Fairbanks project looks to restore crippled Cripple Creek

East Cripple Creek Pit (Alaska Department of Natural Resources photo)

A project is underway to restore a Fairbanks area creek. The multi-year endeavor spearheaded by the Interior Alaska Land Trust and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is aimed at bringing Cripple Creek on the west side of town back to life. The Interior Alaska Land Trust owns a crucial portion of the project area, where the trust’s Martha Reynolds said the focus is addressing drainage problems resulting from 1930’s era placer mining operations.

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”They were using these hydraulic cannons where they were shooting water at the frozen silt to remove the silt to try to get to the underlying, gold-bearing gravels,” Reynolds said. “And they needed water and they needed a way to remove that silt downstream.”

Reynolds said silt laden water clogged Cripple Creek’s winding channel, and a straight 6-mile drainage ditch was dug as an alternate path to carry water back to the Chena River.

”So what we’re trying to do is restore flow into the original channel of Cripple Creek,” Reynolds said.

Bob Henszey is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is providing $300,000 for the restoration project.

“The big project that’s really visible for most of the public is reconnecting the original of ripple Creek that was filled in when they built Chena Ridge Road,” Henszey said.

The agency and Land Trust are coordinating the effort with the Alaska Department of Transportation, which is contracting for up to $2.5 million in culvert work in the Cripple Creek area this summer. Henszey said yet to be funded channel upgrades and connections are aimed at completing the project in future years.

“The idea is to make that more passable year-round as well as create more habitat in the original channel,” Henszey said.

Henszey said this kind of habitat restoration work is uncommon in Alaska, but points to the success of a similar recent project that restored water flow along the Upper Chatanika River, north of Fairbanks, in another historic placer mining area.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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