Our summer season kicked off with the Whittier Head of the Bay Clean-up Day, an annual tradition with Whittier Parks and Recreation. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or a better group of volunteers. After a full day of work, the BBQ from Parks and Rec was a special treat, as were the raffle items donated by local Whittier businesses for the volunteers!
The following week, we were delighted to host our fourth annual PWS Natural History Symposium–our first in-person event since 2019 and our first ever hybrid event. This year’s Symposium was made possible through the generous sponsorship of the Tatitlek Corporation and the PWS Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council as well as support from the City of Whittier and Chugach Schools. Between the online and in-person audiences, we saw our largest audience ever, and that audience continues to grow, as you’ve watched thousands of minutes of the recordings on YouTube.
In addition to the annual sessions on land acknowledgement led by Chugach Regional Resources Commission; updates on the Barry Arm landslide from the U.S. Geological Survey; and land management news led by Chugach Alaska Corporation, Alaska State Parks, and the U.S. Forest Service, presentations included Indigenous kayaks of Alaska, Kittzlitz’s murrelets, herring patterns, and kelp farming. If you haven’t checked out this year’s amazing talks, be sure to visit the 2022 Symposium page. This year was also the first with a Student Strand of presentations well-suited for teens. We are already brainstorming how to make next year’s–the fifth annual–PWS Natural History Symposium even better!
Extra! Extra! The annual Whittier Slug-Out was featured on the front page of the Anchorage Daily News. Volunteers collected over 500 European black slugs and learned about other invasive species in the area, including what they can do to help mitigate their spread. Special prizes of our PWSSF art tote bags were awarded to the volunteers who found the most slugs and the largest slug. Thanks to the incredible folks at Kenai Watershed Forum and Chugach National Forest who not only taught the group where to find slugs but also how to remove orange hawkweed, dandelions, and other invasive plants that we may spot in our own backyards. We celebrated the day’s success with harbor views and Lazy Otter soft serve cones!
Speaking of invasive species, two groups of volunteers went out to Hobo Bay on 4-day/3-night missions to pull invasive dandelions. We are midway through a multi-year cycle with dandelions at this popular camp spot, and the lower numbers found and collected show that our hand pulling efforts are paying off. In between searching for and pulling dandelions, volunteers enjoyed the time in the Sound by kayaking around the bay and over to the popular Granite Mine Access trail. Thank you to our volunteers and to Chugach National Forest for the transportation and invasive species expertise!
In June, we once again joined Alaska Geographic and the Chugach National Forest to restore and enhance recreation opportunities at 17-Mile Beach in Blackstone Bay. Just a short boat ride from Whittier, the beach is among the most scenic places to camp in Prince William Sound. Due to its popularity, the site suffered in recent years from erosion, litter, and other problems. But, some innovative planning from the Chugach National Forest and a lot of hard work from volunteers has repaired past damage and made this a clean and comfortable place to visit, with loads of room for visitors to enjoy the spectacular glacier views and plenty of solitude.
This year we helped install 2 large (and very heavy!) bear-resistant food lockers at the beach. Positioning them to be convenient for campers, hidden from view, and safe from the tide was a challenge–so was moving them up the boulder beach. But, with the help of a strong group of Alaska Geographic youth, we got the lockers in place.
We also built a nice loop trail to access the new outhouse we helped install at the site last summer. The trail winds through salmonberry and dozens of trees that blew down in 2019. We’re proud to be part of the effort to restore 17-Mile Beach so people can comfortably enjoy this incredible spot with great opportunities for exploration.
We had two awesome marine debris trips in coordination with the Chugach National Forest. First, we took out the trash on Knight Island.
Fuel barrels. Shrimp bait canisters. Buoys. A mismatched pair of boots. And, of course, hundreds of plastic water bottles. These were all among the 1,150 pounds of garbage we hauled off the beaches of east Knight Island during a three-day trip in June. Besides working with the Chugach National Forest, we partnered with Gulf of Alaska Keeper, Plastic Ocean Waste Solutions, and the U.S. Coast Guard Station Valdez. We’re also grateful to our loyal members, supporters, and volunteers, who make this work possible each year.
