Cripple Creek’s natural channel was bypassed in 1935 in favor of an artificial ditch or drain to convey excessive wastewater from hydraulic mining. Hydraulic mining activity ceased years ago but the drain has persisted. As a result, the natural channel habitat of Cripple Creek has been abandoned for about eighty years, and the straight, channelized drain has offered relatively poor Chinook rearing habitat ever since.
The Interior Alaska Land Trust, in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, has studied the restoration feasibility of Cripple Creek in the lower Chena River watershed for almost a decade, including funding several extensive studies by Herrera Environmental Consultants and DOWL HKM Engineering. After years of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, restoring Cripple Creek has fortuitously become possible and will take place during the spring and summer of 2017.
The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (AKDOT&PF) will facilitate reconnecting two reaches of the abandoned channel by installing a fish passage culvert where fill was placed to construct Chena Ridge Road. With their commitment to this single multi-million dollar piece, and through additional work by Interior Alaska Land Trust, AKDOT&PF will remove the largest obstacle in the overall project of restoring Cripple Creek.
To fully restore the creek and the watershed’s habitat, two fish passage constrained culverts at road crossings (Old Chena Ridge Rd. & Chena Ridge Rd.) will be replaced, and, the creek’s flow will be redirected from the upper reaches of the drain back into the historic channel. (See Map).
After careful analysis by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Alaska Department Fish & Game habitat biologists, it was determined that the improvements of these fish passages will improve juvenile Chinook Salmon rearing habitat within the Chena River Watershed.
AS OF SUMMER 2017
In August, IALT improved fish passage through the old Chena Ridge Road culvert, by reconfiguring the channel and creating a new stilling pond with a series of rock weirs on the downstream end of the culvert. This work was funded by a $60,000 grant from the USFWS Yukon River Salmon Research and Management Fund.
IALT made significant progress toward completing this exciting salmon habitat restoration project this summer. We are very grateful to our partners at the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District and their Youth for Habitat Program who assisted us with invaluable contributions. Their young fish-habitat workers monitored fish abundance in the historic Cripple Creek channel and the Cripple Creek Drain for the second year in a row. They also completed significant revegetation work along the banks of the restored section of historic channel.