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If Santa Claus goes fishing, it's at Chena Lake. The small lake on the outskirts of North Pole, Alaska is a very accessible fishery and recreation spot that draws both outdoor and Christmas enthusiasts alike.
Chena Lake is an important part of the much larger Chena River Lakes Project. The project is the northernmost flood control project by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and the only Corps project of its kind in the entire state of Alaska. In 1967 the rain-swollen Chena and Little Chena Rivers spilled over their banks at six feet above flood stage. The flood waters washed away railroad tracks, bridges, and roads and displaced almost 7,000 people. The water that filled downtown Fairbanks drove residents to their roofs and did over $80 million in damages, making it one of Alaska's worst natural disasters.
To avoid future disasters, Congress authorized the Chena River Lakes Flood Control Project. Construction of the project under the direction of the United States Army Corps of Engineers began in 1973 and was significantly completed by 1979. The project includes the Moose Creek Dam and the Tanana River Levee which work together to divert excess water from Fairbanks and Fort Wainwright. Today the Corps, with the help of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, manages the project as well as recreation opportunities including a paved bikeway along the dam and river. There is also a bike trail starting at the Chena Lake Beach. A stairway to the top of the dam lets visitors look down on the floodway and river.
Chena Lake is a rehabilitated barrow pit with plenty of bays, peninsulas, and islands. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game began stocking the lake in 1982. It is stocked with rainbow trout, artic char, and Coho (silver) salmon. Anglers can fish from the shore or by boat, and there are boat ramps and non-motorized rentals at the Chena Lake Recreation Area.
The Chena Lake Recreation Area encompasses the Lake Park which includes Chena Lake, and the River Park which includes four miles of the Chena River. The Recreation Area has sandy beaches with swimming areas, covered picnic pavilions, volleyball courts, and restrooms. There are also campgrounds, hiking and biking trails and hunting in season. The area's wildlife is extensive, and there are moose, beavers, muskrats, wolves, and brown and black bears. In the winter there are trails for dog mushing and snow machining as well as groomed trails for cross country skiing. The lake also has two ice fishing houses.
Chena Lake is seventeen miles from Fairbanks, the largest city in the Interior and Alaska's second largest city behind Anchorage. The lake is just a few miles south of the town of North Pole. North Pole has a log cabin visitor's center, and there are stores, restaurants and various accommodations. Perhaps the area's most unusual attraction, however, is the Santa Claus House. Started by Con and Nellie Miller in 1952, the house served as the village's post office for almost 20 years. Con Miller, who was North Pole's longest serving mayor, started playing Santa for the village's children when he and Nellie arrived in the territory. Today the Santa Claus House has a coffee shop, Santa collectibles and gifts, and the world's largest Santa Claus.
The charm of North Pole combined with the easy accessibility and recreation of Chena Lake make it a very popular Interior fishery.
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