Home > Locations > Chena Project

Chena River Lakes Flood Control Project

Welcome to the northernmost flood risk mitigation project operated by the Corps of Engineers in North Pole. Authorized by Congress after the devastating 1967 flood, Moose Creek Dam and associated features reduce flooding to the interior Alaskan city of Fairbanks, as well as providing local residents and visitors a myriad of recreational opportunities on nearly 20,000 acres of public land.


In the summer of 1967, one of the worst disasters in the history of Alaska struck the Fairbanks area. Unusually heavy rains swelled the Chena and Little Chena rivers six feet above their flood stage. Water poured into downtown Fairbanks and the outlying regions, driving residents to their rooftops and eventually displacing nearly 7,000 people from their homes. Roads, bridges, and railroads washed away, isolating Fairbanks and hindering rescue efforts. Damage estimates totaled more than $80 million. The extensive destruction helped inspire Congress to pass a national flood insurance program. To prevent a disaster of this magnitude from occurring again, the Alaska District proposed the "Chena River Lakes Flood Control Project." Its primary purpose was to protect Fairbanks and Fort Wainwright from high waters.

The Flood Control Act of 1958 provided authority for this project. When the flood of 1967 sparked a new sense of urgency, Congress reauthorized it by passing the Flood Control Act of 1968, in accordance with recommendations from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general. Major components of the project included the Moose Creak Dam and Floodway, the Tanana River Levee, and drainage channels within the protected area. Together, they comprised the largest federal civil works program in the state. The Alaska District joined the Fairbanks North Star Borough in developing the project. While the Corps acquired the lands needed for the dam and floodway, the borough obtained the lands for the levee and drainage channels.

Construction began in 1973, and the Corps completed the $256 million Chena Project in 1979. A key component of the dam and levee system, located about 20 miles east of Fairbanks, was the massive concrete outlet works and flood gates. During normal fluctuations of the Chena River, the outlet works remained open, allowing the natural flow of water. Fish, as well as boats, continued to travel through the open gates. At periods of high water, however, the Corps lowered the flood gates, directing excess water to the Tanana River. In 1987, the Fairbanks North Star Borough assumed responsibility for operation and maintenance of the levee and drainage channels.

Timeline from 1970-1997

Project Features  Length Height  Width 
Moose Creek Dam (Chena River) 8.1 miles 

50 ft. (above streambed) 

24 ft. 
Tanana River Levee  20.7 miles  10 ft. (average)  12 ft. 

Project Usage: This project provides protection to Fairbanks and adjacent areas, including Fort Wainwright, from recurring flood damage from the Chena and Tanana Rivers. In addition, the project is a popular recreational area averaging 133,000 visitor days of use per year since 1993.

Progress of Work:

1970 - Preconstruction planning is initiated and aerial photography is obtained.

1973 - Phase I of the Tanana levee construction begins in June. A contract is awarded in November for the foundation excavation of the Moose Creek Dam.

1974 - Phase I of the Tanana levee construction is completed. Foundation excavation continues for the Moose Creek Dam.

1975 - Moose Creek Dam foundation excavation is essentially completed. Final design work nears completion.

1976 - Phase II of the Tanana levee is completed. The Moose Creek Dam outlet works and embankment are under construction.

1977 - Richardson Highway and Alaska Railroad bridges are constructed over the floodway. A major portion of the dam embankment is completed.

1978 - Moose Creek Dam outlet works and embankment are completed. Floodway clearing, excavation, and sheet pile sill are also complete. Contract is ahead of schedule. The dam and reservoir on the Little Chena are placed under a "deferred" status.

1979 - Moose Creek Dam and Floodway are operational; final grades constructed, groin to protect sheet pile sill in place, and shaping of the borrow pits to form Chena Lake is completed. An additional 222-foot segment of Tanana levee is constructed and work on Interior Drainage Channels B and C is under way.

