Groups restore Scheffler Creek stream bank
Volunteers work on restoring the stream bank along Scheffler Creek.
Submitted by Carol Griswold
Scheffler Creek is a special salmon stream flowing right through the heart of town. It starts high in the Mount Marathon Bowl where ice-cold water from melting snow shoots over the cliffs in a spectacular waterfall. The mountain stream then follows Phoenix Road, though wetlands, and into the Lagoon. Other small artesian-fed creeks join at the Lagoon and all flow through culverts under Third Avenue to Lower Scheffler Creek and then out to the bay south of the harbor uplands.
Pink, red, and silver salmon use the stream and its tributaries for spawning, rearing and passage. King salmon are stocked annually in the Lagoon. Salmon are in the stream all year round, either as spawners, eggs, alevin, fry or smolt. Seward is fortunate to have this amazing salmon stream system, and the stream is fortunate to have people who care about it.
Last year, the Kenai Watershed Forum partnered with the city to design, contract and install a pedestrian bridge to replace two damaged culverts at the stream outlet. The new bridge allows improved fish passage and spawning habitat. Adjacent stream banks were reseeded with native grasses and covered with matting to improve that habitat and to help restore the vegetation. Overhanging branches and vegetation are essential for good salmon habitat as they provide shade, places to hide from predators, insects and other invertebrates for food. The vegetation also reduces erosion and that improves water quality.
This year, two badly eroded sites along the lower creek were selected for more intensive stream bank restoration by Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance (RBCA) and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Habitat Division (ADF&G). Site One is near the culverts on Fourth Avenue where countless footsteps wore the bank down to bare ground. Site Two is a few hundred yards farther south on the Waterfront Pathway (bike path) where seasonal flooding washed away all the stream bank vegetation leaving nothing but gravel.
After months of planning, 22 volunteers brought their community spirit, muscles and shovels to bring the plan to life on June 26. They dug, shoveled, raked, staked, layered, trimmed, watered and toiled from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Amber Bethe, habitat biologist with ADF&G, provided technical support and on-the-job training, alternating between the two sites as the work progressed simultaneously. Matt Gray of RBCA was also everywhere adding his guidance, directing volunteers and assisting with sledge-hammering stubborn stakes to hold the brush layer system in place.
The willing and able volunteers included AmeriCorps interns from the Alaska SeaLife Center, Kenai Fjords National Park staff and their Student Conservation Association interns, and local citizens. Of special note was Mrs. Barnwell, who created the Scheffler Creek Kids curriculum for her fifth and sixth Seward Elementary School classes. A former student, Joel, now going into seventh grade, volunteered his hard work all day, too. The City of Seward Public Works Department provided topsoil, a backhoe and skilled operator Jason. The Department of Transportation provided beach rye grass from their Seward Airport project and a generous pile of dirt.
At the end of the day, both sites had completed the intensive streambank restoration including a base anchor coir log, brush layering with willow and alder, and beach rye grass mat at the top. The volunteers worked hard and long and did a fantastic job. The next day, RBCA watered the new plantings, added more beach rye grass clumps to the top layer, and installed a temporary fence to keep pedestrians from trampling the new vegetation. A special soil separation fabric and coarse rocks were added to Site Two to guide future drainage over the bank without causing erosion.
Part of the restoration team looks at their work (and the camera) after a hard day’s work digging, shoveling, raking, staking and layering along the creek.
Later this summer, pilings will be driven and a 6-foot by 20-foot aluminum light-penetrating viewing platform with educational signs will be installed at the lower Site Two. A similar viewing platform will be also be installed just upstream of the Fourth Avenue culverts.
Funding for this community habitat improvement project was provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Seward Community Foundation, Seward Chamber of Commerce and Seward Wildlife Cruises, LLC. RBCA wished to express a special thanks to all project supporters, funders, and volunteers.
With the help of dedicated volunteers, sponsoring agencies, and an educated public, Scheffler Creek will be an even healthier salmon stream and continue to offer something exciting to watch from the platform — salmon!