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Eklutna River History
The Eklutna River has a long history that unfortunately has turned to destruction and abuse over the last fifty years. For many generations, the river sustained an Athabascan village at its mouth, nurturing the community with generous runs of Sockeye, King, Chum and Silver Salmon. This Athabascan community lives on in the town of Eklutna but the runs that supported them have been greatly reduced and Sockeyes have all but disappeared from the Anchorage area.
Perhaps the worst blows to the salmon of the Eklutna River were the creation of two dams. The first was created in the 1920’s near the base of the Eklutna River valley. Originally, the 68 foot dam was meant to produce hydroelectric power for the new city of Anchorage, but the dam quickly failed and went into disuse. Today that dam is a major obstacle in the way of migrating salmon.
To add to the problems the dams have created, the land around the river has also been abused. In places, gravel mining took place on the banks of the river and riparian habitat has been downgraded. Also, illegal dumping has been very popular over the recent decades, leaving areas filled with junked cars and household garbage.
For full restoration of the River, something must be done about the upper dam to allow a natural flow of run-off from the Eklutna Lake into the upper Eklutna River. I would guess that this will be a pretty hard sell for the interests who own the dam or for the Anchorage water utilities. However, the value of a strengthened Salmon Fishery on the Eklutna River is pretty obvious to everyone involved. Not just for sportfishing, but also for the heritage of the village of Eklutna. Time will tell what happens with this river, but it does seem possible that this river can be a much stronger fishery in the near future.
Eklutna Athabascan Heritage
To learn more about the Dena'ina Athabascan culture and their 350 year history at the mouth of the Eklutna River, visit the Eklutna Historical Park. The park is the site of the oldest inhabited Athabascan village in the area. The area also hosted Russian Orthodox missionaries starting in the 1800’s. The park contains a cultural museum, a cemetery of traditional Spirit houses and original Russian buildings and a Russian Orthodox church.
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