Cascade Falls, Eaglek Bay

Cascade Falls, Eaglek Bay

by | Jul 12, 2022

Cascade Falls descends to Cascade Bay, an estuary that extends northwest for 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Eaglek Bay in the Chugach National Forest of northern Prince William Sound, about 52 miles (84 km) west-southwest of Valdez and 32 miles (51.5 km) east-northeast of Whittier, Alaska. The local name is for a waterfall at the head of the bay that was first reported in 1952 by the U.S. Geological Survey. The Cascade Bay waterfall is the largest in Prince William Sound and descends 170 feet (52 m) to tidewater from a series of three interconnected lakes. The first lake is at 170 feet (52 m) elevation and is fed by meltwater streams flowing from Eaglek Glacier. The second lake is at an elevation of 270 feet (82 m) and is fed by two deglaciated cirque lakes or tarns. The third and highest lake is at an elevation of about 470 feet (143 m) and is fed by an unnamed glacier on the west flank of Peak 4015. Eaglek Glacier is about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) across and caps the ridge above Cascade Bay on the south flank of Peak 4015. Like all the cirque glaciers in northern Prince William Sound, Eaglek Glacier has been retreating steadily as warmer winter temperatures have raised the snowline and the snow accumulation area has decreased. Lighter-colored rock around the glacier now shows areas of recent retreat. The mountains along the shores of Prince William Sound consist of one of the world’s largest accretionary complexes. It has been known by a variety of names as the geological understanding of the southern margin of Alaska has evolved and is generally now referred to as the Southern Margin Composite terrane. At Cascade Bay the rocks are from the Valdez Group that formed during the Late Cretaceous and consist primarily of complexly deformed partially metamorphosed sedimentary rock such as greywacke, siltstone, and shale generally considered to be deposits of turbidity currents in a deep oceanic trench.

The northern coast of Prince William Sound was the historical territory of the Kniklik tribe of the Chugach Sugpiaq people. In former days there were 8 tribes of the Chugach including the Nuchek, Shallow Water, Sheep Bay, Gravina Bay, Tatitlek, Kiniklik, Chenega, and Montague Island peoples. These tribes or geographical groups shared the same culture, spoke the same language, and entertained each other at feasts, but were politically independent. Each group appears to have had its own chief or leader and its principal village. The tribes sometimes raided each other but on other occasions might unite against common enemies such as the Tlingit, Eyak, Dena’ina, or Koniag. The Kiniklik tribe inhabited an area with the greatest number of valley glaciers reaching tidewater, including the Columbia Glacier. It is unknown where the main village was historically located since the village of Kiniklik seems to have been relatively modern, although it had already been abandoned in 1930. There were at least 3 historical summer settlements or fish camps in Eaglek Bay. The Chugach people formerly buried the dead in sea caves and in the early 20th century mummies were found wrapped in sea otter skins with their paddles beside them. When removed, the mummies and fur robes fell to pieces. In another cave, the mummies of 6 men were found dressed in armor and ground-hog skins, and some wore masks representing human faces. These were taken to Valdez and subsequently disappeared. The Chugach Sugpiaq were probably the first Indigenous people to encounter the Russian explorer Vitus Bering in 1741, followed by other European explorers from Spain, France, and the United Kingdom, as well as American maritime fur traders. Their population was decimated by diseases, subjugation by Russians, as well as internecine warfare. Today, the remaining Chugach Sugpiaq villages include Chenega Bay, Eyak, Nanwalek, Port Graham, and Tatitlek.

The Chugach National Forest includes portions of Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Copper River Delta. It was established in 1907 and enlarged with the addition of the Afognak Forest and Fish Culture in 1908. There is very little logging done in the Chugach National Forest, and less than 2 percent of the forest is considered suitable for commercial logging operations which is unusual among national forests. Instead, the forest infuses money into local communities through tourism, recreation, mining, and commercial fishing. Alaska’s contemporary hatchery program was initiated in the early 1970s in response to historically low salmon abundance. The hatcheries increase salmon production by increasing the survival of young salmon through the early life history stages where most mortalities occur, producing large numbers of fry or smolts that are released into marine waters where they are subject to the same conditions as their wild cohorts. Unlike fish farms, hatcheries do not rear fish to adulthood and instead act as a nursery to incubate fertilized eggs and to imprint and release the resulting progeny. Under hatchery conditions, developing embryos are protected from the vagaries of natural environmental conditions that can cause mortality such as low stream flows, freezing, gravel scouring from floods, and predation. There are five hatcheries in Prince William Sound at Cannery Creek in Unakwik Inlet, Lake Bay on Esther Island, Port San Juan on Evans Island, Solomon Gulch in Port Valdez, and at Main Bay. In 1994, an expansion of the Main Bay Hatchery in Prince William Sound was proposed and new sites were considered for sockeye salmon enhancement. The Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation had obtained a state permit for Cascade Bay in Eaglek Bay, a site located in the Chugach National Forest on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. However, field tests found that the water temperature in the Cascade Lakes is too cold to support sockeye salmon incubation and rearing because the water source is a glacier, and the development of the site was abandoned. Read more here and here. Explore more of Cascade Bay and Eaglek Bay here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (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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