City: Don't bank on Soldotna park for fishing

Posted: Sunday, May 08, 2005

Soldotna Creek Park will be as much fun as it has always been during the next two summers, as long as you're not going there to fish.

The popular angling site will be closed this season and next for bank restoration work.

City of Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael said the project will cost $1.7 million and includes revegetation for habitat renewal and boardwalk installation to minimize the effects of thousands of fishing feet walking on the bank every year.

"You can see where the bank is chewed back by people crawling on it making dirt fall into the river. Thousands of people use it," he said. "The vegetation didn't grow back quite as well and there is a lot more bare dirt."

The project will take significant work and the revegetation portion will need time to grow.

"... It's kind of like if you lay down a new lawn. If you drive on it, it will go away," Carmichael said.

Soldotna Creek Park was a former Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities site that was purchased by the city, which found it to be in good enough shape to fix up.

According to Lee McKinley, habitat biologist with the Department of Natural Resources Office of Habitat Management and Permitting, the site is a popular fishing area for sockeye fishing and had experienced bank damage from the heavy use over time.

"The city is installing elevated light-penetrating boardwalks, or ELPs, and will work on bank stabilization," McKinley said. "Being elevated and allowing light to get through lets the vegetation grow beneath it. The ELPs will allow access to the river without (allowing river visitors) to trample and corrode the bank. It's extremely good for the river and benefits the park."

The project will benefit fish, as well, McKinley said.

"A healthy riverbank is needed for juvenile salmon. You need cover and overhanging trees or woody debris to provide cover from predators. The smaller fish can hide from larger fish there, and obtain the nutrients from insects that would gather there," he said. "The shade and cover in the riparian (area) also regulates temperatures and gives fish a place to rest."

In order to restore the bank, plans call for erosion control. The method to be used at this site will be to use rootwads — a clump of roots still attached to a tree trunk buried in the bank. McKinley said this method provides armor from boat wakes, helps insects flourish and offers overall protection and stability. Trees will be planted, too — 125 willows and 150 alders — which are intended to hold back the bank and provide cover, shade and nutrients.

Carmichael said that while fishing access is closed during the next two seasons, the tree shoots will be safe from trampling and will have a chance to grow strong before the bank is opened for the 2007 summer fishing season.

There will be 1,700 linear feet of ELP boardwalk with nine river access sets of stairs. The site will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Though the bank closure may inconvenience anglers now, McKinley said the project will offer long-term benefits.

"It's a win-win situation," he said. "From a habitat standpoint, I'm pretty happy with it. Anytime you provide habitat and minimize the deleterious effects, it's a good thing."

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