Caretaking at America’s largest State Park
He hovers, he hovers, he swoops, he dives, then misses his prey in the sparkling, clear waters. He hovers, he hovers, his talons are extended, and his wings beat the drum of the osprey hunt. He dives and snatches a shimmering rainbow trout from the river. The rainbow is struggling as the osprey flies across Lake Beverly to its nest when out of the shadows a bald eagle appears. They dance, the osprey dodges, but the eagle relentlessly harasses the osprey, keeping pace. The osprey drops the trout just as the eagle swoops down to retrieve the prize for its fledgling in the massive nest overlooking the Agulukpak River.
This scene is what we look forward to every evening from the deck of the state park ranger station overlooking Lake Beverly as it flows into the Agulukpak River. Over the last two years my husband, Bill, and I spent the month of July volunteering for Alaska State Parks, caretaking the remote ranger station and the campground facility. We are no strangers to the park as Bill was the district ranger for Wood-Tikchik State Park for nearly 10 years, prior to retiring in 2015. So upon our concurrent retirements, we decided there was no better way to stay connected with the park than to volunteer.
We were fortunate to be stationed at the Agulukpak Ranger Station. Since we had our personal boat on site, the Wood River watershed was at our fingertips, or should I say rod tips, when our daily duties were complete. Besides maintaining the ranger station and campground facility, we cleared and brushed the angler’s trail and kept a daily tally of the guided anglers on the Agulukpak River. This river is known for its abundant population of rainbow trout, but can be tricky to fish when even as few as 10 boats are fishing the upper half mile of the river. It is swift and rocky, and low water levels sometimes experienced during late summer present challenging navigational hazards. However, once you figure out how to fish the Agulukpak River, it is quite thrilling and addictive to land successive rainbow trout. In the evenings, when most guided anglers were back at their lodges, eating a gourmet meal, Bill and I geared up for an hour or two of trout fishing. It has taken me two seasons to gain confidence in my fly cast (the swirling winds at the outlet do not help) and to successfully select the perfect fly for the moment. Persistence paid off and I occasionally out-fished Bill–an event worthy of writing on the calendar!
When we wanted a change of scenery, we patrolled the lake shore by boat, which is mostly pristine, but sometimes a relic from the past or other unknown object caught our eye for transport to the landfill. Bill’s knowledge of the park is vast and he enjoyed sharing the secret fishing holes he discovered during his tenure in the park. We occasionally fished small tributaries comprised of pools teeming with grayling and the more elusive rainbow trout. The best time to fish these tributaries is before the salmon arrive in full force in late July or early August. Once the salmon arrive, the grayling and rainbow tend to disperse and are trickier to catch, not to mention all the brown bears competing for the catch of the day!
Despite Bill’s in-depth knowledge of Wood-Tikchik State Park, there are still many locations left to be explored. On one of our days off, we decided to check a destination off of our to-do list–the hike up to Silverhorn. We motored up Lake Beverly and pulled the boat on shore at the inlet of Silverhorn Bay. When the sun shines on the granite face of the mountain peaks upstream, they shimmer like sterling silver, hence the name Silverhorn. This day was gray, but we held out hope for a few rays of sunshine later on. The shoreline is tangled with alders and willows, so we hiked upstream in our chest waders until we reached the treeline. The unnamed stream felt 10 degrees colder than the Agulukpak River and was crystal clear. It was an almost peaceful hike upstream; however, we felt the need to ring the cowbell frequently to warn the bears of our approach. Who knows if that works, but it made us feel better. Above the treeline, the dynamics of the stream changed from pools and riffles to a channeled rocky, rapid current. We hiked up to the waterfall cascading directly from the snowpack hanging from the towering peaks and were rewarded with sunshine and views of the glistening granite. Silverhorn lived up to its name!
There are many more destinations in the park we wish to see, and many more rainbow trout and Arctic grayling to catch. We are looking forward to our next trip to this special place, hopefully this summer, to explore, fish, and watch the evening Battle of the Agulukpak.
He hovers, he hovers, he swoops, he dives, and snatches another rainbow trout from the current. The bald eagle appears out of nowhere and pursues. The osprey climbs higher and higher above Lake Beverly. The eagle beats its massive wings, almost catches the osprey, but this time the osprey dives and evades the eagle. The eagle tires and gives up the chase while the osprey stalls in flight to get a better grip on the now lifeless trout. The osprey flies off across the lake and out of sight to feed the fledgling waiting in its nest.
Wood-Tikchik is the largest state park in the United States, encompassing 1.6 million acres. The land was considered by the National Park Service as an addition to our national park system until the State of Alaska selected the lands. The park is located in Southwest Alaska and is accessible by float plane from Dillingham or Lake Aleknagik. It is also accessible by a road from Dillingham to the village of Aleknagik and then by watercraft from Lake Aleknagik. The name of the park is derived from the Wood River and Tikchik River watersheds and consists of several large glacial lakes in each system. The lakes flow through mountains to rolling hills of spruce, aspen, birch, and willow. This public land is a little-known gem for its stunning landscape crawling with wildlife drawn by the large runs of Pacific salmon from Bristol Bay and bountiful populations of rainbow trout, Arctic grayling, and Arctic char/Dolly Varden. Recreational opportunities abound with fly-in float trips down the Tikchik River or the Wood River lakes beginning at Lake Kulik and terminating at Lake Aleknagik.