Subject: Field Inspection of Portions of the Black and Porcupine Rivers, June
26 -July 10, 1979
A field inspection of portions of the Black and Porcupine Rivers was conducted
June 26 to July 10, 1979 by representatives from the Heritage Conservation and
Recreation Service (HCRS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The
purpose of the trip was to evaluate river related resources in the newly created
Yukon Flats National Monument. The majority of the Black River, and portions of
the Porcupine River lie within the monument. Aside from federal land, there are
several Native Allotments along the river, as well as lands owned by Chalkyitsik
and Doyon Native Corporations.
Participating in the inspection were:
Lewis Swensen, FWS, Anchorage
NOTE: These reports may not
contain important information about: 1) safety, 2) land management and
ownership, 3) fishing and other regulations and 4) possible errors >
Roger Kaye, FWS, Fairbanks
Jack Mosby, HCRS, Anchorage
JoAnne Dunec, HCRS, Anchorage
Various transportation modes were used for the trip. Lou, Jack, and I flew via
commercial scheduled airlines from Anchorage to Fairbanks to meet Roger. All of
us continued to Ft. Yukon via scheduled airlines.
Our watercraft, two 17'
aluminum canoes, as well as some of our gear were shipped via air cargo from
Anchorage to Ft. Yukon. From there we chartered a Cessna 206 (Arctic Circle Air
Service) and a Cessna 185 (Air North), both on floats, to fly us, our canoes,
and gear to a small lake (Short Portage Lake, sec. 34, T.l8N, R.24E.) adjacent
to the Black River, upstream from the Salmon Fork. The flight was approximately
50 minutes one way. The length of the portage was approximately 150 feet. We
paddled and drifted approximately 210 river miles on the Black and a portion of
the Porcupine River. The take-out point was the mouth of the Sucker River on the
Porcupine, near Ft. Yukon. As pre-arranged, a Bureau of Land Management pick-up
truck took us, canoes and gear the short distance to Ft. Yukon where commercial
airlines were again utilized.
The portion of the Black River floated by the inspection team can be described
in three distinct segments; from Short Portage Lake to the Salmon Fork, from the
Salmon Fork to the village of Chalkyitsik, and lastly, the section below the
village to the mouth of the Black River on the Porcupine.
Short Portage Lake to Salmon Fork
Approximate time: 3 -5 days by canoe.
Though the Black River is a flat-water, meandering stream, this segment is
relatively rapid with a 2-3 mph current. The water is tea colored and cold. The
river passes through forested lowlands of willow, with birch and white spruce on
high banks of well-drained soil. (There are virtually no gravel bars.) The view
is limited to the river corridor due to the high banks and riparian vegetation.
Fires have not recently occurred in the area. Wildlife is abundant, especially
beaver and Arctic Loon. Moose, Lynx, and Canadian and White-Fronted Geese were
also sighted. Both Northern Pike and Grayling were caught. There are not obvious
signs of people, which lend a feeling of wilderness. (Of course, the flight to
the put-in point revealed thousands of acres of shimmering wet green expanse
broken only by tree-lined corridors.)
Salmon Fork to Chalkyitsik
Approximate time: 4-6 days by canoe.
Within a day's float from the confluence of the Salmon Fork the river widens and
the current slows to approximately 2 mph. The water remains tea colored; however
the water temperature increased to the 60°F. range (warm enough to swim and
bathe). Banks average ten feet in height interspersed with high bluffs. Gravel
bars and islands become more abundant. Riparian vegetation consists of willow
thickets (teeming with mosquitoes) with taller spruce and birch set back from
the banks. Numerous trees attain house-log size as evidenced by the existence of
several cabins and other structures. As signs of people increase, wildlife
viewing diminishes; less beaver and geese were sighted, however Peregrine
Falcons and Bald Eagles were seen along certain bluffs. Both Arctic Tern and
Arctic Loons became more abundant.
