Both Montana Creeks in Juneau and Talkeetna, Alaska, have undergone community-led restoration, preserving fishing for future generations.

Montana Creek

An angler fishes Juneau’s Montana Creek. © Trout Unlimited

Alaska has thousands of rivers, streams, and creeks, so it’s no surprise that some share the same name. Southcentral and southeast Alaska both have their own Montana Creek, and the two streams have much more in common than just the name. Both creeks are easily accessible on the road system from major population centers, both offer fantastic fishing opportunities for trout and salmon, and both saw collaborative and community-driven restoration projects that will improve fish habitat and benefit fish populations for years to come.

Juneau’s Hidden Gem: Montana Creek

Juneau’s Montana Creek, or Kaxdigoowu Héen, which means “Clearwater Creek,” is a not-so-hidden gem in the center of the Mendenhall River Valley. It has excellent fishing for Dolly Varden and sea-run cutthroat trout throughout the season. It also has strong runs of coho, chum, and pink salmon. Montana Creek is a truly incredible “backyard creek” for Juneau residents. There are several access points along the river with a maintained trail network that puts anglers on the water wherever they wish. The trail is also popular with local runners, dog walkers, and cyclists.

Talkeetna’s Popular Angling Destination: Montana Creek

Talkeetna’s Montana Creek is a highly popular salmon and trout fishery that draws locals and visitors alike. The creek is a short two-hour drive north from Anchorage. It is one of the more productive clear-water tributaries of the Susitna River. Montana Creek supports runs of Chinook, coho, chum, and pink salmon. Fishing for salmon is limited to the lower reaches, from a quarter mile upstream of the Parks Highway to the confluence with the Susitna River. The creek is also a great place to fish for rainbow trout and Arctic grayling.

Community-Driven Restoration Projects

The summer of 2023 saw the communities that surround these creeks come together and get their hands dirty to care for fish habitat in their beloved streams. Both creeks had suffered from streamside erosion that damaged important riparian habitat and trail access. The riparian zone is the strip of land adjacent to waterways and serves many important functions for fish. The vegetation in this area stabilizes the bank and maintains water quality. It provides woody debris where fish can hide and feed. The organic matter from this vegetation feeds small invertebrates who then feed fish. It is a necessary food web for all organisms. When plants are damaged or die and the bank erodes, the system doesn’t function properly, and fish suffer. The Montana Creek communities saw this damage and got together to fix it.

Juneau’s Montana Creek Restoration Efforts

montana creek

Volunteers help reinforce the shoreline on Juneau’s Montana Creek. © Trout Unlimited

In Juneau, Trout Unlimited partnered with Trail Mix, Inc., the City and Borough of Juneau, and Trout Unlimited’s Tongass Chapter to replace a foot bridge along the Montana Creek angler access trail. The bridge was falling into a back channel of the stream due to erosion. Over three weekends in August and September, 28 volunteers came together to haul equipment and supplies back to the bridge site. On the third weekend, volunteers cheered as a crane hoisted the new bridge into place. Recreational users of all kinds would no longer have to risk their safety while traveling along Montana Creek.

This summer the partners will begin streambank restoration by reestablishing native plants along the eroded banks and realigning the angler access trail where erosion has had its largest impact. A local Eagle Scout candidate helped design five sets of signs that will be installed along the creek. The signs include a map of the area with access points for anglers, a brief Indigenous and historical description of Montana Creek, and information on the project and its benefits to the creek, its fish and wildlife, and local users.

Talkeetna’s Collaborative Conservation

montana creek

All smiles at Talkeetna’s riparian planting day. © Trout Unlimited

In Talkeetna, a vast array of partners came together for a multiphase project to restore 450 feet of habitat on Montana Creek including Trout Unlimited, Susitna River Coalition, Mat-Su Borough, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Knik Tribal Council, and Trout Unlimited’s Southcentral Chapter. On a sunny Saturday in early June, 60 volunteers met up on the shore of Montana Creek to plant over 200 native trees and shrubs near the Yoder Road bridge. The Knik Tribe served up delicious fry bread to volunteers, and biologists with ADF&G and FWS trapped baby salmon from the section of the creek being planted and taught attendees all about their needs and lifecycle.

Work will continue on this project in the summer of 2024. Project partners will once again host a riparian planting day, where community volunteers are invited to come out and help revegetate the shoreline. This phase will also add topsoil and hydroseed to a section of riprap upstream of the Yoder Creek bridge, which was reinforced after a major flooding event threatened the bridge.

A Community United by Conservation

Alaskans love their fish and judging by the many smiling faces on the volunteers at both these events, they love caring for them too. It is wonderful to see communities coming together to care for fish habitat in their own backyard. Their hard work will help ensure this cherished resource is around for generations to come. Thank you to everyone who pitched in!

If you’re interested in volunteering with a riparian planting day in 2024, follow @troutunlimitedalaska on Facebook or Instagram.

For more conservation reading, check out Fish Alaska’s Conservation Blog for more.