2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
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   HIKING THE TRAIL OF BLUE ICE &
WILLIWAW NATURE TRAIL, p. 2

SUNDAY, JULY 15

 
 
Continued from the last page . . .

TINKERING WITH THE NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS

The whole Williwaw Nature Trail is interesting, and not for just the things you think you see.

I assumed all the ponds and streams were naturally formed by the glut of snowmelt and rain water that flows through this valley. In addition to all the ponds and streams, a lot of what looks like meadows with solid footing is actually wetlands.

Well, I was right about how much water flows through this valley. I was wrong about Mother Nature and Father Time being the sole landscape architects, however.

According to the information I read on one of the interpretive panels on the other side of the road, several or all of the ponds you see near the Williwaw Nature Trail on the map farther down this page are actually gravel pits -- and some of the streams are man-made.

They're all part of the Fisheries Habitat Enhancement program, described on this sign:

Gravel extraction in the valley has been a common practice since the 1960s. The quality of the gravel is good for highway and railroad construction/repair and various other building projects in the private sector. 

Much of the valley is public Forest Service land. As a good steward of that land, the USFS has converted the gravel pits into rearing ponds for juvenile salmon and char. It's an ongoing project, as gravel continues to be extracted from the ponds and an increasing number of salmon return to the area to spawn.

The remaining photos of this pond (below) and the others on the north side of the road show what a good job the Forest Service has done to maintain the beauty of Portage Valley. If I hadn't seen that backhoe I probably wouldn't have even noticed what was going on.

 

 

When the Forest Service decided to use the ponds for spawning grounds it had another challenge -- finding a way to get the fish to the ponds. Some or all of the original gravel pits weren't on waterways that were suitable for the salmon to swim upstream.

The solution was to dig several water channels to connect these ponds with Portage Creek so fish can reach them to spawn each summer.

Since these artificial channels lack the complexity needed to provide natural fish habitat, materials like trees, roots, and boulders were added to provide cover for the fish, create more pools and riffles, and give the streams a more natural appearance.

This is one of them:

When I walked by the the streams, I sometimes couldn't tell "natural" creeks from these "artificial" ones except where the explanatory sign was located.

I think this whole Habitat Enhancement project is an interesting win-win situation where potentially competing interests have been satisfied to the benefit of everyone concerned -- private industry, public works, recreational pursuits of residents and visitors, and the wildlife that calls the valley home.

VIEWS FROM THE NORTH SIDE OF THE WILLIWAW LOOP

The Williwaw trail crosses busy Portage Valley Hwy. twice. On the east side of the loop there is no bridge, tunnel, or light. Be careful crossing the road in that spot because traffic can be fast and heavy.

Going CCW on the Williwaw Nature Trail loop on the other side of the road was even more interesting to me because I had great views of the Kenai Mountain Range and glaciers on the south side of the Portage Valley "behind" our campground.

On the north side of the highway the trail runs between wide, fast-moving Portage Creek and the highway. It's far enough from the road to not hear or see traffic, just more scenic ponds, streams, wetlands, and mountains.

Here's a map of the trail again:

As I made the turn to the left (west) above the third pond I followed a short side trail to a point where I could clearly see Portage Creek.

Looks more like a river to me:

The ponds (also old gravel pits??) on this side of the road are also that gorgeous deep turquoise color from all the glacial silt flowing through them. The angle of whatever light was coming through the thick clouds made the ponds over here look even more blue:

 

In addition to salmon and char, these ponds also support trout. Fishing is popular here.

Despite the misty conditions and lingering low clouds this evening I had the best views of Middle Glacier from this vantage point across the road.

I could see the valley where the glacier "hangs" soon after I turned west on the Williwaw trail, going CCW on the loop:

The closer I got to the road as the trail swung back south toward the fish viewing area, the more I could see the blue ice:

 

 

 

About half a mile before I reached the road I crossed this pretty creek on a wooden bridge:

The trail splits and visitors can either walk out and back on the other side of the ponds for about a quarter mile or continue along the creek toward the road, salmon viewing area, and Williwaw Campground.

 

 

The trail continues through a tunnel under the busy Portage Valley road at this point, ending at the popular Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform.

SALMON VIEWING AREA

From late July through early September at least four kinds of salmon travel up Williwaw Creek to spawn in the streams and ponds I've shown on these pages.

This handsome viewing platform is located just off the Portage Valley Highway between the entrances to Black Bear and Williwaw campgrounds. The U-shaped parking area is big enough for large rigs to park and turn around..

 

Interpretive panels describe the life cycle of red (sockeye), chum (dog), pink (humpy), and coho (silver) salmon:

No fishing is allowed in the creek in this area but it would be fun to watch the salmon swim by when they're on their way to the ponds to spawn. We were here too early to see any of them.

AS MUCH EXERCISE (& BEAUTY) AS YOU WANT

Combining various configurations on the Blue Ice and/or Williwaw Nature trails you can run, hike, or ride a bike any distance from zero to about 15 miles. Add another four miles going to Bryon Glacier and back.

If all that's not enough, you can repeat some of those miles or get on the road and run/ride between Portage and Whittier.

Jim and I plan to get out on these trails tomorrow morning before we go back to Anchorage and ride our bikes the other direction (west toward the Seward Hwy.).

I'll show photos of that part of the Trail of Blue Ice in the next entry.

LAND OF ENCHANTMENT 

That may be New Mexico's state nickname but I think it is even more apropos for Alaska. Despite the rain, Im in love with this state. So many places are simply enchanting.

As I record these notes were both sitting at our computers at Williwaw Campground, looking out the windows of our Cameo at lush green mountains, a waterfall thats several hundred feet high, and the blue ice at the top of Middle Glacier:

Its almost 10 PM and even with lingering low clouds, its still light outside. It feels like 6 PM.

Any minute a moose with twins or a bear with triplets could walk by our windows. Wed be delighted, but not surprised because we've had such wildlife encounters in Alaska already. They'll be magical no matter how many times we experience them. Ditto with glaciers.

I can see why some people either keep coming back to Alaska or move here full- or part-time. In so many ways, it's like no other place I've ever been.

GORGEOUS FLOWERS 

Here's another reason to visit (or live in) Alaska -- some flowers you may not see anywhere else.

I found this article tonight on the AlaskaDispatch.com site. There is a slideshow of more than 30 beautiful macro photos of flowers blooming this past week at the Alaska Botanical Gardens in Anchorage. I'll have to go there soon to see them. We're heading back to JBER tomorrow.

Next entry:  photos from the other end of the Trail of Blue Ice

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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