World War II “Ghost” culvert no longer haunts Yakutat

USDA Forest Service fish and watershed crews considered themselves “Ghost Busters” when they set out to restore hydrologic function and aquatic organism passage this summer.  Because, in 2020 on the Tongass National Forest’s Yakutat Ranger District, they removed a “ghost” culvert that has been haunting the little town of Yakutat since World War II (WWII).  

culvert surrounded by berry bushes and trees

“I called it ghost culvert because it is a relic from a different time in Yakutat, the WW II era, when there was a large population here,” said Nate Catterson, Fisheries Biologist on the Yakutat Ranger District.  “Most of the evidence from that time is gone but the road, the culvert that goes through the roadbed, and its effects on fish and hydrology, remained out there on the landscape.”

Some of the infrastructure built by the military during WW II in Yakutat is still in use today, including the Yakutat Airport and some roads.  Other areas and facilities, including this unnamed military road and powerhouse, were abandoned right after the war. The abandoned road has been unused for more than 70 years, and vegetation has largely covered the area.

In the summer of 2020, the district, with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and help from the City and Borough of Yakutat, removed the “ghost” culvert from the roadbed and restored a natural grade and stream banks to Center Creek.  It’s expected that coho salmon as well as additional pink salmon and cutthroat trout will begin to use the upper Lost River above the former culvert, improving anadromous fish access to the upper half mile of Center Creek.  “Removing the culvert will allow salmon access to habitat higher in the watershed, but it is more than that, “ says Catterson.  “The culvert was restricting the movement of sediment in the stream and dampening the high flows that keep fish habitat dynamic and heathy below the pipe.  In Yakutat, the culture and economy run on salmon and this area is known for its late run of coho salmon.”

The restoration was necessary because of the roadwork done in WW II. Catterson explained that fill for the road was excavated from the area next to the road creating a trench. This trench became an artificial stream, Center Creek, replacing the natural streams in the area.  Gravel roadbeds, excavations, and stream crossing culverts from earlier construction had been affecting fish and hydrology since their construction.

And, it turns out fish are not the only animals benefitting from the removal of this WW II relic!  A recent time-lapse video of the culvert removal and stream restoration shows not only the removal of the culvert and the finished stream, but some large Alaskan wildlife who also seem to appreciate the district’s work!

View the time-lapse here:

Yakutat Ghost Culvert with two moose standing in the stream