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Making something great by taking something away

Frozen landscape
A cold, wintery Alaska day at Freestone Ponds in Portage Valley, south of Girdwood, AK. Over the next few years, this site will transform to provide gravel, wildlife habitat, wetland, fishing opportunities and recreational opportunities. USDA Forest Service photo by Adam Cross.

ALASKA—Usually words like “extract” or “remove” mean “to take something away.” In the case of Freestone Ponds, while contractors and individuals are “taking away” gravel for local construction projects, they are also helping to make the Freestone Ponds area into an amazing fish, wildlife and recreation area. 

In 2020, working with those interested in acquiring gravel, the Chugach National Forest Minerals, Glacier Ranger District Recreation, and Kenai Peninsula Zone Aquatic programs collaborated to complete a combined gravel pit operation and reclamation plan for the entire Freestone Ponds project area. Eleven “free use” contracts were provided to the public for projects such as driveway improvements, totaling 4,500 tons of gravel, and nearly 6,700 tons of gravel were sold to seven private contractors. 

Also notable in 2020, a total of over 300,000 tons of gravel was provided from Freestone Ponds to complete the current phase of the Seward Highway reconstruction. The company completed all reclamation requirements within their permitted project area, creating the foundation for additional restoration and reclamation efforts at Freestone Ponds. 

Glacier park
Aerial view of the Freestone gravel pit adjacent to the Portage Glacier Highway in full production. This operation was authorized to provide material for Phase 1 of the Seward Highway, MP 75 to 90 Road and Bridge rehabilitation project. Photo courtesy Granite Construction.

The Freestone Ponds area will provide wetlands where none existed previously. Forest staff successfully identified this area as an area to create wetlands in response to those lost to the Portage Curve Multimodal Trail. The planned reclamation will include contouring the remaining steep side-slopes, creating wetland, re-vegetating sites and continuing treatment of noxious and invasive plants. The wetlands and shallow contoured slopes leading up to riparian areas will create nesting habitat for waterfowl. And as shoreline vegetation is re-established, it will create additional habitat for a variety of terrestrial and avian species that live in Portage Valley.

“Fishing and recreation opportunities will also increase,” said Adam Cross, fisheries biologist and Kenai Peninsula Zone aquatic staff officer. “We intend to request that Alaska Department of Fish and Game add the Freestone Ponds to their statewide fish stocking program once reclamation efforts near completion and we can meet the state requirements. Due to the proximity to the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, the increased recreational use in Portage Valley, and the ease of access, we anticipate a surge in day-use recreation such as paddle boarding, swimming, and eventually fishing!”

So, whether motorists are driving along the reconstructed Seward Highway, taking advantage of some new development projects in the Girdwood and Portage Valley areas, or enjoying the new recreation, fishing, and wildlife viewing  opportunities at Freestone Ponds, they’ll be enjoying the benefits of gravel removed from Freestone Ponds! 

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