Conservation group moves to protect Anchorage estuary

Posted: Tuesday, May 07, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A conservation group wants to buy land around the only creek within Anchorage proper with a real tidal marsh.

The Great Land Trust has quietly raised three-fourths of the money it needs to buy and preserve the 32-acre Fish Creek Estuary. Great Land plans to begin a public campaign to seek donations for the balance of $250,000 before a Sept. 30 deadline.

''This is one of our highest priorities,'' said trust director Beth Silverberg.

The Fish Creek estuary is a pocket of urban wilderness along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Most estuaries in the city have been dammed or blocked.

It is the only creek in the city proper with a real tidal marsh, says Dan Billman, an engineer for HDR Alaska.

''If Captain Cook stood on the bike trail, that's the same view he would have -- with two houses in the way -- as when he sailed up Cook Inlet in the 1700s,'' Billman said.

''That's what's amazing to me -- the view hasn't changed,'' he said.

In estuaries, the mix of fresh and salt water nutrients yields an especially diverse wildlife habitat. The mouths of Fish Creek and nearby Chester Creek attract great numbers of shorebirds.

The land is jointly owned by Hickel Investment Co. and the Marston Foundation, a nonprofit trust that has an obligation to raise money for its beneficiaries, said Blythe Marston, president of the foundation.

The foundation was established by her grandfather, M.R. ''Muktuk'' Marston, to benefit Alaska Natives who live west of the 156th meridian, which sets off the western third of the state, passing just west of McGrath.

Marston especially believed that villagers should have access to affordable fresh produce, and so for more than 20 years, the foundation has supported villagers growing potatoes and other crops.

Marston, who died in 1980, is a legend in rural and urban Alaska. During World War II, he traveled from village to village in western Alaska by dog sled, organizing the Territorial Guard.

''He fell in love with that part of Alaska and with that group of people,'' Blythe Marston said.

In Anchorage, ''Muktuk'' Marston developed the subdivision of Turnagain on land that had been owned by a couple of homesteaders. In 1956, he sold half-interest in about 200 lots, including the Fish Creek estuary, to former Gov. Walter Hickel.

Hickel, who still lives above the estuary, said he would like to have kept and protected the property. But he knew the owners had to earn income from the property to fulfill the mission of the Marston Foundation.

Great Land plans to buy the estuary and turn it over to the city to keep as wildland. The trust would retain a legal interest in the property to ensure that it remains natural.



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