Yesterday we published an article about four bright college leaders from the TU Costa 5 Rivers Program exploring the Kenai Penninsula in the first part of there Alaskan Journey. Today the story continues as we highlight the second portion of the trip. Students Recap their time spent in Bristol Bay:
“We were running on empty; 3 hours of sleep and 3 cups of coffee for breakfast were all that was keeping me from collapsing on the rocky tundra. My arms burned and my hands were cramping, but we finally made it. With a shrug of relief, I set down the two buckets filled with white fuel and food and took the duffel off of my back. I leaned against one of the buckets and before I could catch my breath, Chuck, our guide for the week, was yelling, “Hurry up, we have at least 4 more trips!” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. We had to carry all of our gear for the 8-day float across the tundra to the river and I was already exhausted. How were we going to be able to carry all of our gear when one trip was a half mile? “
“Somehow, we made it to the end of the portage. We thought that was the end of the work, but it was only the beginning. We pumped up the rafts and organized our gear and were immediately faced with challenges on the raft. Chuck decided to take us through a narrow back channel with low flows to get to the main river so we did not have to carry gear any farther, but it meant sliding our rafts over many obstacles including beaver dams and bushes. This may sound like a terrible time to some, but it made the entire trip that much sweeter for me. Once we carried our rafts over all of the obstacles and made it to the main channel of the river, I was filled with joy.”
“Immediately, we saw the subtle ripples resulting from salmon and grayling rising to insects skirting across the surface of the water. Our hard work had paid off. This was the first time I had truly set my eyes on the Koktuli River, and I would not have been as amazed if we could have reached the river from a parking lot. Overcoming many of the challenges that we faced also gave me a new perspective on the challenges that salmon face. We had the privilege of taking two flights to get to our put-in on the Koktuli, while the salmon make an enormous journey from the open ocean (where at?), swimming hundreds of miles upstream back to their birthplace to spawn. Before the float trip, I saw firsthand how salmon brought the people together.”
“Now, I got to see how the salmon contributed to the environment. We ran into salmon carcasses on the river that had been eaten by bears. Those carcasses were now filled with insects(specific ones?) that would later feed the salmon fry in the river. The same fry (as well as salmon eggs) sustained very healthy populations of dolly varden, rainbow trout, and grayling. The entire ecosystem revolves around the salmon, and it was truly incredible to come into contact with salmon on their journey.”
Exploring the Tongass National Forest
The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States and is home to the third largest island in the United States, Prince of Wales. The 5 Rivers Odyssey crew is spending ten days on Prince of Wales to learn more about issues affecting the salmon who spawn in the island’s streams and rivers.
As the largest national forest in the U.S., the Tongass has various opportunities for both recreation and industry. While both national parks and national forests can be utilized and enjoyed by the public, they differ in how they can be used. National parks are managed for recreational purposes such as hiking, camping, and fishing, whereas national forests are managed for timber production, hunting, grazing, and other uses.
69% of Alaska’s land is public land, providing endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to see their fair share of wilderness. Hunters and anglers come to the Tongass to experience the pristine wilderness accented by old-growth forests, lively rivers, and towering mountains. The Tongass is known as “the Salmon Forest” for reasons that became obvious to us as soon as we arrived on Prince of Wales. Wild salmon bring the nutrients from the open ocean back to the Tongass’s streams and rivers, creating a unique ecosystem of spruce, hemlock, and cedar trees, among other organisms. When bears feed on salmon carcasses, they fertilize the forest floor, promoting the growth of shrubs and plants that feed the forest’s strong population of blacktail deer. Blacktail deer are then consumed by the forest’s black bears and wolves.
While the landscapes that we have seen in the Tongass are entirely different from any other part of Alaska that we have visited, they are just as enticing. The Tongass has something for everyone to enjoy, and its abundant fish and wildlife populations support strong hunting, commercial, and sport-fishing industries. To ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy and utilize national parks and national forests, we need to be aware of how our public lands are being managed. Salmon are a crucial resource in the Tongass, and their survival depends on our ability to protect and conserve their habitat.