We’ve been cleaning Knight Island beaches every year since 2018 and we know we’re making progress toward keeping this coastline healthy, clean, and wild. We’re also fine-tuning our monitoring efforts to keep pace with the latest NOAA science on marine debris. As part of this effort, we’re trying to track what percentage of the debris is locally generated, as opposed to arriving on ocean currents. Our rough estimate to date is that at least 30% of the debris originates in Prince William Sound, which means local prevention efforts could really help keep our beaches clean.
We also communicate with other agencies and organizations to document evidence of container spills, like the recent event in Washington that has brought high-end Yeti coolers to Montague Island and other locations. And, we’re incorporating some citizen science into our beach clean-ups, including joining the global Nurdle Patrol effort to track the presence of small bits of polymer plastics that now travel ocean currents and often originate at manufacturing facilities.
This summer, we also launched a Boat Wrap Initiative with PKS Consulting. When Boat Works of Alaska unwrapped winterized boats in the spring, we helped redirect around 5,000 pounds of plastic shrink wrap to PKS Consulting so it could be recycled into plastic lumber. While much of our summers are filled with beach clean-ups and marine debris work, being good stewards of the environment does not stop at the shoreline.
Our second marine debris summer volunteer project took place in July, when 4 PWSSF volunteers, 3 Forest Service staff members, and 2 private boaters went out to Applegate, Culross, and Perry Island. Over the course of three days, we collected over 500 pounds of marine debris. We also cleaned up large debris from an abandoned boathouse and a derelict dock. Additionally, we removed lots of rope, fishing nets, and plastic water bottles and caps. An old film camera with bleached out film reminded us of times before smartphones, while a still-functioning digital sports watch kept up with the time. The most notable find, however, had to be the pink Croc with dozens of gooseneck barnacles attached.
Our marine debris trips are major highlights of our summers! We welcome private boaters and others to join us, and we partner with the Forest Service to transport volunteers to our remote sites. In the evenings we enjoy campfires, s’mores, and stories galore with new friends while appreciating the beautiful scenery.
Funding from the PWS Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) supported both of this summer’s marine debris trips and will continue to do so for the next three summers.
We’re happy to announce that the PWS RAC not only awarded funding to support our marine debris projects but also awarded funding to support our work at the Shrode Lake Cabin and Trail. With the new funding, we’ll be able to keep improving the trail and offset transportation costs for our volunteers. We’re proud to partner each year with the Chugach National Forest to maintain the Shrode Lake Cabin and Trail, one of the most popular hiking routes in the Wilderness Study Area of the western Sound.
If you tried to hike Shrode early last summer, you know it held deep snow until the second week of July. Even the lake stayed frozen into July. But, when our volunteer crew arrived on July 18 this year, the sun was out, and the snow was off the trail. Although rain moved in the next day, we had a fun and productive week. Building on the work of the last two years, we fully maintained the trail from Long Bay to the cabin and cleared most of the trail out to Three Finger Cove. This entailed brushing back the salmonberries and ferns and reestablishing the trail across the meadows west of the cabin, where some sections haven’t seen maintenance in over five years. At the cabin, we replaced the chimney cap and re-hung the Forest Service sign. Volunteer crews have returned Shrode to one of the nicest hiking opportunities in the western Sound, with access to great fishing and the Forest Service recreation cabin at the lake.
Leave It Better…and Better. Lazy Otter Charters, Alaska Sea Kayakers, NOLS, the Whittier Harbormaster, Prince William Sound College, and Prince William Sound Science Center all helped us coordinate another year of our community-driven marine debris effort. ALPAR has graciously provided their iconic yellow trash bags for our Leave It Better clean-up campaign since its inception. This year, we were excited to grow our partnership with ALPAR by receiving a Youth Litter Patrol grant to support the City of Whittier’s summer clean-up efforts, including the collection of ocean-bound debris. Three teens completed nearly 200 hours of work “Making Whittier Prettier.” Thank you to ALPAR and the City of Whittier for helping leave it better!
