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Birch Creek Wild and Scenic River

History and Natural Setting

History

The first settlers in this area were probably the Gwich'in Indians. They traditionally occupied portions of Birch Creek to harvest moose, waterfowl and fish.

Miners moved into the area in 1893. Pitka Pavaloff and Sergei Cherosky, two Russian-Koyukon miners, panned for gold at what is now known as Pitka's Bar. The next year they started the Birch Creek Gold Rush when 100 men followed them back to their claims and began prospecting on adjoining tributaries.

Ruins of trapper's cabin near Birch Creek
Trapper's cabin near Birch Creek
Entrepreneurs followed the gold seekers, blazing trails, freighting goods, and establishing road houses. Old miner and trapper cabins still dot the landscape along the river.

Mining has continued in the area until present day, with only a brief interruption during World War II.

Natural Setting

Birch Creek flows through an area described as the Yukon-Tanana Uplands, a region of rounded ridges and valleys located between the higher mountains of the Alaska Range and Brooks Range.

Much of the bedrock along the waterway consists of Birch Creek Schist (named for this river). One of the oldest rocks in Alaska, the schist formed over millions of years as high temperatures and pressure compressed sediments from rivers, lakes or oceans.

Schist comes in many different varieties. You might see quartzite, garnet, biotite, muscovite and mafic schist. Minerals hidden within the schist may include pyrite, antimony, tourmaline and actinolite.

Spectacular examples of Birch Creek Schist are found in rock outcrops where sheer rock walls have resisted the erosive action of water. Shotgun Rapids is one such location. 

Two canoers paddle past a melting ice lens exposed in a cutbank on Birch Creek.
Canoers paddle past a melting ice lens on Birch Creek.
Also exposed in cutbanks along Birch Creek are melting ice lenses, part of the permanently frozen soils, or permafrost, underlying much of the river valley. Forests of short, stunted black spruce, deep sedge tussocks, and thick stands of willows grow above the permafrost in the shallow layer of soil that thaws for a few months each summer.