First community float goes down the Alagnik River

River swelled by rainfall offers a smooth ride

Commentary By Greg Mans
For The Cordova Times

Picture this:

We are running a bit late.  The flier said to meet at 10:30 a.m. at mile-22 bridge. It’s already 10:45 a.m. and we are just now leaving town.

Seventh-grader Holden and his friend Aiden are wedged between kayaks stuffed in the van, munching on cookies from the Little Cordova Bakery. They are negotiating the reward for spotting wildlife along the river. We are already up to $5 for a bear sighting and $2 for eagles. Holden is a tough negotiator.

As we burst out Heney Range past the Ibek skies, the deer cabbage, ferns and copper brush on the mountainside show their autumn yellows and browns while the deep greens of the hemlock and spruce offered great contrast to the rock. Atop the highest peaks to the north, there was a fresh dusting of snow.

Singing begins in the van, started by Taylor, from the Cove, who brought the cookies for the boys. Van, Liz and myself join in for a few verses of “When I went Down to the River to Pray.” Then another river song, and soon we are past the airport.


At the mile-22 bridge there are cars, people, kayaks and canoes, and lifejackets strewn about. People are shuffling through gear.

We park the van. A few dogs and children are running about. I see Mike Mahoney working through gear, and Jeremy, from Bidarki is doing the same. The two of them, Craig from FV/Ocean Point and the two Coast Guard couples did a lot of equipment running on this day, and because of them this whole thing is alive.

I walk to the bank of the Alagnik River, which is swelled by a few days of rain.

I look to Mike. “Is she safe?”

After talking it over and reviewing conditions, we decide to go ahead with the float.

Someone starts to clap. The claps get louder and faster, everyone coming together closer and closer. It’s happening.

Friends and strangers, from New Jersey, New Hampshire, Philly, Michigan, Florida, Russia, Nashville, Colorado, Texas, Switzerland, Wisconsin, Minnesota and beyond.  Scientists, net menders and fishermen, US Coast Guard, SCA trail crew, nurses, parents, children and dogs, all here to let the river carry them along for a time.

Mike leads a brief safety talk, paddlers are paired up and boats carried to the river.

“Onward and awkward!” yells Aiden as he, Craig and I carry our boat to the river.

The first canoe to hit the river was paddled by Lisa, sitting on the bow going down stern-first with an eager young lab leaping about.

Boats and people trickle into the river, and then everyone is being whisked downstream along the Alaganik’s high banks, thick with alders, willows, cottonwoods and spruce.

We round the first bend of the river to see the worn trail of the “Hooligan Hole” where so many spend the early days of spring in warm sun, net in hand.

An eagle circles overhead, a raven calls, and a few ducks are in flight.  A seal joins the group and on we float.

We hear beeping and see Sergei’s car bouncing down the road, with his mom and Jillian after Stephanie from Prince William Sound Science Center and the PWSSC van and two women I had not met until today. All are headed for the take out, with pallets for fire and hot chocolate and jarred smoked king salmon by Eva Hager.

“How are we doing?” I asked Aiden as Craig guided the three of us down the river.

He says “I’m doing fine!”

It seemed like the whole canoe event is going that way: A flier, a meeting with Bidarki, the Watershed and Prince William Sound Science Center, a conversation with Mike Mahoney and the rest just somehow happens.

Back on the river, the first wave of boats reaches a beautiful dark water slough. As canoers paddle up the slough, cohos dart from their hiding places and wildlife stirs.  Aiden is in the water over his boots, exploring, to catch a fish. Lisa’s lab is running the banks. The mountain views are spectacular.

We hear whooping, laughing and hollering upriver. The upper group has landed on an island midstream. Kiska the dog is barking and playing. It is all good fun. Swiss Mark turns his kayak as he playfully pushes back into the river.

After a short break, boats begin to slip out of the slough and are quickly taken again by the sweeping arm of this river. More floating down this river.  Soon a bench is sighted along the western bank. We arrive at the Alaganik Slough Forest Service launch site and campground.

A fire is burning at one of the campsites. Boats are pulled, gear stowed and people trickle toward the fire. A spread of salmon, cheese and crackers, apples and other foods have been beautifully laid out across a picnic table sitting atop an artfully placed mat of giant skunk cabbage leaves. Hot chocolate is ready.

The last of the boats arrive, a beautiful birch bark canoe made by Ryan, who lives up Fleming Creek at the cove. Shuttles begin back to cars. Boats, food and gear get packed up.

Soon the flotilla is strapped atop cars and in trailers, and vehicles circle their way back to town. Boys and dogs are asleep. Faces glow with the warmth of wind burnt cheeks.

Canoes sit resting in their respective places; paddles lean against the wall of the shed; lifejackets hung to dry.

A call comes from the cove. Fishermen Andrew, Caleb and Gus have fired up the sauna, whose warmth brings peace to our bodies and clears our minds.

Thanks to Prince William Sound Science Center, Bidarki, USFS and the Watershed and Nichols Front Door Store. Thanks to all who showed up to support the first Cordova community Alaganik River float.