1980 - Interior Drainage Channels B and C are completed; several slough blocks are repaired, and construction of a fish ladder at the Moose Creek dam outlet works begins.

1981 - Construction of the Tanana levee is complete with the exception of additional groin protection along the Tanana River.

1982 - Major activities include repair of the Tanana levee due to settling, repairs to Interior Drainage Channel B culverts, and work on the Moose Creek Dam; a contract is awarded to apply an impervious silt blanket and armor rock protection, install relief wells adjacent to the dam, and add a second emergency gate at the outlet control works.

1983 - Interior Drainage Channel A is completed; work on the recreation area at Chena Lake is in progress and other miscellaneous repairs and upgrades are achieved.

1984 - A contract is awarded to construct five protective groins along the Tanana levee. Further improvements are made at the outlet works of Moose Creek Dam, and the recreation area at Chena Lake is completed.

1985 - Construction of groins 4 through 8 is accomplished along the Tanana levee. A high water event in May is successfully controlled by the project.

1986 - Contracts are awarded for an office and warehouse and 30 relief wells at the Moose Creek Dam site, and a contract for groins 9 and 10 is awarded for the Tanana levee. High-water events June, July, and August are controlled by the project.

1987 - The contracts awarded last fiscal year are completed including groins 9 and 10 on the Tanana Levee. A new construction contract for visitors' facilities is awarded in August.

1988 - The south seepage collector channel is completed as well as the visitors facilities. A contract for gate modifications at the outlet works of the Moose Creek Dam is awarded in September.

1992 - Gate modifications are completed and a curbwall is installed at the Moose Creek Dam outlet works. Major flooding in Fairbanks is averted by controlling the flow through the outlet works during May and June.

1995 - Phase I of the bike trail project is completed along the seepage collector channel road.

1996 - The old Nike landfill site is capped and closed. A long term fish study is continuing on the Chena River. The Tanana Levee, groins and interior drainage channels were inspected and found in satisfactory condition.

1997 - Phase II of the bike path is completed; modifications to the trash racks at the outlet works are made, and the access ramp to the outlet works is paved. Fifteen relief wells are installed on the downstream side of the dam. The old Nike Missile Site landfill is officially capped and closed. Inspection of the Tanana River Levee finds the project in satisfactory condition.

Cost to Date:  New Work  Maintenance  Total 
Federal Funds  $201,027,765  $16,658,229  $217,685,994 
Contributed Funds  $529,489  $1,616,440  $2,145,929 
Total Cost  $201,557,254 $18,274,669  $219,831,923 

Historical Report from 1997

Beginning in late April, Nugget Construction Company began work on a contract to modify the emergency and spare gates in the dam and their slot guides. These modifications were made to permit interchangeability of the gates in all of the stop log gate slots. The upper sections of all four trash racks were also shortened so that they would not extend up above the service deck of the outlet works structure.

Jensen Drilling Company installed 15 additional relief wells downstream of the dam’s stability beam. These wells are likely the last series of wells needed at the Chena Project to vent the movement pressure of groundwater passing beneath the dam in impoundment situations.

Periodic inspection number nine was conducted in July 1997. No major deficiencies were noted, and the project was found to be in good overall operating condition. The project also underwent an "environmental review guide for operation" assessment and was found to be in very good environmental health in all of the subject review areas.

The University of Alaska-Fairbanks completed the fourth and final year of the fish migration study through the dam, and the fish wheels furnished by the Corps for the study were pulled from the Chena for the final time.

The dam was sprayed with herbicides by contract to eliminate unwanted vegetation on the side slopes. Herbicide resistant conifer growth was removed from the dam by hand through an innovative project performed by students of the Junior Air Force ROTC program. Eight hundred acres of the floodway was mowed by contract and the Alaska Fire Service burned off another 500 acres.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency held a public meeting with interested area residents and property owners in February 1997 to discuss groundwater flooding below the dam and the solutions proposed to the problem. Community input was solicited in developing potential mitigation alternatives. Their published evaluation of the flooding problems recommended implementing land use regulation to restrict further construction in the affected areas, the extension of federal flood insurance to residents, and the implementation of site specific measures for impacted properties.

Nugget Construction Company completed phase two of the Moose Creek Dam Bikeway. They built approximately three miles of bike trail, completing the link between Lake Park and the visitor kiosk. This contract also required them to construct a parking lot at the bikeway’s trailhead near the project’s entrance.

Staff and various organizations undertook a number of habitat enhancement projects. Moose browse in select locations was increased using a vegetation crushing technique utilizing heavy equipment; grouse habitat was improved through several timber stand improvement projects; and a water feature was reshaped and manipulated for waterfowl habitat. Through a cooperative effort with the Wildlife Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and the Corps, the project saw the addition of 50 cedar nesting boxes for golden eye ducks. These nesting structures will become the basis of a long-term study to determine the reasons for the dramatic decline in this species numbers on a national scale.

A comprehensive vegetation guidebook was also developed which inventoried samples of all vegetation found on the project.

The project became well positioned to be the district’s leader in the use of geographic information system technology and applications, owing to the reimbursable service agreement with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

A tremendous Corps success resulted from the project’s first annual salmon watch event, which attracted over 3,600 visitors to the dam to participate in a local watchable wildlife viewing opportunity. This event showcased the project’s efforts to develop and highlight wildlife dependent recreation.

Nearly 150,000 persons visited the Chena Project in 1997, a new visitation record. Volunteer contributed over 2,000 hours of work to the project with an estimated value of $27,780 in services.

The visitor kiosk was manned throughout the recreation season by four sets of volunteer hosts who performed visitor assistance, maintenance duties and passive security work. The project’s volunteer host program is already a nationwide model for other Corps projects with no shortage of applicants from across the country.

Click the logo above to check us out on Recreation.gov.

Contact Us

Chena Project Office  907-488-2748

Calendar of Events


  • April-May: Migratory waterfowl viewing of geese, cranes, ducks and swans
  • May 15-Sept. 30: Visitor Kiosk Day Use Area open from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Tours of dam for groups available on request. Please call (907) 488-6359 for appointment.
  • Memorial Day-Labor Day: Fairbanks North Star Borough Chena Lake Recreation Area staffed and open. The area is accessible all year, but fees are not charged in the winter, and campgrounds and picnic areas are not maintained.
  • June-August: Fairbanks Retriever Club, Interior Alaska Gun Dog Association and Tanana Valley Kennel Club hunting and tracking trials
  • July: Santa Claus Half Marathon
  • August: Sandhill crane gathering in preparation for fall migration
  • September: Rifle hunting season for moose open upstream of Moose Creek Dam
  • October: Friends of the Chena Project Volunteer Picnic


  • Nov. 1-March 31: Subject to adequate snow cover project lands are open to snowmachining, except for sides and top of dam. Chena Lake Recreation Area multipurpose and cross-country ski trail are also groomed as soon as enough snow is available. Ice fishing is also available on Chena Lake when ice is proper thickness.
  • December: Henry Hahn 200 Sled Dog Race from Pike's Landing in Fairbanks through the project to Two Rivers
  • February:
    • Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile Sled Dog Race passes through project en route from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. A dog drop site will be at the River Park Boat Ramp parking lot. 
    • Yukon Quest 250 Sled Dog Race from Fairbanks to Circle City passes through project
    • Junior Yukon Quest from Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs. A check point will be at the River Park Boat Ramp parking lot
    • Dredging of slough access to Chena River at River Park Boat Ramp in the Chena Lakes Recreation Area
  • March: North Pole Winter Carnival events:
    • Annual Snowmachine Open House and Safety Day at the Chena Project Office
    • Sled dog races at the Chena Lakes Recreation Area
    • Numerous other activities in North Pole