Draining a 125,000-acre watershed and flowing clear over productive spawning gravel beds, the Anchor River supports strong runs of three salmon species, Dolly Varden, and one of the northernmost runs of steelhead on the continent. The sensitive and heavily used estuary and barrier beach system, where the Anchor drains into Cook Inlet, supports thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds during annual migrations, large numbers of bald eagles in the spring and summer, and some of the highest densities of over-wintering waterfowl in Cook Inlet. Here, salmon and steelhead rest before continuing upstream to spawn and young fry spend months in the productive salt marsh estuary.
Kachemak Heritage Land Trust’s Anchor River protection project is an effort to work with willing private landowners to preserve significant land parcels along the Anchor River for their habitat, recreation and open space values.
Several years ago, a landowner called Kachemak Heritage Land Trust (KHLT) asking staff to meet him at the Anchor River Inn. He wanted to show us some important property. Although the two parcels of land he showed us at the mouth of the Anchor River had long been an outstanding fishing and recreational area used by the public, they were privately owned. We immediately set to work looking at options for raising funds to purchase this important area, to permanently protect its recreational and habitat values.
We successfully brought in The Nature Conservancy (TNC), who, in turn and with KHLT as a partner, applied for and received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Coastal Wetland Conservation Grant Program. The State of Alaska was another key partner in the long and arduous process followed, as land transfers involving navigable waters can become very complicated. In 2005 a purchase agreement was finally signed for the two parcels totaling 56.65 acres.
TNC successfully petitioned the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council’s long dormant Small Parcel Program for additional needed funding, and KHLT raised the $55,000 balance required through numerous individual donations from people committed to preserving public enjoyment of this popular area, including a substantial donation that was passed through Ducks Unlimited.
The purchase by TNC of the two parcels was successfully completed in 2006, adding nearly 57 acres bridging about a half mile of river to adjacent State parcels to the south and east covering 180 acres and another 1.5 miles of the river directly upstream.
In 2000, around the same time that the Anchor River Mouth project was initiated, Mark and Deborah Starr of Montana donated two adjacent land parcels around river mile 7.5 to Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. Totaling 55.71 acres, the KHLT Starr property has considerable highway frontage and 4,400 feet of riverfront, and is a popular sport-fishing area for steelhead and Dolly Varden. Containing excellent moose, waterfowl and fish habitat, the property is less than a mile from the Anchor River/Fritz Creek Critical Habitat Area and borders 317 acres of State Department of Natural Resources land to the east and south, including two miles of both sides of the river. Only a small sliver of private property separates the KHLT Starr parcels from a 36-acre portion of the Anchor River State Recreation Area to the north, protecting another half mile of river. Our intention is to preserve the Starr parcels for their natural and recreational values.
John and Margret Pate patented their homestead on the Anchor River just north of Blackwater Bend in 1959, “proving up” during the years before the highway was paved connecting Homer to Anchorage. While the Pates eventually settled closer to town, they continued to enjoy the property with their kids and grandchildren. In February 2005, Mrs. Pate generously donated a portion of the purchase price of this magnificent 64-acre parcel of land, enabling KHLT to purchase it for conservation at a bargain sale rate using funds from a North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Most of the property is on the USFWS National Wetland Inventory and is classified as a riparian wetland ecosystem by the Kenai Watershed Forum. In addition, the entire property is classified as priority moose habitat by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The property bridges a half-mile stretch of river around mile 5, bordering State and Borough lands to the west and south totaling 201 acres and bridging an additional half mile of the river. Our plan is to protect the impressive habitat values of the KHLT Pate property and ensure that public access to the river is maintained.
Kachemak Heritage Land Trust also worked with Kachemak Moose Habitat Inc. to protect twelve acres of exceptional habitat on both sides of the Anchor at river mile 3. Together with 30 acres of State and Borough land directly upstream, another full mile of both sides of the river is protected. Kachemak Heritage Land Trust continues working to protect other significant properties along the Anchor River.