If you have ever flown over Lake Clark National Park in the eastern Bristol Bay watershed, you have likely crossed Lake Clark Pass and seen the Tlikakila River flowing below. The river’s glacial waters and steep banks make for some of the most magnificent scenery in the region.
Now, people around country can catch a glimpse of it in their mailbox. The United States Postal Service published its newest Forever Stamp series this week featuring a dozen National Wild and Scenic Rivers from around the country. The Tlikakila is among them.
“It’s really a spectacular photograph,” said Meghan Richotte, a program manager for the park.
Richotte said she was thrilled to learn the series would feature the river.
“It’s a remote, free-flowing wilderness river that is a wonderful example of what we protect at Lake Clark National Park -- clean, clear, cold water, spawning habitat, and really beautiful places.”
The aerial picture, taken by photographer Michael Melford, shows the river’s alluvial fan, where it deposits glacial sediment into the lake. He photographed five of the rivers in the collection, including the Koyukuk River, a tributary of the Yukon River.
Congress created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968 to preserve certain rivers and streams with exceptional values, such as fish and wildlife, recreation, and cultural significance. These are waters that people have not modified with dams or other constructions. As of 2018, more than 220 rivers were protected under the act.
The river lies near the villages of Port Alsworth and Nondalton. It has played an important role in the region for generations.
“The Dena’ina name is Łiq'a Qilanhtnu, which means stream where salmon are, or where salmon gathered,” said Karen Evanoff, a cultural anthropologist with the park.
Evanoff said that as people have moved around the region, their use of the river has changed. For instance, she says when residents of Nondalton lived closer to the Tlikakila, they used to fish for salmon further upriver.
“According to our oral history, salmon went quite a ways up that river," she said. "And this was also a place where traditionally there was a squirrel camp. So this was a key area for squirrel trapping.”
People still hunt and fish along the river. And it remains vital to the watershed’s ecology.
“The river, and the connections of the watershed from the lake to rivers to creeks, they’re all really important," Evanoff said. "Tlikakila is at the headwaters. It’s one of the last places where the salmon spawn.”
Having the Tlikakila on a stamp, she hopes, will encourage more people to learn about the place where the river runs.