Throughout the summer, we enjoyed being part of Whittier Parks and Rec and Alaska Trail’s Whittier Trail Work Days. The community effort led to a lot of progress on the Horsetail Falls Connector trail, one of our very favorite short local hikes. BBQs at the legendary Sportsmans Inn after work solidified the new friendships built while building trail.
We wrapped up the summer with our First Firkin Friday at Midnight Sun Brewing Company and the Puffin for PWS September promotion. The art show featured 27 artworks from 13 different artists; works included ceramics, painting, photography, stippling, stitched felt, glass, and electronics. We celebrated the show opening by tapping a special cask of Panty Peeler conditioned with fresh raspberries. Throughout the month of September, stores all over Anchorage set up special displays of Puffin Pale Ale, and MSBC and Specialty Imports donated $2 from the sale of each case to PWSSF. Thank you, MSBC, Specialty Imports, FFF artists, and everyone who supported us in September!
For the past two summers, we’ve planted a Potato Garden with three different varieties of potato: Yukon Gold, Purple Viking, and Haida. The Haida potato is a strain that has been grown by Alaska Native people along the NW Coast for hundreds of years. Potatoes harvested from our garden are donated to the Girdwood Food Pantry, serving folks along the Turnagain Arm and in Whittier. Thank you to the Girdwood Chapel for hosting the pantry. Thank you to Girdwood Community Land Trust, who always helps us plant and harvest. And, thank you to the Chugach National Forest for hosting the garden and for the help with planting, tending, and harvesting throughout the summer. Last year’s harvest yielded around 20 pounds, and this year’s yielded over 70 pounds!
Third Annual Natural History Symposium
On May 24, we once again kicked off the summer season with a day-long symposium aimed at providing the public and the guiding community with the latest in science, culture, and land management news from Prince William Sound. The event was held online to an audience of nearly 300 people and featured 18 expert speakers, who discussed Alaska Native culture, marine mammals, climate change, ocean health, the Barry Arm landslide, oil spill impacts, and much more. The entire symposium is available today for viewing here.
Head of the Bay Clean-up Day
Also in May 2021, we joined forces with the City of Whittier to host our second annual Head of the Bay Clean-Up in Whittier. Thirty volunteers helped out on a Saturday morning and made pretty quick work of cleaning the beach and campground. We removed marine debris and day-use trash, and made the area shine ahead of the busy summer season. Look for this annual event to occur again next May and feel free to stop by on the way out to the Sound.
Tackling Marine Debris, 3,000 Pounds at a Time
Marine debris is a common sight on PWS beaches and presents a danger to fish, wildlife, and clean water. It also affects public enjoyment of our spectacular shores. Since our 2018 inception, we’ve made tackling the debris a key part of our work and have removed thousands of pounds of garbage from hundreds of miles of shoreline. This year, we worked on east Knight Island and the Elrington/Bainbridge areas, where we removed an estimated 3,000 pounds of trash along nearly 100 miles of shoreline.
Building a community approach to marine debris is at the heart of our work. In 2021, we collaborated with Gulf of Alaska Keeper, PWS Aquaculture Corporation (AFK Hatchery), Port Ashton Lodge, Prince William Sound Books, NOAA, and the Chugach National Forest on two clean-up missions in June and July. We were also joined by nearly 20 volunteers (including a wild herd of children) in their private vessels. By day, we pulled foam, rope, hundreds of plastic bottles, and other debris from beaches and shoreside meadows on Knight Island, Elrington Island, and Port Bainbridge. And at night we rafted our boats together, fished, camped, kayaked, and shared our stories over beach fires and roasting marshmallows.
