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"With over 100 rearing tanks, there is space for production of more than six million  
sport fish per year. These . . . fish are released throughout South Central Alaska . . .
Sport fishing activity supported through these fish releases accounts for over
$20 million a year in economic impact on local communities." 
~ from the Alaska Fish & Games Dept. webpage about the large, new
William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage

We toured this impressive facility today, along with an older fish hatchery located nearby.

Both hatcheries are built along aptly-named Fish Creek and both are on or adjacent to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) property. The older Fort Richardson State Fish Hatchery is gradually being phased into the newer Hernandez facility at Elmendorf AFB but is still open to visitors.

One of three decorative fish mosaics hanging from the ceiling in the new fish hatchery

I'll give you a little tour of both hatchery facilities in this entry, as well as show photos of some more aircraft on display at Elmendorf AFB -- and, surprisingly, two exquisite bald eagles that are being rehabilitated in a nice enclosure right across from the aircraft display.

And I'll show you how salmon, eagles, and aircraft relate to one another . . . but first, a weather report.


We had a great run of sunshine for the last six days, which apparently is unusual in Anchorage in July. We tried to make the best of that by being outside a lot. Last night and today we had a 90% chance of rain so we planned our activities accordingly.

Per the local news, it has still been the second-coolest July on record in Anchorage and the chilliest since 1920. Here’s a link re: the city’s chilly summer and record-breaking snow levels during the winter. Locals feel like it's been an endless winter, at least in the mountains.

We know how to pick which summer to visit Alaska, eh?? We're having a great time anyway.

Fish sculpture at the entrance to the new fish hatchery; fish don't care if it's raining.

We woke up this morning not knowing if we’d have to move to a different camping spot today.

Folks are limited to two weeks at the Black Spruce FamCamp at JBER unless there are available spots after 1 PM on the day they are supposed to leave. (We can't make reservations here -- it's first come, first served.)  Our two weeks were up this morning and the campground was still pretty full last night.

Worst case, we'd have to move to a "dry" camping site with no hookups. It’s somewhat of a pain to move a 5th-wheel coach. It's more of a pain to move to a dry (AKA boondocking) camping site on a rainy day after we've been spoiled with full hookups the last two weeks.

Fortunately, we didn't have to wait until 1 PM to find out whether we could stay put. The campground host let us know by 9:30 AM that we can stay in our current site a few more days because enough other folks are leaving today. 

Whew! That worked out well for us. We were free to leave and do what we wanted to do today. And with lots of rain predicted for the coming week we'd rather stay here than head up the road toward Denali National Park earlier. We may spend some time at Denali State Park first, and we won't have hookups there.


While we were out running errands we toured the two fish hatcheries mentioned above.

Both hatcheries are on Fish Creek, which runs the length of JBER. They are managed by the state Fish & Game Department. Although the fisheries are marked on our base map we didn’t notice them until I read about them in one of the visitors' guides I picked up.

We toured the Fort Richardson hatchery first. This older facility is off Grady Hwy. just a couple miles from our campground.

We spent about 30 minutes looking around the outdoor fish raceways. One of the fish culturists, Chuck, was hand feeding a large tank of Arctic char. They were divided into three groups, based on age. The four-year-olds will spawn this fall, the three-year-olds next fall, and the two-year-olds in 2014.

The fish are usually fed automatically but Chuck had just come back after being gone for a week and he wanted to see how the char were eating. He gives them nutrient-dense food so they’ll grow larger.

The water in the tanks used to be warmer when there was a power plant nearby (the reason the hatchery was originally located on base). Now the water stays pretty cool all year long (33-42 F.) and the fish don’t grow as large as they did in warmer water. We asked lots of questions and Chuck readily gave us all kinds of interesting information.

He encouraged us to wait until he was done feeding the char so we could watch him feed the rainbow trout. The char stayed under water as Chuck tossed small batches of food pellets (looked like dog food) into their tanks. The trout were much more active and jumped around when he fed them.

Because a bald eagle tried to get into the trout tank, Chuck came up with two strategies to discourage it. He strung wire with flagging on it a foot above the chain link fence the eagle wanted to sit on and he placed plastic tubing across the tank every 20 feet so the eagle can’t swoop down from the air to get to the fish.

Jim mentioned that we’ve been to the fish hatchery in Leadville, CO several times. Chuck, who has been in the business 24 years, knows all about that prominent national fish hatchery.

Chuck works out of the new facility just outside the Post Road gate at Reeves Blvd. We went over there next and did a self-tour through the very large building. The old hatchery will eventually be phased out and merged with the new one, which was built just last summer.


