Spring has finally arrived in Fairbanks, and the ice is quickly vanishing from the Chena River and other bodies of water. Here are two things to know about breakup.

Chena floaters, proceed with caution

Chena paddlers shouldn’t forget the water under the bridge this year. The Department of Transportation is replacing two bridges and urges river-goers to use caution when floating or boating the Chena. The Department released a guide for paddlers and boaters, recommending that inexperienced paddlers or those who want a relaxing trip avoid the University Avenue bridge and Wendell Avenue bridge construction zones.

“You need to know how to control your boat,” said DOT northern region information officer Caitlin Frye. DOT is “certainly not recommending that people do not go because there are many people who are experienced and capable,” Frye said. However, she added, the department wants people to be aware that “it’s not going to be a peaceful trip.”

For paddlers who do venture into construction areas, the experience will likely be comparable to driving through a road work zone, Frye said. The channel under the bridge will be narrow, so water will be moving faster and there may be hazards in the river. DOT also urges paddlers to be attentive to signs posted at boat launches and along the river and to be aware of other river traffic. Additionally, Frye said, individuals cannot pull their boats onto the shore in construction zones.

While the river will be open for floating for most of the summer, there will be a few interruptions. Beginning mid-May and extending through most of the summer, daytime rivercraft traffic will be stopped intermittently for about 20 minutes at a time. There will also be short closures when construction crews are placing girders over the channel or removing structures.

John Schauer with the Fairbanks Paddlers echoed many of Frye’s points: experienced paddlers who know the river should not be too concerned about navigating construction zones. However, construction aside, it is extremely important for people to respect the river.

“People underestimate that it’s very cold and the current is still pretty swift and strong,” Schauer said.

Schauer also recommends that paddlers pay attention to river flows and currents. This can be done at weather.gov/aprfc/riverConditions.

Getting fresh eyes on ice

Before Chena paddlers can launch, river ice needs to clear. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is hoping to document this process. UAF wants photos of ice breakup for its citizen science project, Fresh Eyes on Ice. A joint venture between UAF and the National Weather Service, Fresh Eyes on Ice seeks to improve knowledge about ice conditions and breakup patterns.

The project’s mission is twofold, according to Katie Spellman with the UAF International Arctic Research Center. The first goal is safety: observations provide extra information for flood forecasters, and reports about holes in the ice in winter make traveling safer. Second, the photos will be archived to better comprehend ice breakup dynamics, which is particularly important as the climate warms.

“It helps us understand how the ice is changing,” Spellman said.

All photos provide valuable information, but Spellman said that it is ideal if an individual takes three pictures: one straight across, one facing upstream and one facing downstream. Observations should include the location and a short description of ice conditions and it is also beneficial to document the specific time the pictures were taken.

Individuals can submit observations at fresheyesonice.org or over the phone by calling the Weather Service at 1-800-847-1739.


Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 459-7544.