The message is the same up and down the Kuskokwim: don’t snowmachine on the river. The ice is melting and breaking up, and travel has become dangerous.
At Sleetmute, resident Peter Miluk says that river travel has been halted for about a week. On April 24, he said the ice on the Kuskokwim appeared dark, with little snow cover, and most of the ice was no longer connected to the riverbanks. He said that the water along the riverbank was fairly still, adding that once it gets a current, then usually the ice will move out three to four days later. Miluk said that conditions look fairly normal so far, and villagers in Sleetmute are preparing for flooding.
Also on April 24 in Crooked Creek, Tribal Transportation Director Tim Zaukar said that the ice on the Kuskokwim in front of the village has turned dark and has detached from the riverbank. The ice in Crooked Creek, the waterway that gives the community its name, flowed out this past weekend.
“It went out in the nighttime," Zaukar said. "There’s probably more ice up there, but a lot came out. There’s no more ice coming down now, but I’m pretty sure there are ice jams further up.”
Zaukar says that he expects the ice on the Kuskokwim to clear at Crooked Creek in a couple of days.
“I’d say it’s going to move soon," he said. "I’m not going to place any bets, but I’d say in a couple of days.”
In 2011, a flood submerged portions of the the community during spring breakup. The village lost nine homes, including Zaukar’s. He says that the homes have been rebuilt since then.
“Well, the houses are a lot higher now, even the AVCP that got flooded. They got above the flood plain. We’re just crossing our fingers and hoping it doesn’t again,” Zaukar said.
Zaukar says that people in Crooked Creek are doing their best to prepare for potential flooding this year by picking up the loose items in their yards, moving snowmachines farther away from the river, and getting supplies organized so that they can move uphill if they need to.
Further downriver, the ice on the Tuluksak River went out on April 21. Tuluksak resident Golga Jacob says that the water began flowing the next day, and people have been boating on it since, maneuvering around the small chunks of ice that continue flowing down.
Upriver in McGrath, the tripod for the McGrath Ice Classic is still standing. On April 23, the general manager of McGrath Public Radio station KSKO, Dave Patty, reported open water along the Kuskokwim River shoreline. Patty said that McGrath’s river ice goes out 10 days after the river clears in Nikolai, which flowed out on April 20. That would mean that the ice should be gone by the middle of next week, but Patty says that it could go out faster. The forecast calls for a sunny weekend.
The worry was that the unusually large amount of snow this spring would cause flooding, but Patty says that the ground seems to absorbing the melt so far. There is still about a foot of snow on the ground in McGrath.