A rare opportunity to apologize to Fish Creek

Park formation could breathe new life into one of Anchorage’s most impaired neighborhoods by restoring a stretch of Anchorage’s most impaired waterway.

In a densely populated area of Anchorage with very few public spaces and even fewer sidewalks, a new opportunity to green things up has presented itself and during a global pandemic, the timing couldn’t be better.

The Spenard neighborhood has a reputation for being independent, unique, and eccentric as well as dangerous and poverty-stricken. The latter is especially true for the area around Chugach Way between Arctic Blvd and Minnesota Drive. Dotted with trailer homes and small apartment buildings in various states of disrepair, the neighborhood has struggled to remain viable and attract new investment. In fact, Cook Inlet Housing Authority has spent the past few years acquiring neighborhood parcels occupied by substandard housing and junkyards and razing them.

A 3.98-acre parcel at along Chugach way formerly occupied by a construction company and filled with equipment and vehicles has recently been vacated, the buildings demolished and the property has been listed for sale. What some people might not know is that the long weedy parcel, overgrown with invasive species has over 900 feet of frontage along Fish Creek.

The property address is 3901 Hayes Street and the listing describes it as an excellent income opportunity however, it would seem to be an even greater opportunity for the community to set aside a little piece of nature to be enjoyed by the public and repair and protect a stretch of Anchorage’s most impaired waterway.

Plenty of people in Anchorage are completely unaware that Fish Creek even exists and that’s because much it is buried in culverts beneath midtown. The Dena’ina name for Fish Creek is Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq’aka Betnu and the creek was once a traditional source of Coho Salmon. Ch’atanaltsegh means “yellow water comes out” to Łiq’aka Betnu means “King Salmon Creek”, the latter part of the name refers to traditional fish camps and trap sites at the mouth of Fish Creek.

The 1960s saw explosive growth for Anchorage which unfortunately had serious consequences for Anchorage’s wetlands and salmon streams. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, most of them had been dammed, diverted, buried, channelized, and polluted. Some of the damage done to our creeks has been mitigated through various projects over the past twenty years but Fish Creek remains Anchorage’s most impaired waterway.

The efforts of a citizen advocacy group called Friends of Fish Creek aims to “daylight” Fish Creek by returning as much of the creek as possible to the surface to restore fish habitat, restore riparian zones and reduce flooding risks. Preserving and rehabilitating this stretch of Fish Creek could be a significant milestone for everyone that supports this worthy cause. Friends of Fish Creek has successfully worked to pass a resolution of the Anchorage Assembly to support daylighting the creek and it reads as follows:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE ANCHORAGE ASSEMBLY supports daylighting Fish Creek / Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq’aka Betnu and finds daylighting is compatible with the 2040 Anchorage Area Plan goals. The Assembly encourages action by the Administration and the Anchorage community to support daylighting Fish Creek / Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq’aka Betnu, and further encourages the establishment of a continuous east-west non-motorized corridor that follows Fish Creek / Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq’aka Betnu; and calls on Municipal departments to prioritize protecting and enhancing sections of Fish Creek / Ch’atanaltsegh Łiq’aka Betnu that are currently daylighted.

Friends of Fish Creek has also made attempts to purchase the property but has so far been unable to do so, mainly due to conditions related to the sale of contaminated sites and remediation required – a detail that the seller has chosen to omit from the listing. It should also be noted that a portion of this lot is part of an easement that prevents it from being developed for conventional use and therefore reduces the actual, usable size to approximately 3.68 acres.

The availability of this land presents a unique opportunity for Anchorage to reclaim a badly neglected natural area, restore critical salmon habitat and give some much needed green space to one of Anchorage’s most impaired neighborhoods.

Old satellite image highlighting property and building locations – Google Maps
Contemporary aerial rendering after land clearing – Google Maps
Recent photo of land looking South – Mikhail Siskoff CC BY

Edit: After publishing the original article, I was contacted by Karen Button, the Board President of Friends of Fish Creek and she provided me with some additional information regarding this property including their efforts to purchase the land for conservation purposes. Thank you, Karen.

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