History of the Project
Fairbanks – Alaska’s “Golden Heart City” – experienced significant ecological disruptions due to gold mining activity throughout the region in the early twentieth century. One such disruption was the reroute of Cripple Creek in 1935. Cripple Creek’s natural channel was bypassed to an artificial ditch or drain to convey excessive wastewater from hydraulic mining. Although hydraulic mining activity ceased years ago, the drain persists today. As a result, the natural channel habitat of Cripple Creek has been abandoned for about eighty years, and the straight, channelized drain has offered poor Chinook Salmon rearing habitat ever since.
The Interior Alaska Land Trust, in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 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. Careful analysis by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Alaska Department Fish & Game habitat biologists determined that the restoration of Cripple Creek and improvements to its fish passages will improve overall juvenile Chinook Salmon rearing habitat within the Chena River Watershed. After years of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, restoring Cripple Creek fortuitously became possible and began in the spring of 2017.
To fully restore the creek and the watershed’s habitat, two fish passage constrained culverts at road crossings (Old Chena Ridge Road & Chena Ridge Road) needed to be replaced, and, the creek’s flow redirected from the upper reaches of the drain back into the historic channel. (See below map). The first culvert at Old Chena Ridge Road was retrofitted in the summer of 2017 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.
The second culvert project at Chena Ridge Road was facilitate by the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (AKDOT&PF) in the summer of 2018 and reconnected two reaches of the abandoned channel by installing a fish passage culvert where fill was placed to construct the road. With their commitment to this single multi-million-dollar piece, and through additional work by Interior Alaska Land Trust, AKDOT&PF removed the largest obstacle in the overall project. The placement of the culvert at Chena Ridge Road is virtually complete as of September 2018.
With the two road culverts in place, only two more steps remain in the restoration project: replace the failing culverts at Chena Spur Road; and redirect the water flow from Cripple Creek drain to the historic Cripple Creek channel via Happy Creek. The Interior Alaska Land Trust is currently waiting on a bid estimate from DOWL HKM Engineering to complete this work.