Auke Creek Research Station is situated on the west coast of the Mendenhall Peninsula and at the head of Auke Bay, which is about 3 miles (5 km) across at the northern end of Stephens Passage, about 66 miles (106 km) south-southeast of Haines and 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Juneau, Alaska. The name is from the Auk Tlingits who occupied the north end of Admiralty Island, Douglas Island, and the mainland from Juneau north to Berners Bay. The Tlingits derived the name from their word for ‘little lake’ referring to the present-day Auke Lake that drains into Auke Bay via Auke Creek. Early miners called this Aylward Creek for Edward Aylward who located mining claims in the vicinity in 1884. The name was changed to Auke Creek in about 1902. Auke Lake is about 1 mile (1.6 km) long and 0.75 miles (1.2 km) wide and its greatest depth is 103 feet (31 m). The water is clear and the lake bottom is predominantly mud with heavy layers of organic ooze. The lake is fed primarily by Lake Creek, and drained by Auke Creek. An extensive investigation of the physical, chemical, and biological parameters of Auke Lake has been carried out by the National Marine Fisheries Service since 1962. The geology of the area is divided generally into bedrock consisting of metamorphic rocks of Mesozoic age and unconsolidated sediments of the Quaternary age. The bedrock was probably laid bare by glacial scouring and is relatively impervious. The rocks are from 70 to 225 million years old and typically include slate, greywacke, sandstone, argillite, thin lenses of limestone, and extrusive volcanics that have been altered to greenstone, schist, and phyllite. The adjacent Mendenhall Valley was formed by glaciation during the Pleistocene where the ice sheet of the Last Glacial Maximum was 4,000 to 5,000 feet (1220-1525 m) thick about 18,000 years ago. The ice sheet began to melt about 17,000 years ago and by 11,000 to 7,500 years ago the valley was free of glacial ice as far north as the present front of the glacier. As the ice receded from the area, relatively permeable unconsolidated sediments were deposited in the valley. These unconsolidated sediments are generally younger than 18,000 years and are composed of bedrock detritus in the form of clay, silt, sand, gravel, and boulders, intermixed during deposition by glacial, tidal, wave, and stream action. During the buildup of the ice sheet, the land surface was loaded and depressed by the weight of the ice and probably subsided at least 700 feet (213 m) in the Juneau area. Concurrently, worldwide ice buildup also caused a lowering of sea level by approximately 360 feet (110 m). The worldwide melting of glacial ice after the Last Glacial Maximum caused the rise of sea level, and the land rose from post-glacial rebound. The warm climate which caused the glaciers to recede began to cool again about 3,000 years ago. During this period. the Mendenhall Glacier advanced and reached its farthest extent by 1750 AD and then receded rapidly.
Archaeologists have divided the prehistorical human occupation of Southeast Alaska into three periods. The earliest period begins when people first came to this area approximately 10,000 years ago and is called the Paleomarine Tradition which lasted for about 3000-3500 years. These people lived in small groups, traveled in boats, and subsisted on the coastal resources, such as clams, mussels, and sea mammals. This is followed by the Transitional Period when there is a change in tool technology in both the types made and techniques for making them. The Transitional Period lasted from about 7,000 to 5,000 years ago when the Developmental Northwest Coast Traditions period begins. During this time there is a continued trend to more complex tool types made of ground stone and bone, and there is evidence of increased settlement sizes. By 3500 years ago, there is a change marked by specialized subsistence camps with the introduction of large-scale salmon harvesting with fish traps and large shell middens. Some archaeologists suggest that the increased use of salmon contributed to the development of a more complex social structure of the coastal inhabitants and the establishment of permanent villages with larger wooden houses which featured carved wood house posts and wooden floors. The Developmental Northwest Coast Traditions stage lasted from 5,000 years ago until 250 years ago and the coming of the European explorers. The oral history of some Tlingit clans indicates that their origins are from interior British Columbia. The Gaanax.a’di and Kaagwaantaan have origin stories about the Nass and Skeena rivers. From there they moved north, taking their clan names from the places they settled. The Dakl’aweidi and the Wooshkeetan oral history states that they came into this area by traveling down the Stikine and Taku rivers, respectively. After arriving on the coast they spread north, south, and west. Some oral histories mention that when the Tlingit came to the coast, it was already inhabited and the ancient people were either absorbed or pushed out. According to the oral history of the Kaach.a’di they originated locally in central Southeast Alaska. The Auk Tlingit inhabited the area of Auke Bay at the time of the first European contact. The earliest written reference to the Auks was in 1794 when members of Captain George Vancouver‘s crew reported seeing campfire smoke coming from the village near Auke Bay. In 1880, there were three villages for the Auks located on Admiralty Island at Young Bay, on Douglas Island possibly at Fish Creek, and on the mainland north of Auke Bay at what is now known as Auke Village which was the main winter village for the Auk. From these central locations, the clans dispersed to their subsistence areas throughout their territory during the spring, summer, and fall. In 1880, when gold was discovered near Juneau, most of the Auk moved to the area of Gold Creek to work for wages as diggers, carriers, and woodcutters for the miners that had moved to Juneau.
In 1959, the U.S. Congress appropriated funds for the construction of the Auke Bay Laboratory. The laboratory was located overlooking Auke Bay, with nearby Auke Lake and Auke Creek providing freshwater and natural areas for experiments. When the laboratory was first established, its activities were geographically extended by outlying field stations at King Salmon and Brooks Lake near Bristol Bay, Karluk Lake on Kodiak Island, Kasitsna Bay in lower Cook Inlet, Olsen Bay in Prince William Sound, and Traitors Cove and Little Port Walter in Southeast Alaska. Over time, the focus of the studies transitioned from watershed to estuarine environments. By the 1970s, the research focused on salmon ocean ranching, impacts by petroleum and other disturbances to fish habitat and population, and population assessment of herring and shrimp. In 1976, the Auke Bay Laboratories became part of the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center, which became the present-day Alaska Fisheries Science Center. In 1978, the facility began focusing on causes underlying recruitment variability in marine ecosystems, including research on early-life stages of pink and coho salmon, herring, walleye pollock, and rockfish. The laboratory also provided statistical support for salmon research and was responsible for establishing the foreign salmon fishery observer program. In 2007, the Auke Bay Laboratories was moved to the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute at Lena Point, where scientists study commercially important fish species such as rockfish, sablefish, and salmon. They research where fish live during each stage of life and also examine marine ecosystems that are essential fish habitats, focusing on ocean processes and chemistry, and food web interactions that impact fish survival. The Auke Creek Research Station is now operated by the Auke Bay Laboratories Salmon Ocean Ecology study program on a cooperative basis with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the University of Alaska Southeast. An experimental salmon hatchery located near the mouth of the stream provides opportunities to train graduate students in genetics and salmonid biology. Read more here and here. Explore more of Auke Creek and Auke Bay here: