Forest Service works to restore Resurrection Creek from decades of mining damage

Aug 30, 2021

Resurrection Creek is a tributary of Turnagain Arm. At the turn of the 20th century, it was a popular site for hydraulic mining, which an activity that fundamentally changed the shape and flow of the creek.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

Hydraulic mining during Hope’s gold rush brought the town riches and residents.

But local marine life was not so fortunate. Mining activity fundamentally changed the shape and flow of Resurrection Creek, destroying habitat for its many types of salmon.

The U.S. Forest Service started restoring the creek 15 years ago. It announced this month it’s starting on the second part of the project — a 2.2-mile stretch of creek downstream from the Resurrection Pass North trailhead. And this time around, it’s working with active miners in the Hope area to do so.

Forest Service hydrologist Angela Coleman said the hydraulic mining used at the turn of the 20th century was efficient — but bad for the watershed.

“What they did is they used really high-power hydraulic jets to strip away all the soil and the trees and it was really good at dislodging the gold," she said. "But at the same time, it had really devastating impacts on the streams and the banks around it.”

The hydraulic mining stripped away the curves, logjams and pools in the creek and created a straight, fast current.

"So the returning salmon would hit this, and there’s not much resting habitat or even spawning habitat," said Adam Cross, a biologist with the Forest Service. "And so they would shoot through this area and then the bulk of the spawning and rearing occurred upstream.”

The Forest Service already repaired a one-mile stretch of the creek. Cross said they’ve seen more fish using that area since.

But for years, the service didn’t have enough funding for part two.

“Because these restoration projects are not cheap," Cross said. "At all.”

Now, the service has funding from mining company Kinross and Trout Unlimited, among other partners.

Hope is still a functioning mining community. Part of the creek that’s being restored goes right across active claims. 

Hope Mining Company was founded in 1898 and still leases claims to miners. The service partnered with the company to establish a restoration corridor through the claims. 

Hope Mining Company Vice President Jim Roberts said the relationship between the groups was initially tense. 

“In fact, when we were in that first meeting, it was very standoffish, because that was the relationship that mutual users of the forest had," Roberts said. "They were almost warring, where you had miers wanting to mine in the forest and foresters protecting the resource. And we looked at each other literally when they pushed that piece of paper across the table and said, ‘This ain’t happening.’”

He said the success of the project signals a change in relationship between users that don’t always see eye to eye. The company worked with the Forest Service so they could mine the area underneath the restoration project before it’s put in. 

Roberts said there are 18 mining claims in the Hope area today. He said the hydraulic mining technique that destroyed the creek isn’t used anymore.

Now, he said miners have to come up with plans to mitigate damage and work with regulatory agencies to ensure best practices.

“We’re not necessarily disturbing a whole lot of new ground," he said. "A lot of the mining is taking place in those old hydraulic tailings. Because the effects of hydraulic mining, they left 60 to 80 percent of the gold right where it was.”

The service can tell what the creek once looked like by looking at undisturbed stretches upstream. Cross said they want the section they’re restoring to look more like that. 

“We want to put areas of slow water in there and some pools," he said. "We want to establish areas where the fish can spawn.”

The Forest Service is starting construction on the second phase of the project in 2022, with an expected end date of 2025.