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Dipnetters should avoid unstable rockslide near Copper River, state says

A rock slide has closed the O'Brien Creek to Haley Creek Trail along the Copper River in early June 2019. The slide is very unstable, causing both DOT and Dept. Fish and Game to urge people not to cross the slide. (Photo provided by Dept. of Transportation)

With salmon dipnetters preparing to flock to the Copper River near Chitina in Southcentral Alaska, two Alaska agencies on Tuesday urged people not to cross a rockslide along the trail to some of the fishing holes in the Wood Canyon.

The “significant and unstable” slide of slate rock is located about 3 miles south of O’Brien Creek bridge, between O’Brien and Haley creeks, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

A photo released by the agencies Tuesday appears to show large slabs of fractured slate covering the path. People crossing the slide on four-wheelers or on foot risk getting injured or trapped on the trail, the agencies warned.

Palmer resident Scott Anselm dipnets for salmon at O’Brien Creek on June 29, 2017. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Chuck Derrick, president of the Chitina Dipnetters Association, said dipnetters are resourceful and will carve a path through the slide, like they’ve done in the past. The best fishing can be found in the eddies of the canyon, where the river narrows.

“There’s been numerous slides, but then there will be a group that goes through and they’ll just jump on that slide, slide rocks out of the way and open it up,” Derrick said. “I anticipate it will be opened the first weekend of fishing.”

The popular Chitina Personal Use Dip Net Salmon Fishery is scheduled to open Friday. It will remain open periodically until Sept. 30.

The trail has been plagued by rockslides for years but the state has made progress in improving portions of it, Derrick said. A $15 fee for the Chitina dipnet permit helps pay for the trail repairs, he said.

Transportation officials said they won’t clear the slide during the fishing this summer because of safety concerns and the slide’s location. The agency “tentatively plans to address" the slide this fall.

Other good fishing spots can be found before the slide. Heads of households are allowed 25 salmon, with additional household members allowed 10 more salmon apiece. Each household is allowed one king salmon.

Derrick said about 10,000 permits are issued on average years. Some people will fish from chartered boats, some will get dropped off on shore by boats, and others will cross the slide to fish from steep banks.

“This has never stopped them,” he said.

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