Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Guest editorial: Many hands made light work of Crooked Creek project

With over 61 miles of direct stream and riparian habitat, Crooked Creek, in Kasilof, is one of the longest anadromous streams on the Kenai Peninsula.

It is a major tributary of the Kasilof River, and supports spawning and rearing for substantial runs of chinook and coho salmon and one of the northernmost steelhead runs, as well as migratory bird habitat.

During a flood in 2002, a road crossing the creek near the Crooked Creek facility washed out. For several years following the flood, the area was left with very steep, unstable and unvegetated loose gravel stream banks. This is a very popular community use area because it is one of the few public access areas for viewing spawning chinook salmon on the Kenai Peninsula. This site is also listed in several publications encouraging visitors to view fish in the creek. Community members and travelers are seen in significant numbers. After Aug. 1, it’s heavily used for fishing.

As the need for a restoration project grew, so did the interest of community members, various agencies and local elementary students. The Tustumena Elementary School sixth-grade Adopt-a-Stream program had been active in research work at Crooked Creek for 10 years. Students visited the creek monthly and were interested in partnering with the community and other groups to take on this project.

The Kenai Watershed Forum was granted funds from several agencies to attend to the needs of Crooked Creek. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and ConocoPhilips all contributed money to accomplish the project goals of stabilizing the stream bank, creating a study/monitoring area for students, protecting habitat and improving fishermen and visitor access.

The KWF was to serve as the facilitator to bring all the parties together to work for these common goals. A coalition was organized, including KWF, Tustumena students and parents, Crooked Creek landowners, Kasilof area residents and business owners, local government leaders and staff, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the Alaska Department of Transportation.

The first matter of business was to bring the community and agencies with a stake in the restoration together. A community planning meeting was held at the Tustumena school in fall 2007, and a site visit was organized with all parties and agencies.

An older student from the area was looking for an Eagle Scout project and approached the watershed forum about adopting the Crooked Creek viewing platform portion of the project. Keith Clancy applied for and received all the appropriate permits. He was instrumental in securing the final design, and put a work crew together for the installation of a new, elevated study platform.

Throughout the planning and restoration stage of work, the students at Tustumena helped support the program. Classroom education continued with testing the waters of Crooked Creek through the Adopt-a-Stream program. Students organized and executed a creek cleanup day, and researched platforms, walkways and habitat restoration techniques. They designed and installed signs to educate the community and visitors about Crooked Creek, explaining how to help protect the area, respect wildlife and “leave no trace.”

Other agencies stepped in with time and materials to help make this project a success. Adjacent trails were improved by Fish and Game, improving visitor fishing and view access. DOT peeled back the original road and a visitor parking area with guardrails was established.

From the beginning, one of the focuses of the project was to bring the community together with various agencies to provide a successful restoration project that would enhance the Tustumena area and Crooked Creek. With the driving force of the Adopt-a-Stream students — known as Tustumena Streamkeepers — and their parents, the project moved forward and involved all the necessary parties.

Although huge steps have been made in making this former flood washout a desirable place to view spawning salmon and other wildlife, there is still more work to come.
KWF looks to complete the project during summer 2009 with installation of permanent viewing signs, further improvements to trails and another viewing platform. And Marathon Oil has come on board with a financial donation to the project. Our streambeds, creeks and watersheds are valuable assets to our communities. We are fortunate to have an abundance of support from the schools, residents, merchants, government agencies and private corporations to protect these critical habitat areas.

Rhonda Orth is the accounting and office manager at the Kenai Watershed Forum.

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