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Hope for Resurrection Creek

Resurrection Creek Blog
Story by Jenny Weis, Trout Unlimited Alaska

Resurrection CreekHope for Resurrection Creek

A good bet for anyone in search of a spot to take a kid to catch their first salmon is to target pinks at the mouth of Resurrection Creek in the small community of Hope, which sits across Turnagain Arm from Anchorage about 17 miles off the Seward Highway.

Few know that the creek’s offerings, in terms of fish and wildlife, are a fraction of what they once were—or could be again. The creek is about to undergo Phase II in a multi-year project, led by the U.S. Forest Service, to rebuild historic fish and wildlife habitat. The goal: to make the creek more resilient and increase fishing opportunity after being heavily altered by mining.

“In short, we’re looking to resurrect Resurrection Creek,” said Angela Coleman, hydrologist for the Chugach National Forest. “We’re hoping to improve the stream channel complexity and the natural function of the stream. Overall, we ultimately hope it will improve the habitats for the fish and wildlife species to be able to use it to a much better extent than they currently have the ability to.”

Hope was once a booming mining town after one of the first gold discoveries in Alaska in the late 1800s. Today, the community supplies Alaska history to visitors, hosts bluegrass shows, camping on the mud flats, and serves as a launching point for recreationists, hunters and anglers looking to explore the Kenai or the popular 38-mile Resurrection Creek Trail just up the road.

“Historically, Resurrection Creek actually provided really high-quality habitat for salmon, resident fish and wildlife species, but it was also home to one of Alaska’s first gold rushes,” said Coleman.

Modern environmental laws and reclamation practices created in the 1970s that consider impacts of human-development activities were still nearly a century away from being written into law when the Hope gold rush took off on Resurrection and surrounding creeks.

The gravel around and beneath Resurrection Creek was mined using shovels and hydraulic placers, which used high-pressure water jets to dislodge gold from the gravel. Though the technique was successful at finding gold, the process resulted in sprawling damage to Resurrection Creek and created tailing piles, some over 30 feet high, that stripped away soil and trees, which wiped out riparian areas and wetlands that support critical fish habitat. 

“It significantly altered the stream channel and complex wetlands along Resurrection Creek,” said Coleman, citing impacted reaches of the creek that became poor spawning habitat for fish and untenable for wildlife.

By 2002, with a better understanding of the value of healthy streams and new practices in place to address the impacts of ongoing mining on Forest Service land, the Forest Service decided it was time to correct some of the historic impacts on Resurrection Creek. It began by completing Phase I between 2005 and 2007 by restoring 1.5 miles of the stream.

The year after the first phase of restoration was completed in 2007, the numbers of Chinook salmon increased six-fold. Pink and chum salmon also dramatically increased, as well as harlequin ducks and moose.

“In snorkel surveys, we were seeing very nice-sized rainbows and Dolly Varden following the salmon up, and there’s some good chum in there too, which are always fun for catch-and-release. So, there are some good opportunities,” said Cross.

Following the success of Phase I, the Forest Service began working with Hope Mining Company on a strategy to restore an additional two miles of historically impacted stream in an area occupying their active mining claims, just downstream of Phase I.

Phase II of the Resurrection Creek project will create a restoration corridor across Hope Mining Company’s claims and expand on the work already completed, and result in more and improved habitat for fish and wildlife. Specifically, it will rebuild the main channel and floodplains; construct new spawning pools, glides and riffles; install large, woody debris within the new stream channels for fish to hide out in; construct side channels and ponds; and add vegetation to the riparian areas (the area next to the water). Once complete, this work will return Resurrection Creek to be more like it was naturally, and make it better for fish, wildlife, and the many people who fish and recreate in the valley. 

“The project is a priority for us, not only because there is an obvious need for repair, but we feel there is a high likelihood for success with Resurrection Creek Phase II because we saw such success in Phase I,” said Coleman. “It’s a unique watershed in that it’s a once-in-a-several-century opportunity where the Forest Service could actually restore the impacts of historic mining on active gold claims that Hope Mining Company still owns, alongside active mining outside that corridor.”

Kinross Gold, owner and operator of the Fort Knox mine near Fairbanks, and Trout Unlimited, have teamed up to support Phase II of the project along with the Forest Service and Hope Mining Company.

“These are costly projects, there’s no way around that,” said Cross. “But without any intervention, rivers like Resurrection Creek with historic mining impacts are going to remain in their condition with minimal habitat for fish and wildlife in perpetuity. So, it’s a great opportunity for us to restore this to as close to its original state as possible.”

Mining is intricately linked to Alaska’s history and early resource development in the state. Alaskans, the state economy, and our understanding of how our actions impact the natural world around us have come a long way since the early days of mining in Resurrection Creek. While the fish and water of Resurrection Creek largely were an afterthought during the early mining days, we now have an opportunity to restore some of its natural health and productivity.

“It’s exciting to have partners like Trout Unlimited and Kinross at the table for a project like this because it opens up the door to resources that help us get the work done on the ground that would probably not be possible,” said Coleman. “It will have pretty beneficial, lasting effects on the landscape for future generations.”

Ultimately, Trout Unlimited, Kinross, and the Forest Service expect the work will result in the continued increase in Chinook returns within an otherwise dwindling Cook Inlet population, additional sportfishing and hunting opportunity, and many more smiles and memories of Resurrection Creek that accompany a child’s first catch.

Construction on Phase II should take place from May through July starting in 2021 with minimal impacts to Resurrection Pass Trail users. The work for Phase II should take two- or three seasons to complete.

 

Trout Unlimited’s mission is to protect, reconnect and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Learn about our work in Alaska here.

This blog originally appeared as the Conservation column titled Hope for Resurrection Creek in the April 2021 issue of Fish Alaska.

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