This scenic wildlife viewing area is a premier birding destination from May through September
The Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge stretches 16 miles between Point Woronzof and Potter Creek and its extensive tidal flats, marsh communities and alder-bog forest are home to the greatest variety of birds. More than 130 bird species have been sighted in this area. With its nearly panoramic view of Turnagain arm and surrounding spruce, cottonwoods and alders, this refuge offers one of the most accessible and scenic wildlife viewing areas.
The most widely known section of the refuge is Potter Marsh. Located south of Anchorage on the New Seward highway, the marsh was created in 1917 during the construction of the Alaska Railroad when work crews dammed several streams.
The majority of the refuge’s foundation consists of intertidal floodplains of glacial silt, making it largely inaccessible to the public. However, Potter Marsh, the popular wildlife viewing area, has a .5-mile wooden boardwalk ideal for watching migrating birds, observing salmon runs and photographing viewing wildlife. The remaining areas in the refuge consist of coastal wetlands, bogs, and wooded areas with unmarked hiking trails.
Today Potter Marsh is the premier destination for birders in Anchorage. Large concentrations of birds can be seen during the spring migration from late April through mid-May when waterfowl stop on their way to breeding grounds farther north, and again in late July and August when shorebirds begin to flock up in preparation for their migration to southern wintering grounds. A diversity of birds also nest in the marsh and provide entertainment all summer long, in particular 15-20 pairs of lesser Canada geese and their large broods of goslings.
Other waterfowl often spotted in the marsh include mallards, northern pintails, northern shovelers, American wigeons, canvasbacks, red-necked grebes, horned grebes, yellowlegs and northern phalaropes. Moose are sometimes seen feeding on aquatic or shrubby vegetation.
The boardwalk at Potters Marsh also offers a front row seat for watching salmon runs May through August. At the it’s midpoint, Rabbit Creek flows underneath and provides a good spot to see spawning chinook, coho, and humpback salmon schooling in the water.
The Refuge is open to the public year-round, and activities for exploring are plentiful. Bird watching, hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Potter Marsh is open during the winter for ice-skating. Toward the southern end near Potter Marsh, an active rifle range is operated on private land. Though not illegal, walking through the part of the refuge is discouraged.
Potter Marsh facilities include parking areas along the Seward Highway and an elevated, 1,500-foot-long boardwalk trail with interpretive signs that provide excellent vantage points for wildlife viewing and photography.
There are no entry fees to the refuge or for parking at Potter Marsh.
Potter Marsh is reached at Mile 117 of the New Seward Highway. From the Potter Marsh parking lot, visitors are treated to a stunning view of Turnagain Arm. A wooden boardwalk winds 1,550 feet from the parking area through the marsh and across watery openings and sedges for closer views of this ideal bird habitat.
For more information on Potter Marsh, contact the Alaska Department of Fish and Game
(907-267-2342) in Anchorage.