An interesting stop was the Old Salmon Village located on a slough, which will
soon become an oxbow lake. The village consisted of about ten log structures,
miscellaneous logs and pits, and five fenced graves atop a bluff overlooking the
village. (The exposed slope of the bluff was covered with a plant that smelled
like sagebrush.) All the structures were covered with weeds and were in various
states of disrepair and collapse. The village was abandoned in the 1940's when a
barge carrying the building supplies for a school could go no further upstream
then the present day Chalkyitsik. The school was built at that site, and
everyone moved downstream, leaving a deserted Salmon Village. (Deserted except
for mosquitoes, which were as thick as ever.)
Chalkyitsik is an interesting stop as well. As the largest community in the
area, the Athabascan village boasts about 100 residents. Many residents speak
only Gwtichin, an Athabascan dialect. Chalkyitsik, an Indian name, means "to
fish with a hook at the mouth of the creek".
The most noteworthy resident is Belle Herbert who was soon to celebrate her
126th birthday after the inspection team visited the village (July 4, 1979).
Born in Canada, Belle has lived and traveled throughout the Yukon Flats in both
Canada and Alaska. In 1980, Governor Jay Hammond traveled to Chalkyitsik to
present her with an official State scroll declaring her "Alaska's and America's
most distinguished citizen."
Chalkvitsik to Ft. Yukon
Approximate time: 6-8 days by canoe.
Below Chalkyitsik, the current slows to 1-2 mph and meanders increase in size.
During this portion of the trip the inspection team encountered a strong cold
wind blowing upstream. Both lining the canoes along frequent gravel bars and
lashing the canoes together became methods for gaining progress in spite of the
wind and slow current. The water remained tea colored until the confluence of
the Porcupine, which was turbid and murky. The riparian vegetation consists of
mainly willow and alder thickets. Relatively recent fires in the area have
cleared taller vegetation. Wildlife sightings along this segment include Black
Bear, Sandhill Crane, Arctic Tern, large owls with fledglings, Arctic Loon, and
various gulls, plovers, geese, ducks and hawks. Signs of both moose and beaver
were evident as well. Fishing dropped from fair to poor, although a Sheefish was
caught in addition to Grayling and Northern Pike.
The inspection team reached the Porcupine River via the Black River Slough.
Approximately two and a half miles long, the water flows one way when the Black
River is higher than the Porcupine and the other way when the situation is
reversed. It was an interesting route; the slough resembled a canal with
straight grassy banks, sluggish current and silty water.
The Porcupine is much larger and has a faster current than the Black. The river
cut through higher, tree covered banks and formed several channels. Forested
islands were common. Only two days were spent on the Porcupine from the Black
River Slough to the Take-out point at the Sucker River (near Ft. Yukon).
USGS Maps (1:63,360): Black River A-3; B-3, 4;C-4, 5, 6; Ft. Yukon C-1, 2, 3.
The majority of land is public and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, however there are several Native Allotments with private cabins along
the Black River as well as land owned by the Native Village and Regional
For interesting descriptions of the area and its people read: Born on Snowshoes
by Evelyn (Bergland) Shore, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1954, and Hunters of the
Northern Forest: Designs for Survival Among The Alaskan Kutchin by Richard K.
Nelson, University of Chicago Press, 1973.
Complete river log
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List of rivers for which information is available on this website
Alagnak River | Alatna River
| American Creek
| Andreafsky River | Aniakchak River | Awuna River | Beaver Creek | Black River | Bremner River | Canning River | Charley River |
Chilikadrotna River | Chitina River | Colville River | Copper River | Delta River | Fortymile River | Gulkana River | Huslia River | Ivishak River | John River | Kakhonak River | Kanektok River | Karluk River | Kasegaluk Lagoon | King Salmon River | Kobuk River |
Koyukuk River North Fork | Little Susitna River | Mulchatna River | Nigu Etivluk rivers | Noatak River | Nowitna River | Nuyakuk River | Porcupine River | Saganirktok River | Salmon River (Kobuk) | Selawik River | Sheenjek River | Squirrel River | Talachulitna River | Tlikakila River | Togiak River | Unalakleet River |
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