Fritz Creek, Kachemak Bay

Fritz Creek, Kachemak Bay

by | Mar 9, 2022

Fritz Creek is a stream on the Kenai Peninsula that starts from a watershed divide between Lookout Mountain to the south and Bald Mountain to the north and flows generally south for 7 miles (11 km) to the north shore of Kachemak Bay, about 17 miles (27 km) southeast of Anchor Point and 6 miles (10 km) northeast of Homer, Alaska. The local name was first reported in 1904 by Ralph W. Stone of the U.S. Geological Survey. Fritz Creek is also the name of a distributed community that encompasses 34,816 acres (14,090 ha) and is centered at the Fritz Creek General Store on East End Road. The Cook Inlet Basin separates the Aleutian and Alaska Ranges to the northwest from the Kenai and Chugach Mountains to the southeast. The basin is about 62 miles (100 km) wide and 186 miles (300 km) long and contains a sequence of nonmarine Tertiary sedimentary rocks as thick as 28,000 feet (8,500 m) comprising the Oligocene to Pliocene Kenai Group and the underlying Paleocene and Eocene West Foreland Formation. These Tertiary rocks overlie Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks and underlie Quaternary alluvium and glacial deposits. The Cook Inlet Basin is generally bounded to the east by the Border Ranges fault and to the west by the Bruin Bay fault. The Fritz Creek watershed is underlain by the Kenai Group that consists of sandstone, silt, and clay, mainly in thin beds and lenses, interbedded with a few thin lenses of fine conglomerate and many beds of sub-bituminous or lignitic coal. Many of the lignite beds exposed in the cliffs between Fritz Creek and Kachemak Selo along the north shore of Kachemak Bay have burned, baking the clay and shale to bright orange and red. The Kenai Group bedrock can be observed in the north-facing slopes of the Fritz Creek drainage, in the Anchor River drainage, and in the south face of Bald Mountain. Because only a relatively short period has elapsed since the recession of the last continental ice sheet, most of the Kenai Group is covered by nearly continuous deposits of glacial drift and alluvial deposits. The north coast of Kachemak Bay probably was glaciated several times. Areas just north of Homer are covered by deposits of the Eklutna Glaciation whereas deposits of the Naptowne Glaciation occur east of Homer. Floodplain deposits occurring in the Fritz Creek valley consist of silt, sand, and gravel of more recent post-glacial age. Uplands are covered by wind­ deposited silt ranging from only a few inches thick on some steep slopes to 60 inches (152 cm) in other locations. This material probably is a mixture of loess that was derived from glacial material and ash from volcanoes in the Aleutian Range to the west of Cook Inlet.

The north and south shores of Kachemak Bay provide very different habitats today and for pre-historical maritime hunters. The south shore is convoluted, dotted with islands, and backed by high mountains which shelter several active glaciers. The north shore is straight and rimmed with bedded sediments that give way inland to rolling hills. The Homer Spit projects 4 miles (6 km) into the bay and extensive mudflats have built up along the north shore. However, this coast was not favored by early human inhabitants and the only substantial archeological site is at Cottonwood Creek about 7 miles (11 km) northeast of Fritz Creek. In 1930, Frederica de Laguna began a three-season program of archaeological research, including a midden site excavated at Cottonwood Creek. The midden represents two periods of prehistorical culture, the older belonging to the maritime Kachemak culture, and the younger belonging to the Athabaskan culture. The Kachemak culture abruptly withdrew from Kachemak Bay by about 500 AD. By the 18th century when Russians arrived, much of Kachemak Bay was part of Dena’ina Athabaskan territory. In 1786, Captain Nathaniel Portlock, an English trader, found coal at Coal Cove near present-day Port Graham on the south shore of outer Kachemak Bay. In 1798, Alexander Baranov of the Shelikov-Golikov Company experimented with coal from Coal Cove for smelting iron. In 1855, the first coal mine in Alaska was opened by the Russian-American Company at Coal Cove. In 1867, the Alaska Purchase transferred the territory from Russia to the United States. In 1888, the Alaska Coal Company opened a mine tunnel into the Bradley Coal Seam at Fritz Creek. In 1891, the U.S. Navy mines 200 tons of coal from four locations in Kachemak Bay, with one from McNeil Canyon about 5 miles (8 km) northeast of Fritz Creek. In 1894, Theodore Fox of the North Pacific Mining and Transpor­tation Company began exploring for coal in Eastland Canyon about 9 miles (15 km) northeast of Fritz Creek and subsequently extracted 650 tons of coal. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that several billion tons of coal may lie under the 750 square miles (194,249 ha) of the Homer district. Since the early inhabitants of Kachemak Bay, people have collected coal from area beaches for personal use as a convenient and free source of fuel for heat and local ordinances still allow driving on the beaches of Kachemak Bay specifically for collecting coal.

The Anchor River and Fritz Creek Critical Habitat Area spans the divide separating the watersheds of Beaver Creek and Fritz Creek. Beaver Creek flows into the middle reach of the Anchor River. The Anchor River is an anadromous fish stream that flows generally west for 30 miles (48 km) into Cook Inlet near Anchor Point on the western side of the Kenai Peninsula, about 14 miles (23 km) northwest of Homer. The critical habitat area includes 19,000 acres (7,690 ha) of river bottoms, muskegs, upland spruce forests, and subalpine meadows. The critical habitat area was created in 1985 to protect a natural migration corridor between the watersheds that is critical to wildlife, especially moose since the area is one of the only major moose overwintering areas on the southern Kenai Peninsula. Moose and bears use the corridor to travel between their upland summer ranges in the divide between the Anchor River and Fritz Creek and their low-lying wintering grounds along Kachemak Bay. Moose are widely distributed on the lower Kenai Peninsula and because of their large recreational, esthetic, and subsistence values, they are considered one of the most economically important wildlife species in the region. An estimated 2,000-2,500 moose inhabit the lower Kenai Peninsula and generally exhibit migratory behavior with distinct seasonal habitat preferences. During summer, moose are widely dispersed and show a preference for subalpine meadows and, to a lesser extent, river bottoms and adjoining spruce forests. In mid-September, they migrate to traditional rutting areas, which are characterized by subalpine stands of open spruce and dense willow. Moose remain aggregated at these areas until mid-October when they begin moving upslope to subalpine willow brushlands. During December, moose descend in response to snow accumulations from these subalpine brushlands and meadows through heavily timbered drainage areas en route to winter ranges. Moose have generally attained their winter distribution by early January and remain on winter ranges until April or May. Winter ranges are either of the riverine types, such as Fritz Creek, or coast plain type such as benchlands near Homer. Both winter range types occur in a moderated climatic zone below 700 feet (213 m) in elevation and provide a combination of abundant willow browse and spruce cover. In May and June, moose gradually return to their upland summer ranges as the snow melts and these latter areas once again provide green vegetation. Read more here and here. Explore more of Fritz Creek and Kachemak Bay here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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