Erosion destroys one campsite and threatens more on Dyea flats near Skagway

Former location of campsite 22 at Dyea Flats Municipal Campground. (Mike Swasey/KHNS)

A campsite at the Dyea Flats Municipal Campground, about 10 miles outside of Skagway, has been consumed by the Taiya River. The area saw record snowfalls this winter and with the spring melt and shifting tides in the brackish waters, the river is rapidly eroding its bank.

About three weeks ago, I sat at campsite 22 at the Dyea Flats Campground, enjoying the sounds of songbirds and the flow of the Taiya River. As of Wednesday, there was nothing left of that campsite. Erosion is threatening several other riverside campsites, while also threatening to erode parts of the National Park Service’s old townsite.

Borough Manager Brad Ryan said there’s not much that can be done.

“You don’t, if you can help it, try to work to control an alluvial fan. They move, and you put a lot of money into working in those areas, only to have the river move again,” Ryan said.

According to Ryan, a couple of years ago, PND Engineers from Anchorage was in town working on a different project while the Taiya was eroding land close to the campground. The engineers made their assessment.

“Their take was that you’re going to put a lot of money into trying to hold this sand in place, essentially. And the river is going to move or could move. And it just isn’t good money to do that,” Ryan said.

Erosion threatens more campsites on the Dyea Flats. (Mike Swasey/KHNS)

Some options the municipality has considered include a rip rap wall. But that could shift problems to other parts of the river, or the river could change course completely, leaving a large pile of rocks behind. Another option is planting trees to develop root wads and stall erosion, but, Ryan said, that probably wouldn’t be practical.

“You’re talking about sand. It’d be different if there was soil and mud and clay to grab ahold of, but instead, you have the sandbank,” Ryan said. “And so putting a lot of effort in there is just a whole bunch of money to try to control something that you’re probably not going to control.”

So for now the municipality plans on letting the river run its course. Public Works will put up wooden barricades to prevent vehicles and people from approaching the erosion area. And if the river continues to encroach upon the campground, they are prepared to move all of the picnic tables and outhouses to other areas.

Meanwhile, the new campground host has arrived and, as of July 1, is collecting fees. The fee structure is set at $10 per night or $50 for a season pass. Though the campground had been free to use prior to this year, the municipality’s 2010 plan allows the Skagway Assembly to impose the registration fees if they deem it necessary, and they did.

The 21 remaining campsites not damaged by erosion are being rented on a first-come, first-served basis.

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