This place is impressive for many reasons.

Not only is it state of the art for fish production and resource conservation, it is also laid out well for visitors to take tours by themselves through wide corridors overlooking the tanks and other equipment. You can also walk along the creek bank to see spawning fish and the outdoor raceways.

Visitors start their tour upstairs near the parking lot. All the large and small tanks and other operations are on the first floor.

We walked through the hallway upstairs and could look down through large windows to see the tanks, pipes, etc.:

Numerous interpretive signs describe the equipment and operations:


We were very impressed with both the scope/design of the facility and the appealing way it educates visitors.

You can read more about it here and see a diagram of the layout.

These 26 large fiberglass production tanks each hold over 23,000 gallons of water and can house up to 27,000 eight-inch-long rainbow trout or 240,000 Chinook or coho salmon:


Thirty-two smaller tanks in the start-up rearing area can hold a total of three million young salmon and trout at one time:

Another start-up area is specifically designed for young Arctic grayling and char, as well as rainbow trout brood stock. These species have special dietary needs:

There is an entire room devoted to receiving, storing, and distributing food for all the fish:

Because the facility is still relatively new, not all of the tanks have water and fish in them right now.

When the plant is at full capacity it will be able to raise over six million rainbow trout, king (Chinook) salmon, silver (Coho) salmon, Arctic grayling, and Arctic char each year. The current production is a little over four million fingerling, smolt, and catchable fish.

Another interesting area describes how fish eggs are incubated at the facility:


Over two million salmon, trout, or char eggs can be incubated in a nearby area that visitors don't see because the developing embryos are extremely light sensitive.

Many of the eggs that are incubated at this facility come from remote sites in Alaska. To minimize the transfer of disease from the wild they must be disinfected before being placed in the incubation system. Signs in this area show photos of the equipment we couldn't see.

At the far end of the building we went back downstairs and outside to the fish spawning and viewing area. There are more tanks (raceways) there and we could see quite a few large, red salmon both in the tanks and in the creek:

A two-tiered, manmade waterfall prevents some of the salmon from swimming farther upstream. There is an old fish ladder (wier) at the side:

Downstream from the waterfall we could see salmon in quiet eddies along the edges of the creek; a sign indicated this is spawning habitat:


We found this fishery tour very interesting, even though neither of us fishes.

Go see it if you're in Anchorage. It's outside the JBER gates so you don't have to go through security. And it's free!


Speaking of salmon, this article was on the local Channel 2 website today: "Collapsing King Salmon Runs Devastate Kenai Tourism Economy."

There aren't enough king salmon in the rivers on the Kenai Peninsula this year for commercial, sport, or subsistence fishermen to catch any of them -- it's forbidden by the Alaska Fish & Game Department. If enough king salmon cannot spawn this year, the species could be doomed in this area.

Fortunately, the sockeye salmon run on the peninsula is excellent this year, so folks are drawn to the area to catch those. It's interesting to read how all this affects the area's residents and economy.


On the way back through the Elmendorf side of JBER Jim turned on Sijan Ave. and showed me a static display of half a dozen aircraft near the flight line:


Those were not on our JBER map. Jim found them during a bike ride.

He also had a surprise to show me across the street, something he knew I'd enjoy more than the planes:


Across the street from the aircraft display is a large fenced and wooden enclosure with two bald eagles in it:

Both eagles were injured and donated to the Air Force Base in the early 1990s because they couldn’t survive in the wild.

It's fitting that they are housed here. When our founding fathers chose the bald eagle as our national symbol 'way back in 1782 they noted that it represents "a free spirit, high soaring and courageous."

That sure sounds to me like the brave and daring men and women who serve in our Air Force.

The brown sign in the lower right says "Reserved Parking: Handicapped Eagle."

"Jack" is missing his left eye and has an old wing injury that prevents flight.

"Notch" has limited flight ability after a gunshot wound. Isn't he handsome?

I noticed this partially-eaten salmon in their enclosure . . .

Visitors must go through security at one of the JBER gates to see the aircraft and/or eagle display but it's not a big deal if you have valid ID and vehicle registration.

After supper we watched the DVD of the movie, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. It’s the story of a man who is born in his 80s and ages backwards to birth. It is a good reminder that you’re as young as you think and feel, not just how you look.

Tomorrow looks like the only day with a good chance of sunshine for the next week so we've planned more cycling and hiking then.

Next entry:  my 14-mile hike with Cody on the Gold Mint Trail off Hatcher Pass Road

Happy trails,

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

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil