Fish Creek Connects Us in Spenard
This is the story of the urbanization of Fish Creek and how we propose restoration. 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 and paved and is now under the Walmart and Barnes and Noble at Northern Lights. (Photos courtesy HDR Alaska, Inc.)
Anchorage is part of the greater Dena’ina homeland of 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 where the Port of Anchorage is now. Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq'aka Betnu is the original name for Fish Creek, according to Dena’ina elder Shem Pete, 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 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 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)
Daylighting Fish Creek
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 economic investment.
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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