration coordinator for the Stanislaus River and the festival's lead organizer. "There are salmon here in the San Joaquin valley, and there are people here who are doing good things for them. This provides an opportunity for the interested public to talk with them and learn more about what's going on. It also works to bring all the people interested in this watershed together."

Stanislaus River Parks staff members have also been working to improve salmon habitat throughout the park, partnering with USFWS to spread gravel in the river bed and restore native plants, both essential for sustaining the species. Future restoration projects are planned, Winchester said.

"We really like things like this," said festival attendee Leslie Stuart. "It's hands-on learning for the kids. They worked on the fish dissecting, and we picked up some of the literature. Really, it's an inspiration for kids. We'll be emphasizing from now on how important it is to take care of the river."