By Heidi Zemach (with assistance from a SCN article by Carol Griswold)
Two viewing decks were installed Tuesday afternoon along the banks of Scheffler Creek, near the Small Boat Harbor. They represent the culmination of a two-year multi-agency project coordinated by the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance to protect the creek, its banks, and fish habitat. The viewing decks are meant to encourage people to view the spawning salmon and creek safely, without damaging and undermining the banks and their protective vegetation, and also to provide public education.
The first 6 x 20′ aluminum light-penetrating “City” viewing platform is about 100 yards upstream of the new foot bridge, downstream of the Third Avenue culverts, along the paved trail. It will have two educational signs installed on it. The “Tougas” deck is on Seward Wildlife Cruises LCC property, below the RV parking lot just west of 4th Avenue. Both were built and installed by Mike’s Welding, of Soldotna. Funding for the multi-faceted project was provided by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Seward Community Foundation, Seward Chamber of Commerce, City of Seward, and Seward Wildlife Cruises, LLC.
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 and stream design 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, and 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 (ADFG). Site One was near the culverts on Third Avenue where countless footsteps wore the bank down to bare ground. Site Two was 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.
On June 26, 2012, twenty-two volunteers helped with the bank restoration of those sites. Volunteers included AmeriCorps interns from the Alaska Sealife Center, Kenai Fjords National Park staff and their Student Conservation Association (SCA) interns, and local citizens. The City of Seward Public Works Department provided topsoil, a backhoe, and skilled operator Jason. The Department of Transportation (DOT) provided beach ryegrass from their Seward Airport project and a generous pile of dirt.
At the end of the day, volunteers had completed the intensive layering and anchoring of the willow and alder brush mat. 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 black mat and coarse rocks were added to Site Two to guide future floodwater over the bank with minimal erosion.
Scheffler Creek is a salmon stream that flows right through the heart of town. It starts high in the Mt 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.