Fish Creek Connects Us to Our Past
This is the story of the Fish Creek watershed, its degradation, and how we propose rehabilitation. These photos follow the urbanization of Anchorage and its impacts to Fish Creek from the 1950s to the present. The green line shows Fish Creek's natural route. The blue line shows its current route. Along 36th Avenue the creek is diverted into pipes 7 - 10 feet underground. Note the red outline where Blueberry Lake, one of Fish Creek's headwaters, once was. It has since been filled, paved and is now lost for good under Walmart, Barnes and Noble, and the Midtown Mall (formerly Sears Mall) on Northern Lights. The orange outline is the future Cuddy Pond at Cuddy Midtown Family Park. (Photos courtesy HDR Alaska, Inc.)
Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq'aka Betnu
Daylighting Fish Creek / Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq'aka Betnu
What does daylighting mean? It means freeing Fish Creek from its underground pipes and culverts so it runs a more natural course. It also means restoring riparian zones, or healthy habitat, along its shoreline. Overall awareness of healthy watershed importance is growing. In Anchorage, several creeks have been successfully rehabilitated with salmon runs returning.
Benefit to All
Daylighting Fish Creek will give the creek back its life, while reducing flooding. Cuddy Park is a good example, where bringing the waters of Fish Creek to the surface helped mitigate flooding and also created a popular destination in Midtown. More and more, urban areas are daylighting creeks to reduce risks associated with flooding. Trails along creeks help bring community together with activities like biking and walking. Greenbelts also promote investment in community and economic well-being.
Learn how to pronounce Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq'aka Betnu from James Kari, linguist and co-author of Shem Pete's Alaska
Anchorage is part of greater Dena’ina lands , where predominantly Knik and Eklutna people's subsisted for the past 1,000-1,500 years. The peninsula where Anchorage sits was mostly used for summer fish camps, though some small settlements existed, such as the Knik home sites where the Port of Anchorage is now. Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq'aka Betnu is the original name for Fish Creek, according to Dena’ina elders Mike Alex and John Stump, as recorded in Shem Pete’s Alaska. Ch’atanaltsegh means “yellow water comes out” and Łiq'aka Betnu means “King Salmon Creek”. Long before the Coho runs that spawned in Fish Creek left, Dena’ina people were pushed out of their traditional subsistence areas by an increasing non-Native population, who also brought urbanization. This photo shows the Ezi family at their fish camp at Nuch’ishtunt (Point Woronzof). (From Shem Pete’s Alaska, photo courtesy Alberta Stephan)
Current Flow of
As late as 1950, Fish Creek remained relatively free-flowing. Channelization (placing flow of the creek into culverts and straightening it), began in earnest around 1960. After oil was discovered on the North Slope in 1968, Anchorage’s growth exploded and diversion of its creeks and wetlands began in earnest. During the oil boom of the 1970s and 80s, many of the marshes and wetlands which fed Fish Creek were filled, including Blueberry Lake near the Northern Lights Walmart. Today, over 70 percent of Fish Creek’s water is in underground pipes, destroying fish habitat and creating flood hazards. Most of its water now comes from storm drains and Fish Creek is Anchorage’s most impaired waterway. (Photo courtesy HDR Alaska, Inc)
Who We Are
Imagine a free-flowing
Fish Creek / Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq'aka Betnu, where Dena'ina history is acknowledged, where salmon return each year, where our community comes to walk, bike, visit with each other, and commune with nature.
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