EVERETT - The youths waded into North Creek wearing rubber boots and wielding fishing nets, scooping the water with eager hands.
But the chinook salmon, cutthroat trout and steelhead fry that call the narrow, wooded stream their home need not have worried - these visitors came in peace.
The youngsters were helping a local environmental group move the fish from dried-out sections to watery areas where they can grow and spawn.
About a dozen "stream-keepers," as their supervisors call them, are moving the fish up and down Snohomish County creeks for Adopt-A-Stream, a local nonprofit environmental group.
The youths, from YMCA and other community groups, are working in streams that Adopt-A-Stream officials think are prone to drying out as adjacent areas are developed.
They also are cleaning up garbage dumped along the streams' banks, adding new plants, and performing other tasks designed to restore the waters.
The junior-high and high-school students took to their work with joy.
"At first, I was trying to find something else to do (this summer), but I'm glad I didn't - it would have been really boring," said 14-year-old Jihad Ahmad. "I like getting in the water and trying to catch them."
After finding fish in shallow pools, the teens try to force them into their 4-by-5-foot nets, then take them in buckets to deeper waters.
The youths' excitement mingled with a sense of duty.
"I like going in and trying to save the fish. They've got a right to be here," said Chris Allen, 12. "And it's cool to walk around in the water (in boots) and not get wet."
Adopt-A-Stream Executive Director Tom Murdoch said the youths' efforts are part of a larger project to make Snohomish County residents more aware of the threats posed to local wildlife areas by development.
His group is in the process of resurrecting a wetlands area in McCollum County Park just south of Everett. The site sits adjacent to the Northwest Stream Center, a facility designed to educate visitors on the need for wildlife and wetland protection.
"Most people up here don't even know North Creek exists," Murdoch said.
For years North Creek, which empties into the Sammamish River and eventually Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington, has been a spawning area for salmon.
But as the area around the creek has become more developed - its waters now run under Interstate 5, past the Mill Creek Shopping Center and the Koll Business Center - the stream's water flow has become much less regular, Murdoch said.
He hopes his foundation's projects will awaken county residents to the effects of growth. He thinks the youths can help trumpet his message.
"They're trying to re-create nature - it's not an easy process," he said. "But sometimes kids can be the best instructors for adults."