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Complete river log
From: David Dapkus
Subject: Field Inspection of the Squirrel River, August 6-13, 1975
The Squirrel River was included in a list of 40 Alaskan river areas recommended
by the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation in July of 1972 for detailed study as
potential additions to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. A study was
subsequently conducted of the river area. The Squirrel River was found to
possess outstanding values and to qualify for inclusion in the National System.
It lies within (d)(2) lands proposed for designation as the Noatak National
Arctic Range, and Native village (Kiana) withdrawal lands.
Although originally recommended by BOR for possible inclusion in the National
Wild and Scenic Rivers System, no fieldwork had been previously done on the
Squirrel River, and it is not currently proposed for wild river designation. At
the request of the Assistant secretary's Office and as part of BOR's technical
assistance to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in evaluating river-related
resources within proposed refuge/range systems, an interagency field inspection
was made of the Squirrel River. Participating in the field inspection were:
John Blankenship - G.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Anchorage
Scott Grundy - Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Fairbanks
David Mihalic - BLM, Fairbanks District, Fairbanks
David Dapkus - BOR, Alaska Field Office, Anchorage
Two fifteen foot Klepper kayaks were used for the river inspection.
John Blankenship and I (with field gear) left Anchorage International Airport
via Wein jet at 9:30 a.m., to Kotzebue, and then took a Wein twin Otter to the
village of Kiana; arriving at 12:30 p.m. Scott Grundy had flown in to Kotzebue
from Fairbanks and took the same flight as we to Kiana. Dave Mihalic was waiting
for us at Kiana being flown there from Bettles by BLM Boeing 205 helicopter.
Mihalic and I took half the field gear in the helicopter and made the first
flight into the headwater of the Squirrel River. We sat down, after about a
20-minute flight, 67 miles up the 72 mile long river on a long gravel bar. The
river from the air, looked to be too shallow further upstream to float the
kayaks. John and Scott followed shortly with the remaining gear. We made camp
and explored the immediate area for the remainder of the day.
The river was very low varying from 2" to 3', 20 feet wide, current between 2
and 3 mph, and crystal clear blue/ green in color. We caught a few grayling and
observed chum salmon making their way upstream. There was fresh bear and moose
sign on the gravel bars along the river. The upper section of the river runs in
a U shaped 1/2-mile wide valley lying between 300'-400' rolling hills.
Predominant vegetation is alpine tundra with scattered willow brush on the
riverbanks. The view from this point on the river was an expansive one of alpine
tundra covered valley and nearby rolling hills, with the Baird Mountains in the
background on all sides except south. It had been a warm day with the sun
shining brightly in a blue sky, a perfect start for any trip.
We woke up to a brilliant sun and blue sky, which continued throughout the
entire field inspection except one rainy five hours on August 9. We broke camp,
put the folding Klepper kayaks together, and leaving at noon made about 8 miles
before again making camp. The river was a clear, emerald green color, 15' to 60'
wide, current averaging 2 mph., and flowing between 8' deep pools across gravel
bars at usual water depth of one inch. We spend our time half and half -floating
and dragging across the gravel bars. There are some overhanging willows brush
and white spruce trees scattered down the river but do present much hazard. We
did not encounter any rapids along this section of river nor did we later find
any rapids along the entire course of the river. We found the river from its
headwaters to the confluence with the Kobuk River at Kiana to fall in Class I on
the International Whitewater Scale.
Grayling fishing was excellent; all caught were between 14"-19" long and deep,
full bodied fish. Scott took a scale, length, and weight survey of about 100
grayling caught and released. Chum salmon were running in schools of 50-75 fish,
they looked to be in excellent condition. Fresh noose and bear sign was
plentiful along the riverbanks. We observed a dozen ducks and a dozen glaucous
The low river valley widened to two miles with the Baird Mountains continuing in
the background at a distance of eight miles away. The vegetation gradually
changed from being alpine tundra dominant to white spruce dominant with thick
willow brush interspersed with white spruce along the riverbanks. Views from the
river were pleasant, nearby rolling hills, distant mountains - but not grand.
The riverbanks seem to be continuous, smooth skipping rock, gravel bars. Most
gravel bars were very level and about 200 yards long; several were over an
estimated 1000'-1500' long. These gravel bars made excellent campsites.
We covered about 10 miles on the second day, camping a few miles below the North
Fork. Spent the time again half and half -dragging across the shallow gravel
bars and floating through the pools. Water remained green and clear, 100' wide,
1" to 10' and current averaging 2 mph. We went past many dry channels in which
water was flowing when we took an over flight of the river during June.
The river valley widened to five miles with 2000' high Kiana Hills appearing on
the south. The dominant white spruce trees were appearing in more dense stands,
following in lesser numbers by willows. Occasional tundra patches were
interspersed between the spruce and willow. Campsites were numerous due to the
continuous gravel bars.
We observed a variety of birdlife. Among them were 25 sand hill cranes in
flight, two golden eagles, and one other unidentified raptor, a long-tailed
jaeger, ravens, several glaucous gulls, one mallard hen, and two-dozen Canada
geese in three families. We also observed school after school of chum salmon,
all appearing in excellent shape. Grayling fishing remained excellent, all large
Gray low overcast turned to heavy rain from 9 a.m. to 2 p. m., this day,
followed by clear skies and sunshine. We covered about 16 miles through shallow
riffles and deep pools, but only had to get out of the kayaks a few times to
drag across the gravel bars. The North Fork and Ornar River (tributaries to the
Squirrel), although small, contributed enough water to deepen most riffles to 3"
to 6". The river current was 2/3 mph in a 100' wide slightly meandering channel
that had no rapids. The water remained crystal clear and emerald green.
