For centuries Moose Creek was a flourishing salmon stream. Fed from glaciers and springs within the Talkeetna Mountains, Moose Creek was filled with an abundance of salmon. However, more than 80 years ago this essential fish habitat was drastically changed. In 1923, a railroad spur was constructed up Moose Creek for the coal mining industry. This construction rerouted much of the creek as a means to increase the space available for railroad operations and resulted in the creation of several waterfalls. The largest fall was completely impassable to spawning salmon, and the others were challenging barriers that only the strongest salmon could overcome. From the 1920’s to the 1980’s there were nearly continuous physical changes made to Moose Creek. Moose Creek has been rerouted multiple times for railroad and coal mining development. Originally the creek was a winding salmon stream, however after the coal mining and railroad development the creek was straighter and steeper, causing faster water velocity and challenges for fish.
In 2002, a Tribal elder brought this historical information to the attention of the Chickaloon Village Environmental Stewardship Department staff. This elder also said that all five species of Alaskan salmon (sockeye, coho, Chinook, pink, and chum salmon) used to spawn in the upper reaches of the Moose Creek, though now only Chinook and coho are routinely found. Salmon have always been central to the way of life of the Ahtna people, including members of Chickaloon Village, who continue to use traditional sources for sustenance. For the last 80 years, however, Village members have had to travel great distances to harvest salmon.
The Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, in collaboration with other agencies and the local community began working to restore fish passage and improve habitat on Moose Creek for anadromous fish, particularly salmon. The restoration activities focused on realigning a section of stream to its original, low gradient channel. This restoration opened fish access to more than five miles of high quality spawning and rearing habitats. The project also restored habitat complexity to a half a mile of stream channel and enhanced an additional eight and a half acres of adjacent riparian vegetation in the redesigned flood plain. This project will benefit several anadromous species, including culturally significant coho and Chinook salmon, dolly varden and trout.
Phase I Overview
In the summer of 2005 fish passage was restored to the upper watershed of Moose Creek! Now adult salmon can migrate above the large waterfall, which had been a complete fish barrier for more than 35 years! This channel re-alignment provides an additional 5 miles of salmon spawning and rearing habitat.
The aim of the restoration project was to restore fish passage to upper Moose Creek; fish passage that had been blocked by a large waterfall, a result of stream straightening by railroad engineers in the 1920’s. After years of planning and grant writing, groundwork on the Moose Creek project began in early May 2005 with the construction of a 1⁄2 mile access road to the project site. The access road was built on the historic railroad bed and was a rough, but very beautiful trail through the woods. Once access was established, the project site had to be cleared of brush and trees, some of which were quite large and may have been 80 years old. The largest of the cleared trees were stockpiled for later use.
Moose Creek Work
After the project site was cleared, the track hoe and bulldozer constructed the new channel and floodplain. (The floodplain is the normally dry, flat land area on either side of the high-water stream channel that is susceptible to being inundated by flood water.) The process of constructing the channel and floodplain took several weeks. As ground material was removed to the desired elevation, the soils changed from fines to gravel and boulders, showing us that our reconstructed alignment clearly was a historic stream channel location!
Lastly, before putting water in our new channel, in-channel log and rock vanes were built. These vanes provide stream bank protection by diverting the powerful energy of the stream away from the bank and into the middle of the creek. Also the vanes provide habitat complexity for rearing juvenile salmon and slow water for adult salmon to rest during their migration. Most of the vanes were log and rock combinations, though some were solely large boulder/rock vanes.
Moose Creek Ceremony
On June 30 we held a Moose Creek Renewal Ceremony at the project site to formally thank the project sponsors and provide an opportunity for community members and agency personnel to walk around the project and have their questions answered. About 1/3rd of Moose Creek’s water was flowing in the new channel so visitors could see how the in-channel vanes were performing.
The day was particularly special since the first Chinook salmon of the year had been spotted at the project site the night before, and there were five sighted during the ceremony!
Salmon Exploring New Channel
By July 5 several Chinook salmon had been seen passing through the newly constructed channel and migrating above the previous waterfall barrier! On this day we completely diverted the creek around the waterfall in our new channel and provided fish passage for the many returning adult Chinook salmon! The final step of the project at this site was to vegetate the exposed soils. This was done with felt-leaf willow clippings, some native transplants, and a seed combination of annual and perennial grasses. In the autumn of 2005 we also planted a few thousand more willow clippings and distributed more local native seeds, such as fireweed, cow parsnip and rose.
In August, 174 live Chinook salmon and 41 carcasses were sighted above the previous waterfall barrier, for a total of 215 Chinook salmon! This is far more Chinook salmon than expected in the first year of restored fish passage and we are very excited by the project’s success! Funding for this project was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Coastal American Foundation, the Five Star Restoration Partnership, and N.C. Machinery.
Phase II Overview
Fish passage rehabilitation and fish habitat improvements were completed in Phase 2 of the Moose Creek Restoration Project by July 5, 2006. 1300 lineal feet of stream channel were re-created in the Creek’s original location, restoring it to pre-railroad position and bypassing three partial-barriers to fish passage. Starting on May 5, 2006, heavy equipment cleared the site, formed the new channel and floodpla
in to design elevations, and created in-stream structures for improved and diversified fish habitats. The most impressive in-stream structures were three engineered log jams, one is 120 feet long, 45 feet wide, and more than 8 feet tall! This massive structure, and two smaller ones, will protect the banks from erosion and provide excellent habitats for fish and for other animals.
On June 14 Moose Creek was diverted into the newly formed channel. Within 2 hours the new channel was running clear and looked like it had been there forever, except for the bare floodplains and obvious construction site. As the previous channel was dewatered we fished for any stranded fish remaining in the pools and caught some dolly varden, rainbow trout, sculpin, as well as some juvenile Chinook and coho salmon! We were very ecstatic about the significant numbers of young salmon!
To finish Phase 2 the floodplains were covered with on-site topsoil that was stockpiled when the new channel alignment was cleared. Then brush and large woody debris were spread on the floodplain to enhance and protect the revegetation growth. The floodplains were planted with dormant felt-leaf willow cuttings, grass seed, and other native plants.
In mid-August Moose Creek (as well as the South-central region of Alaska) experienced a massive flood. Estimated to be between an 88 and 100-year flood, the habitats on Moose Creek were greatly changed! The overall changes made by Mother Nature on Moose Creek are terrific! There is a lot of large wood in the water with much of it in massive log piles, which made some great salmon habitats. There are a lot of new meanders in the creek as well as channel-widening at areas that were previously constricted, so the flooding had some really great results!
Moose Creek Project staff visited the Phase 1 and 2 project sites numerous times during and after the flooding. Phase 2 (which was completed summer 2006) looks very similar to how it was constructed. There are some changes, due to the flooding, but they are minimal. Phase 1 (which was completed in summer 2005) experienced more modifications to the completed restoration design; however the stream continues to have continuous fish passage and still bypasses the previous waterfall barrier to fish passage. It was exciting to see that the Moose Creek Project designs endured the test of a large flood and succeeded in maintaining fish passage.
If you would like to visit the project site or volunteer to help, please contact Jessica or Brian at 745-0737.