Historic water levels in Ship Creek have drastically eroded two sections of a popular Anchorage trail, prompting an emergency closure as crews wait to make repairs.
The creek is running gray-brown at dramatically high volume due to unseasonably high temperatures in late May, a heavy snow year and recent rainfall — a combination causing rapid rising on waterways around Southcentral Alaska.
Earlier this week, it became clear Ship Creek was eating away at the bank beneath several sections of the Ship Creek Trail, rendering parts of it unsafe for users, authorities say.
The creek’s flows are at an all-time high and running heavy with silt, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“We haven’t seen it this high in decades,” said Steve Rafuse, parks superintendent with the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department.
Due to rapid erosion, the city on Wednesday evening announced it had closed a large section of the trail between A Street and Post Road and from Sitka Street to Reeve Boulevard.
Municipal officials had already planned erosion prevention work along the trail, but the urgency of the encroachment this week prompted emergency action, officials said.
The creekside trail lacks the bustling traffic of the often-crowded Tony Knowles Coastal Trail or Chester Creek Trail but attracts a devoted contingent of anglers, walkers and bicycle commuters. It starts near downtown Anchorage and winds through greenery with the sounds of nearby train horns and gulls before ending at William Tyson Elementary School in Mountain View.
While the water was rushing along the trail Friday morning, foot and bike traffic was not. Near the bright orange signage and map of the detour beginning at A Street, a few people ambled by, many wearing waders and carrying fishing poles. A handful of anglers fished the creek.
Madeline Wilson, with her parents and 18-month-old son Taran, was walking the trail trying to spot some salmon in the creek’s silty water. They were halted by the closure.
“That’s really impressive it came up that high,” Wilson said of the creek’s progress.
The trail has wound along the creek for a few decades. Rafuse said he looked at aerial photos of the area a year ago that showed the stream bank about 30 feet away. It was 75 feet away in 2010.
“Today it’s pretty much right up on the trail,” he said. “Things can change fast.”
The city has already gotten an emergency work permit from Fish and Game but a contractor can’t actually get started on securing and rebuilding the bank beneath the trail until the water goes down, Rafuse said.
Crews worked through the night Wednesday to set up a detour “with the least amount of disruption for folks” as the closure remains in place, he said.
State transportation officials say they are working with the city during the emergency operation to establish a traffic control plan to get non-motorized users through the area safely. Reeve Boulevard is a state-owned street.
The detours are along roads that mostly border the trail in a primarily industrial area, including some areas with painted bike lanes and shoulders, but some parts do involve crossing railroad tracks.
Rapidly melting snow and recent rain led to flooding in several parts of Southcentral this week.
A heavy burst of rain briefly closed the Glenn Highway on Thursday after a nearby creek jumped its banks and breached the roadway near Victory Bible Camp, in the Glacier View area.
Along with Ship Creek, other area streams including Campbell Creek in Anchorage and Six Mile Creek on the Kenai Peninsula were considered bankfull, meaning they’re high but not flooding, said Kyle Van Peursem, a senior hydrometeorologist with the Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center.
Deep winter snow and delayed snowmelt led to the high creeks, Van Peursem said.
Levels are expected to decline over time, he said, and get back to normal by the middle of the month barring unusual rainfall.
Once Ship Creek drops enough, a municipal contractor can start securing the bank and shoring up damaged sections of trail, Rafuse said.
“I can’t give you a firm time,” he said.