Our marine debris program uses a 3-year rotational schedule that treats the hardest-hit beaches in the central and southwestern parts of Prince William Sound. Each year we consult with top experts in the field, including Gulf of Alaska Keeper, NOAA, and others, to ensure our efforts go where they’re most needed. We also reach out annually to communities, government agencies, Alaska Native interests, and tour operators to hear about their priorities and invite their participation. To track our progress, we use NOAA Marine Debris Tracker software, which enables us to enter reports on PWS conditions into a national database.
We’re grateful to everyone who helped us this year and especially to the Chugach National Forest, which for the third consecutive year provided a landing craft, captain, and crew to help on two clean-up trips. Gulf of Alaska Keeper has also been a huge supporter (and mentor) of our work.
Promoting Safe Shellfish Harvesting
To support local food security and protect access to traditional foods in Prince William Sound, this summer we partnered with the Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute in Seward to begin regular testing of blue mussels from three remote sites in the western Sound. Once each month, our volunteers, along with guides from Alaska Sea Kayakers, gathered mussels from the sites, which we then mailed to the lab in Seward to test for the toxins that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP).
As ocean waters around Alaska warm, PSP hazards have spread northward. It has led to increased testing of shellfish from Southeast Alaska to the Bering Strait. However, remote areas of Prince William Sound have been under-represented in the statewide effort. To close this gap, we worked with local communities, biologists, and others to identify useful sites for sampling in the Sound.
By initiating regular testing, we can inform the public of trends in the toxins that cause PSP, helping residents better understand the risks of shellfish harvesting. We believe this strengthens our communities and our ability to safely enjoy the foods people have harvested along these shores for thousands of years.
Leave It Better Campaign
In addition to our annual clean-up trips, we also steadily outreach to boaters and kayakers to work as a community to keep the Sound healthy and clean. We partner with outfitters, water taxis, and others in Whittier to distribute durable garbage bags that visitors can use to clean any beach they visit.
If visitors gather more trash than they can carry, they can “cache the trash” and report it to us or our partners for pick-up. Participants are just asked to leave the bags above the high tide line and GPS/photo the location. Partners such as Lazy Otter Charters or the Chugach National Forest can then retrieve and dispose of the trash, often within just a few days of a report.
This year, we heard from private boaters, National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) trip leaders, Alaska Sea Kayakers, guides, and others, who removed fishing nets, rope, fish totes, plastic bottles, buckets, and even a section of stray culvert from beaches across the Sound.
Thanks to this community effort, we were awarded the Alaskans for the Prevention of Litter and Recycling (ALPAR) Award for Volunteerism or Service!
Opening the Way to Shrode Lake
The Shrode Lake Trail is among the most popular hikes in the Wilderness Study Area of western Prince William Sound. It runs approximately three miles from Three Finger Cove (Cochrane Bay) to Long Bay (Culross Passage), providing a rare connector route between two distinct PWS waterways. It provides access to Shrode Lake, Shrode Creek, and the Forest Service’s Shrode Lake public use cabin. Along the way, the trail passes through ancient spruce-hemlock rainforest, open bogs, and subalpine meadows full of wildflowers. In short, the Shrode Trail is a jewel of the national forest trail system in PWS.
But, in recent years, overgrown brush, fallen trees, erosion, and damage to boardwalk and bridges have taken away from enjoyment of the trail. Thick overgrowth consisting of salmonberry, blueberry, ferns, and alder have made it to navigate, and during wet weather it can feel like hiking through a carwash. Additionally, the damage to boardwalks and bridges lead to streamside erosion and impacts to sensitive wetland vegetation.
Unfortunately, Chugach National Forest trail managers have been unable to keep up with maintenance on the Shrode Lake Trail. So, beginning in 2020, we teamed up with the Forest Service to restore the trail using our growing volunteer network. We’ve cleared brush, restored eroded tread, repaired boardwalk, and recovered the route where it passes through dense vegetation and meadows. In 2022, we plan to continue the work; find out more about volunteering on this and other summer projects here.
