Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska
Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Borough is proving that a little can go a long way with the right people. Working with the staffs of six federal, state and volunteer organizations, the borough has combined a $250,000 bond with more than $400,000 of cash donations and in-kind services to improve and restore the Deshka River and Campground.
Forty miles northwest of Anchorage, at the mouth and lower mainstem of the Deshka River, lies a pristine wilderness. The area is home to one of the most popular and productive fisheries in the Susitna Valley. River use has skyrocketed over the years, and, as a result, salmon and shelter zones have degraded, and the stream bank has eroded.
According to Ron Swanson, community development director, angler user days increased from 3,852 in 1977 to more than 32,000 in 1988, and they increased nearly six-fold in the past five years. Also, waves from jet boats, airboats and floatplanes were beginning to expose root zones of vegetation, and unguided and unmanaged dockings were creating nick and scour points along the riverbank.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough feared that, left unchecked, those factors would lead to vegetation loss, a wider and shallower riverbed, and a shortage of overhead cover for juvenile salmon. Thus, in 2000, using $250,000 from a $4.4 million parks, recreation and trails bond, the borough began its Deshka River campground improvement and restoration project.
The five main project goals were to create an overall river corridor management plan; educate river users about responsible recreation practices on the river; restore and revegetate degraded riverbank segments and fish habitats in key locations; construct elevated light-penetrating walkways, campground access points and boat tie-ups to manage angler and camper access across the riparian areas to the uplands; and create additional camping areas, including two that are handicap accessible; and enlarge and restore existing campgrounds.
“I knew we did not have enough money, expertise and staffing to do what we wanted to do on our own,” Swanson says. His department asked several state and federal agencies for funding and manpower, and the bulk of the construction and planning was handled by those agencies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife and Coastal Programs contributed $15,000, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation contributed $45,000 for riverbank and fish habitat restoration, and campground development. Technical assistance for river corridor planning, permitting and enforcement was spearheaded by the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, which provided $15,000. The Alaska Department of Game and Fish, and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources also assisted. Additionally, two crews of four people each were supplied by the Charlestown, N.H.-based Student Conservation Association to enhance and rehabilitate 10 areas totaling more than 250 lineal feet of stream bank.
The combined efforts helped the borough to:
cut and install root wads;
plant more than 2,000 willows;
install 2,000 square feet of geogrid porous plastic to preserve existing vegetation and allow new vegetation to grow;
build seven new campgrounds, two that complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act;
build one mile of new trail to connect campsites; and
reclaim more than 4,000 square feet of land that had become overgrown in existing campgrounds.
Matanuska-Susitna now maintains an 18-space, semi-primitive campground and manages river use by voluntary compliance and nominal user fees. Having achieved the bulk of its goals, the borough believes that it has halted degredation and has made the area more sustainable for fish, wildlife and recreation. “There’s always more to do,” Swanson says, “but we put in an intensive effort … and accomplished more than we thought we would.”
Agencies/companies involved: Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Juneau; Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Anchorage and Juneau; National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Washington, D.C.; National Park Service Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program, Anchorage, Alaska; Student Conservation Association, Charlestown, N.H.; and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Partners for Fish & Wildlife & Coastal Programs, Anchorage, Alaska.