The vegetative cover, the view from the river, and campsites remained as on the
previous day. We continued to encounter plentiful birdlife - glaucous gulls,
Canada geese, and ducks. Also continued to pass through schools of dog salmon.
The salmon were followed by large numbers of grayling. The grayling were feeding
on the newly deposited salmon eggs when possible.
We traveled 15 miles on this, another sunny day. The river was flowing 2-3 mph,
it was 100'-150' wide, more than 10' deep in the larger pools (we no longer had
to drag across riffles), and remained clear green in color. During the last two
miles the river bottom, banks, and bars turned from gravel to sand. Campsites
were not as plentiful or pleasant on the sandbars as they were on the gravel
bars. The river also started to flow in large meanders with long oxbow
backwaters appearing off to the south side of the river.
The vegetation remained about the same as previous days, except the willow
stands became even denser. Excellent vistas of the Kiana Hills to the south
added to the beauty of the river. We inspected an old Native fish camp with two
partially standing cabins on the south bank and saw a new cabin (painted red) on
stilts after having gone past it some distance. These were the only permanent
man made structures found on the entire river.
We saw 14 sand hill cranes feeding on a gravel bar, a yearling black bear which
wandered through camp the previous night, 14 molting Canada geese scrambling up
a riverbank, 12 ducks, and 24 birds identified as whirnberells. Continued to
observe schools of dog salmon followed by grayling. We saw two schools of
grayling, estimated to be more than 1000 fish in each school.
The most significant find on the trip was a mastodon tusk discovered by John
Blankenship. The tusk is from the Oligocene and Pleistocene epochs. It was 5'-6'
long, 8" in diameter, and weighted about 150 pounds. The tip on the small end
was broken off. It was lying in the middle of the river under 4' of water, and
almost completely exposed on the gravelled river bottom. It is now being
"restored" by experts at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Plans call for
it to be publicly displayed at a future time.
The river widened to 200 feet with an average depth in this lower reach of 4'
and it continued to flow 2 / 3 mph. It remained clear and green as it flowed in
great meanders along the Kiana Hills. The river bottom and banks consisted of
sand with some sandbars being the submersion type. These submersion sandbars
must be carefully avoided due to the danger of sinking if one walks on them. We
paddled 10 miles this day.
The only change in vegetative pattern was the addition of small-scattered
clusters of black spruce. Views from the river remained pleasant, but not
outstanding. Camping on the sandbars was not enjoyable, except that we had
plenty of dead willow brush for the cooking fire. We passed one marked Native
allotment on the river's south side.
We continued to observe a variety of birds including 10 sand hill cranes, four
Arctic loons, two-dozen bar tailed godwits, and several mergansers. We saw a few
grayling and chum salmon, but had no success in catching any for dinner. A young
red fox walked into camp, inspected our gear and tents, barked at us and left
-then barked most of the night to let us know we were intruders.
We paddled through 8 miles of slow (1 mph) moving river, arriving at the village
of Kiana in mid-afternoon. The river varied from 100'-200' in width, average
depth of 4' sand bottom, and remained clear and green colored.
The river valley narrow along the last six miles of river to about 1 mile. White
spruce and willows grew even denser in this section. We paused to look over a
gill net set about 1/ 2 mile upstream of Kiana. Kiana Natives were enjoying a
busy fishing period as evidenced by the full racks at Kiana.
We observed four Arctic loons, two mergansers, blackbirds, yellow warbler, and
mew and glaucous gulls. Also saw sheefish and a few chum salmon, but were
unsuccessful in catching any. We were informed in Kiana that the lower (10-20
miles) of the river have burbot, whitefish, and northern pike besides being good
We had the local storeowners haul our gear about 1/ 2 mile to the airport where
we camped for the night. Met Pat Pourchot and team the next day, arriving for
the Salmon River inspection, at the Wein flight from Kotzebue and took that
flight back to Kotzebue then another flight to Anchorage.
We covered 67 miles out of the total 72 mile long Squirrel River in six easy
days, could be done in five fairly easy days. The river is slow and smooth Class
I water with little hazard other than some submersion sandbars in the lower
reach. The first 25 miles are shallow and are spent in and out of the canoe
dragging and floating. It is, however, a good enjoyable family canoeing river.
The grayling and chum salmon fishing is excellent along most of the river; so we
were informed is the sheefish, burbot, and northern pike fishing along the lower
10-20 miles. The river has the clearest, emerald green, water I've seen. Bird
and animals living in the area are plentiful, varied, and from my experience,
easily observed. There is little evidence of man along the river.
Complete River Log
Squirrel River [621
Other information resources
List of rivers for which information is available on this website
Alagnak River | Alatna River
| American Creek
| Andreafsky River | Aniakchak River | Awuna River | Beaver Creek | Black River | Bremner River | Canning River | Charley River |
Chilikadrotna River | Chitina River | Colville River | Copper River | Delta River | Fortymile River | Gulkana River | Huslia River | Ivishak River | John River | Kakhonak River | Kanektok River | Karluk River | Kasegaluk Lagoon | King Salmon River | Kobuk River |
Koyukuk River North Fork | Little Susitna River | Mulchatna River | Nigu Etivluk rivers | Noatak River | Nowitna River | Nuyakuk River | Porcupine River | Saganirktok River | Salmon River (Kobuk) | Selawik River | Sheenjek River | Squirrel River | Talachulitna River | Tlikakila River | Togiak River | Unalakleet River |
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