Battling Invasive Species in PWS
In June 2021, our volunteers shipped out to Hobo Bay in Port Wells to pull non-native dandelions from popular beaches. In this partnership with the Chugach National Forest, two sets of volunteers camped at Hobo over the course of a week, just as the weeds flowered but before they went to seed. They uprooted the plants and removed them from the site. Botanists believe doing this for multiple years will exhaust the seed bed and eradicate the weeds. The dandelions likely arrived at Hobo via tents or other recreational gear and have since spread to other popular beaches in Harriman Fiord and Barry Arm. We’re committed to working with the Forest Service to pull the weeds so they don’t spread to more beaches.
In September we also worked with the Whittier School, City of Whittier, and Kenai Watershed Forum to provide an invasive species education day to local students. It included a walk down to Smitty’s Cove, where students removed invasive European black slugs. The ecological impact of slugs is unknown, but they are a nuisance species that is highly transportable and can become established in very high numbers. Since we began treating the slugs three years ago, their numbers at Smitty’s Cove have plummeted from the thousands to just a couple hundred each year. Collecting the slugs helps prevent their spread further into the Sound or other communities such as Girdwood, where they were documented in 2019 and 2020.
Whittier is also home to a number of other harmful invasive species, including Canada thistle and reed canary grass, among others. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to raise awareness about invasives and prevent their further spread.
Campsite Restoration in Blackstone Bay Continues!
Seventeen Mile Beach in Blackstone Bay might be the most popular spot to camp in western Prince William Sound. And with good reason. The beach provides spectacular views of the three closest tidewater glaciers to Whittier and is surrounded by mountains, ancient rainforest, and abundant birdlife and marine mammals. But with the popularity has come some common problems, including loss of vegetation, litter, felled trees, erosion, and improperly disposed human waste.
In recent years, the Chugach National Forest has worked to improve the site by hardening campsites, restoring soils and vegetation, and installing an outhouse. In 2021, we contributed volunteer help with Alaska Geographic. It was our third year working at the site and we’re excited about the progress. The new campsites are private, dry, and comfortable and help preserve the natural surroundings, while the outhouse is sure to improve sanitation at an area where a lot of people like to…go.
The Problem at Perry
The narrow spit near the head of West Twin Bay on Perry Island is another popular spot in the western Sound that has seen some hard times. In recent years visitors have left trash, cut down trees, and created unsanitary and overflowing “bucket latrines.” And in 2019, a campfire was left unattended that then smoldered in the duff for over a month. It destroyed the roots of over 10 mature trees, which have since toppled, causing significant erosion and blocking access to part of the site.
West Twin Bay is State of Alaska land administered by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR). It is not part of the Alaska State Parks system or Chugach National Forest.
In September, our board members visited the site with State of Alaska officials to assess the damage and discuss ways the Stewardship Foundation can restore the site. No firm plans are in place yet, but we look forward to further discussions and hope that in the near future we can put our volunteer force to work restoring Perry to its original beauty, maybe with hardened campsites and a simple access trail. The project would be a good example of the service we like to provide: filling in the gaps where agencies are in need while serving the public interest and supporting recreation and tourism in the Sound.
In the meantime, we encourage visitors to Perry and all the other PWS beaches to help us take care of our backyard by camping on durable surfaces, properly disposing of human waste, picking up litter, and extinguishing all campfires after their use.
In another partnership with the Chugach National Forest, we also grew a garden in 2021. We bought soil and helped build garden beds on a sunny patch of lawn beside the Forest Service office in Girdwood. When cold temps arrived in late September, we harvested about 20 pounds of potatoes for the Girdwood Food Pantry, which serves communities in Turnagain Arm and Whittier.
We’re also working in the community to do a food drive centered around the Foundation’s harvest.
