Recently Fairbanks and the surrounding areas have been getting a lot of rain. So when Jack and I visited the Chena Dam the other day the floodgates had been lowered in order to prevent high water from flowing downstream toward Fairbanks. This results in the river backing up into the reservoir area behind the dam but saves Fairbanks as it has many times since it was built almost 40 years ago.
Dermot Cole of Alaska Dispatch News wrote in 2014 when the floodgates were lowered then that Fairbanks’ “most effective flood insurance policy … takes the form of an unusual dam with four 30-ton gates that operate like giant garage doors, stemming the flow of high water when the river rises. The floodgates are one element in an extensive federal flood control project that cost a quarter-billion dollars by the time of its completion in 1979.”
Click on the first photo and scroll to the right to read the captions.
This is the reservoir (floodway) that is now filled because the floodgates were lowered.
A little bit of green is still above water.
That’s our rig in the parking lot where you can access the top of the levee.
This shows Jack standing on the 7 mile long “Moose Creek Dam,” the levee.
The floodgates are in the top right corner of this map. We were a mile or two away from them on what’s labeled here as the Moose Creek Dam, the long straight levee that leads to the Tanana River. Map from US Army Corps of Engineers.
Here are the floodgates.
Another map, also from the US Army Corps of Engineers website. It shows a more realistic perspective of the whole setup.
On the opposite bank there’s debris that’s been picked out of the water on the other side of the floodgates.
Looking toward Fairbanks.
This is a terrific area with tons of biking/walking trails, boat rentals, a beach, camping, etc. There are day use volunteer hosts who take care of this lovely place.
Not everyone gets to see the floodgates being used on such a beautiful day. We’d be willing to bet that most Fairbanksans haven’t even been here.
From top to bottom they say: “Tanana River 40 miles”, “Yukon River 250 miles” and “Spawning Grounds next 35 miles.” Kings actually run through here as well as chum salmon and you can view them from the floodgates when they finally get here from the ocean each summer. I love the artwork but the salmon look more like silvers and pinks than kings and chum. 🙂
Now we’re on the other side of the floodgates looking down to the reservoir.
Volunteers maintain this area for wildlife, cutting hay, putting up nest boxes, burning to keep the brush low.
Not all of the hay got moved before the flood.
The sign shows the high water mark which was in 1992, the only time overflow water made it all the way to the Tanana River.
This is the side of the Chena River floodgates where water is building up and you can see tons of debris that has to be picked out by the crane. They sometimes offer it to the public for firewood.
This dam handles water coming from 1500 square miles of drainage.
According to adn.com, Fairbanks used to flood every 5th spring or so and this was actually desired so that barges could make it farther upstream. Fairbanks was founded by PT Barnette when he was stranded because of low water and a year later he struck gold.
At the end of a walkway that juts into the floodway someone has placed a beautiful memorial bench to someone named Joyce.
For more info: a slideshow on the Army Corp website and this pamphlet for a little more in depth information.
Flying into Fairbanks one day in 2008 the airplane took an unusual route. Instead of coming in from the southwest it came in from the southeast, flying over Harding Lake and Salcha and circling over Farmers Loop across north of town into the airport. Maybe this direction of landing is normal, I don’t know, I have never experienced it before, but this day happened to be beautifully clear and I captured some great photos of the Tanana River and various Fairbanks landmarks.
Click on the first one and then scroll to the right for an overhead, raven’s eye, tour of Fairbanks.
This is Hardling Lake with the Richardson Highway at the top of the photo (looking south).
Harding Lake with the Tanana River and Richardson Highway running in between.
This is the Salcha River flowing into the Tanana River, surrounded by the community of Salcha with the Richardson Highway running through it.
The Tanana River
The Tanana River
Now we are looking northwest toward Fairbanks with the Tanana River flowing westward.
A closer view of Fairbanks with Fairbanks International Airport in the upper left, above the Tanana River. The Parks Highway runs next to the airport from the northwest then turns east (Mitchell Expressway). You can see almost all of Fairbanks here including the hillside residential areas to the north and west. The bodies of water in between Fairbanks and the Tanana RIver are the gravel pits around Lakeview Terrace and farther away, the South Cushman ponds.
The intersection of the Richardson Highway and Badger Road is on the right. The road that parallels the Richardson on the left is called Saddle Avenue; we think this is the dike that protects Fairbanks from Tanana River flooding. Fort Wainwright is on the right.
The middle rectangle spans south Fairbanks from the airport to Fort Wainwright. The University of Alaska is in the upper right hand corner and below it is part of downtown.
Now we are on the other side of Fort Wainwright looking southwest. Bottom right is Birch Hill Recreation Area and downhill ski runs and Jack says the circular cleared area is the Fort Wainwright landfill. On the right side middle you can see Johansen Expressway with the big box stores along it, though it’s more developed now with large commercial buildings on both sides of the road instead of just one. The Chena River winds westward from Fort Wainwright.
We’re flying north of town now looking south toward Fairbanks with the intersection of Farmers Loop and the Steese Highway in the upper left corner and McGrath and Farmers Loop closer to the middle.
Someone’s personal junkyard, one of many in Fairbanks. Normally you can just see an edge but here you can see one in all its glory!
This interestingly shaped pond is either an oxbow lake, which is formed where a river or slough used to run, or a thawed area of permafrost.
This is north Fairbanks where the industrial area of Aurora Drive and the residential areas north of it meet. Carlile Transportation is kind of in the upper middle, just on this side of the Johansen Expressway. Danby intersects Johansen in the upper left corner and on the other side of the expressway is the railroad industrial area. There have been a lot of changes since these were taken 6-7 years ago.
We are farther west, looking southeast, with Johansen Expressway running horizontally. The large buildings in the upper left (not near the middle of the photo, that’s the Aurora Drive industrial area) are Randy Smith Middle School and the car dealerships of Danby Road. Next to the red roof in the foreground is the partially constructed foundation of the Carlile shop that now services Jack’s truck.
Here we see the Chena River meandering through Fairbanks and the intersection of Johansen and Peger Road on the left. The Carlson Center is the large green building in the upper left. One of the newest and most expensive neighborhoods of Fairbanks is Doyon Estates which is on the right, inside one of the the loops of the Chena River.
The intersection of Peger Road and Phillips Field Road is near the middle and here is where the railroad industrial area and the residential neighborhoods meet.
This is Riverview Drive running between the neighborhood pond and the Chena River, with an active gravel pit on the right bank of the Chena. This residential neighborhood is called Taku or Westgate. You can see the new intersection of Airport Way and Washington Drive in the upper right corner. The large building at the corner of that intersection has been shuttered since K-Mart closed, and next to it is Sears.
And finally, we land at the Fairbanks International Airport with the float ponds next to the runway.