Juneau Nature

Natural & cultural history of Juneau & Southeast Alaska

Juneau Nature - Natural & cultural history of Juneau & Southeast Alaska

Montana Creek

Healthiest habitat of greater Mendenhall watershed

In July, 2013, I (RC) participated in a 3-day teachers’ conference called   STREAM: a Pedagogy of Place, (STREAM = Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics)  This gathering on UAS campus was a pilot, aimed at helping teachers connect students to place. For 3 days, we held morning sessions at UAS, dispersing in the afternoons to 4 habitats: streams, glacier, forest and beach. I was part of a team that focused on Montana Creek throughout the conference.

Enrollment in the 2013 pilot was primarily from Juneau educators. As Juneau’s nature-education group, we at Discovery Southeast were thrilled to be able to work with so many of the dedicated folks who bring nature to children and young adults. With ADF&G educators Kristen Romanoff and Tennie Bentz, and Goldbelt Heritage Foundation culture bearer Marsha Hotch, I co-led field activities on Kaxdigoowu Héen, going back clear water (Montana Creek).

My journal for the STREAM class is called Kaxdigoowu Héen: Three days on clear water.

The 2013 institute was a strong foundation for place-based education in Juneau. I hope to participate in future years as we strengthen the network of Alaskan educators taking students outside. Below are some resources created specifically for the 2013 institute, as well as some prior materials (contents of the 3-panel trailhead signs) specifically relevant to our chosen field destinations.

Kaxdigoowu Héen (Montana Cr) a 22-page map series (6 megs)

Kaxdigoowu Héen1 (Montana Cr) intro

Kaxdigoowu Héen2 (Montana Cr) geology

Kaxdigoowu Héen3 (Montana Cr) bio-cultural

Below are some of the highlights from our 3 days on clear water.

Day 1: Julia Gregory & Shgen George greet returning téel’ (chum salmon).

Scouting before the workshop, we decided on a partially off-trail reach between Community Gardens and the rifle range. We’d initially planned on walking to the confluence of Kaxdigoowu Héen with Mendenhall River, but in the week before the Institute, rising water levels rendered channelside bars inaccessible.

Marsha Hotch, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation—culture bearer for the streams habitat team. Check out her archived language program at www.khns.org/tlingit

Although lowest reaches are probably most culturally significant, reduced human traffic at the upstream site, combined with alluvial dynamism, make this a safer and more productive habitat for most fish and wildlife. Finding a probable brown bear track clinched it; Kristen and Tenny and I got pretty excited about sharing this place with Juneau teachers.

To find this site, drive past the last houses on Montana Creek Road and park at the pullout just before the road bends and climbs toward the rifle range. About 50 yards up the road, a collapsing hiker-access sign marks the “trailhead,” but it’s overgrown with brush and easy to miss. After descending steeply from the road to the alluvial flood plain, the informal angler’s access trail is frequently blocked by down trees, requiring zigs and zags, and occasional minor gymnastics, to bushwack upstream to the base of a canyon. For us, these navigational challenges were part of the attraction. Fuzzy trails demand attention—the founding principle of place-based education.

Each of the 5 habitat subgroups of the Place Institute teamed with a culture bearer from Goldbelt Heritage Foundation. We worked with Marsha Hotch. For me, Marsha’s greatest contribution to our outings was the constant reminder that we were (and are) in the home of the L’eeneidí—and that such visitation demands respect and observance. We naturalists and biologists and educators may be attentive in our own, secular ways, but honoring the ancestors, slowing down for thanksgiving, is often overlooked.

Exploring the cobble bar where Kaxdigoowu Héen emerges from rifle-range canyon.

Each day, we followed braiding overflow channels to a high-energy cobble bar where Kaxdigoowu Héen is released from a deep canyon, to dash willy-nilly through the spruce and alder, like a stick-sworded 4th-grade boy, decapitating winter stalks of yaana.eit. Here, our teachers rotated through 3 activities:

Reach below rifle-range canyon on left. Braided channels (blue), are layered over the USFS air photo. In this 2006 image, trees next to road had been recently drowned but still retained fine branches. Today, only coarse branches remain, and bark is sluffing. Wood decay should be about prime for sapsucker excavation. A fledgling was foraging here on Day 3.

• Tennie’s group focused on stream life. As a former Haines middle-school teacher, Tennie conducted multi-year studies of Sawmill Creek with her students, so is fluent not only with aquatic biology but in the psychology of kids outdoors.

Day 3: Downloads from ADF&G’s critter cams. With SD card readers, iPads allowed camera-check right in the field.

• Kristen introduced teachers to Fish & Game’s tree-mounted wildlife cameras. These are available on loan to educators from ADF&G. For children as young as Auke Bay 1st graders, they’ve opened up new worlds of excitement about unseen neighbors in familiar backyards. A new twist on critter-cam field protocol emerged from this STREAM Institute. Setting up the cameras on our pre-workshop scouting visits, and aware that Mark Stanley was encouraging new field applications for iPads, Kristen and Tennie realized they could remove SD cards from the cameras and download them through card-readers for on-site viewing. Benefits go beyond immediate gratification. Discovering that a blacktail doe had walked by one camera, Kristen’s team looked closer at the vegetation to sleuth out what she’d been eating.

cam series


•  My breakout group leaned away, I confess, from replicable activity and even (shudder) from severe attention to place, gravitating more toward philosophy. This was especially problematic on Day 3 when the “overview group” was infiltrated by my fellow Richards, Dauenhauer & Nelson. Serious botany is hopeless around those dudes. But what a privilege, sitting dry-fannied (no rain for past week!) with Nels&crew on a knife-edge ridge above the canyon, and seeing Richard Dauenhauer’s head top out, puffing, balancing precariously on his ski pole. We’d thought he would abstain from that 30o, 40-foot scramble!

Feet of the master. Richard Dauenhauer & Richard Nelson

Gunalchéesh, UAS Prof Ed Center. Gunalchéesh, L’eeneidí. Gunalchéesh, Kaxdigoowu Héen!