We planted Yukon golds, purple Vikings, and Haida potatoes. The Haida is a strain grown by Indigenous people all along the NW Coast for centuries, possibly pre-dating the arrival of fur traders. It’s related to a potato likely grown on beach-side patches in PWS. It would be left to grow wild in spring and then collected in fall as groups moved back to winter villages. If any of our potatoes move between Girdwood and Whittier, they’ll be following ancient trade routes to/from the Sound that possibly also carried potatoes.
First Annual PWS Natural History Symposium in Whittier
In May we sponsored a new symposium on Prince William Sound history and ecology, held in Whittier. During the day-long event, fifteen expert speakers discussed Prince William Sound’s history, weather, wildlife, changing climate, and much more. As a new training opportunity for the Sound’s growing community of professional guides, who bring thousands of visitors to the area each year, the symposium was an investment in the Prince William Sound recreation and tourism economy. It was also free and open to the public. The audience ranged from 80 to 100 people throughout the day, plenty enough to convince us to coordinate the event again next spring. Thanks to the Chugach National Forest, City of Whittier, and Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council for co-sponsoring.
Taking out the Trash in 2019
For a second year in row, we worked with the U.S. Forest Service and others to clean beaches in Prince William Sound. This year we removed hundreds of pounds of marine debris and other garbage from Knight Island and Perry Island, in the central part of the Sound. Private boaters and a crew from U.S. Coast Guard Sector Valdez joined in this year, and we coordinated with long-time marine debris experts at Gulf of Alaska Keeper. We plan to continue these citizen-based trips as long marine debris finds its way into Prince William Sound.
Restoring Campsites in Blackstone Bay
Following up on our work in 2018, our volunteers again worked with the Chugach National Forest to restore damaged resources and improve public camping in Blackstone Bay. With guidance from Forest Service specialists, we closed excess trails, repaired erosion, restored vegetation, and created new and comfortable campsites at the popular Seventeen Mile Beach. The improvements are good for the land but also benefit the recreation and tourism economy by ensuring high-quality visitor experiences in the remote lands accessible from Whittier. The Forest Service is currently seeking public comment on the 2020 phase of the project, which we will also assist through our growing community of volunteers.
Coordinating the Voices of the Wilderness Artist Residency
We help administer the Voices of the Wilderness Artist Residency. For ten years this program has brought artists to wilderness areas across Alaska, and the artists have helped the agencies connect the public to these special lands. In 2019 we played a particularly active role in the program during the federal government shutdown. We're proud of our contribution, which helped bring Seldovia artist Valisa Higman to work in the Wilderness Study Area of western Prince William Sound this year. Each year's artist volunteers their time for conservation projects while on their residency.
Citizen Science in PWS
We are working with the Chugach National Forest to offer citizen science opportunities in the Wilderness Study Area portion of western Prince William Sound. This year two of our volunteers gathered data on resource conditions at specific sites while on a week-long kayak trip in Port Nellie Juan and Perry Passage. The pair used a smart phone app to record their observations and were provided transportation to the sound on a Forest Service vessel. Citizen science is an important part of taking care of Prince William Sound and we plan to offer more opportunities in 2020.
The Prince William Sound Forum comes to Facebook
In July we launched the Prince William Sound Forum community page on Facebook. You can now request to join the page’s nearly 500 members to read or post about latest observations, photos, fun facts, or sites that need clean-up around the Sound. The Facebook page aligns with our goal to build a greater sense of community among the people who visit Prince William Sound. We believe if visitors feel part of a community of people who enjoy the area, they will be more likely to help care for it.
Other Happenings in 2019
The Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation occupies the gap between resource issues and the limited capacity of management agencies and others tasked with protecting Prince William Sound. This year we also:
Helped remove invasive European black slugs at popular recreation sites in Whittier, which can prevent their further spread.
Hosted speakers on a variety of Prince William Sound topics in Anchorage and Girdwood. This spring we’ll host a weekly speaker series in February and March.
Began an Adopt a Beach program where boaters, kayakers, and others commit to cleaning one beach during their trip into the Sound.
Launched our new website packed with resources to help people enjoy and take care of Prince William Sound.