Photo courtesy of US Forest Service
Summer recreation use of Placer, Portage and Twentymile river valleys has dramatically increased over the last five years. Commercial guided use has increased from 14 to over 3000 service days on Placer River and from 100 to over 1000 service days on the Twentymile River.
By Alison Rein
Special to the Turnagain Times
The Glacier Ranger District has seen a dramatic increase in use and demand for recreation in the three river valleys that flow into the head of Turnagain Arm: The Placer, Portage and Twentymile Rivers.
In the past five years, actual reported commercial guided use has increased from 14 to over 3,000 service days on Placer River and from 100 to over 1,000 service days on the Twentymile River. Portage Creek is seeing increased non-guided and shore-based use. Recreation users access these three rivers with a variety of shallow-draft boats—airboats, jet boats, rafts, canoes, and kayaks to explore, sightsee, view wildlife, camp, fish and hunt.
The District would like to conduct environmental analysis and develop a joint river management plan in partnership with the State of Alaska.
Public safety, capacity, impacts to natural resources, and providing quality recreational experiences are concerns that have been expressed by river users, as well as Forest Service biologists, ecologists and recreation specialists.
Use by the public had been primarily by people using their own boats for camping, fishing and sightseeing. In the early 1990’s the first guided fishing permits were issued. As guided fishing and rafting trips have grown to guided sightseeing speedboat rides by 2001, traditional users of the river have begun to seek other, less-used recreation opportunities.
Commercial sightseeing tours began on all three rivers in the late 1990’s. This use has increased significantly in the past five years, as a result of partnership agreements, infrastructure development, and improvements in river boats. Recreational use on the Placer River increased in 2003 as a result of a cooperative venture between the Alaska Railroad and Chugach Adventure Guides for a rail/raft excursion on the Placer River began. At the same time, the District issued the first permits for high-powered jet boat use on the Twentymile River.
In addition to the guided fishing and sightseeing tours, recreational use on the rivers climbs in response to seasonal opportunities. A strong hooligan run in the spring and coho’s in mid summer bring out crowds of anglers, eager to fill their freezers, enjoying the opportunity to do so. Duck hunters, late season anglers, and lottery winners for moose and goat hunts end the year. Day use predominates, with some overnight camping on river bars during fishing and hunting seasons.
Two recent Forest Service trail projects have allowed greater access to the rivers. The Whistlestop project allows the public to more readily venture into the Placer River area, generating more and/or different use on Placer River.
The Upper Winner Creek trail has afforded greater access to the Twentymile drainage, particularly in the form of pack raft users.
Portage Creek provides the most easily accessed river experience, with a paved highway directly adjacent along much of its length. Commercial use is lowest on this river.
Monitoring recreation use on the Twentymile River using motion/heat-sensitive cameras, parking lot counts, and a creel survey in cooperation with Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, have been initiated to establish base-line use data.
Portage Creek and Twentymile Rivers have been found eligible for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic River System, Portage as a Recreation River, and Twentymile as a Wild River.
Questions to be answered through public involvement in the planning process include:
• Capacity of Rivers – how much and what type of uses can occur while still providing a quality recreation experience and maintaining resource values?
• What kind of transportation is appropriate and where? motorized, nonmotorized, airboats, packrafts, hovercraft...
• How does the fishery respond to use? – are there effects from some sizes or types of engines in shallow water? Is bank erosion affecting how fish use the river?
• Jurisdiction – how can the Forest Service and State of Alaska work cooperatively to manage these rivers?
• Will the desired future condition require changes to the existing Forest Plan management prescriptions?
• Should guided recreation services be available on these rivers, and if so, should they be delivered with a single or multiple operators?
We need help to continue to understand how people are using the rivers, and you may be the one to help. We are soliciting for volunteers to administer an Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game creel survey and verify our recreation monitoring efforts on the Twentymile River this summer. Please contact Alison Rein at 754-2329 if you are interested in helping with these projects. We can provide housing and subsistence for a full-time commitment.
Alison Rein is the Recreation Planner for the Glacier Ranger District.