Monthly Archives: November 2008

Ascending the dome — Climbers summit 2nd volcano with little planning







By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Editor’s note: This week, The Redoubt Reporter continues a series about three seasoned outdoor enthusiasts who attempt to complete a quest to take on three Cook Inlet volcanoes over the course of three long weekends. Last week’s installment accom-panied these stalwart adven-turers as they crossed Cook Inlet, climbed Mount Iliamna, skied back down to dry ground, and then re-crossed the inlet in just three days. This week’s installment will feature the trio’s attempts to similarly conquer Mount Redoubt.

About five months after the successful 2006 climb and ski-descent of Mount Iliamna by Rory Stark, Tyler Johnson and Craig Barnard, Stark found his body in need of an overhaul.

In 2002 on Mount Hunter, Stark, who grew up in Homer, had been caught in an avalanche that injured his hip and mangled his ankles, requiring three surgeries to one ankle, fusing the bones so that front-to-back movement was still possible but side-to-side movement was not. The ankle injury altered his stride; however, it didn’t keep him off his skis or out of the woods.

In 2005, for instance, Stark and Johnson joined with a pair of other competitors to participate in the rugged Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic. They won by finishing in less than two days, the first competitors ever to do so, much to the chagrin of former record holder, the renowned Roman Dial.
But Stark’s compromised body could only endure such punishment for so long, and eventually one of his hips began to give out.

In October 2006, Stark went in for hip-resurfacing surgery.

Doctors dislocated the hip, and then ground down the head of the femur until they could mount a chrome-alloy ball on it. Into the hip joint, they affixed a metal socket, then set the ball into the socket and put the hip back together.

Seven months later, in May 2007, Stark was ready to tackle another volcano. The target this time was 10,198-foot Mount Redoubt, standing in its snowy mantle almost directly across from the city of Kenai.

“We realized that (the ease of the Iliamna trek) was complete luck, so we planned this one out a little better,” said Johnson.

To start with, they decided to allocate more time than they had the year before, so they planned for four days.

Although they still carried no climbing gear, they did pack a map, emergency-locator beacons and shovels, and three 4½-pound Alpacka one-man rafts. They also spent some time researching their route. Then, eschewing McDonald’s cheeseburgers this time, they settled on a diet of mainly burritos from Taco Bell, and a fifth of whiskey apiece.

An acquaintance of theirs with some experience on Redoubt laughed at their sense of preparedness, Johnson said. He also warned them about the crevasses on the mountain and worried about their decision to ski the untried north face, but his arguments failed to dissuade the trio.

Again leaving Anchorage on a Thursday night after work, Stark and Johnson picked up Barnard — a Vermont transplant living in Cooper Landing — and headed south. At about 3 a.m. Friday, they launched their 16-foot Achilles inflatable from the Kenai beach near the wastewater treatment plant and motored west across Cook Inlet toward the Drift River.

Entering the river mouth, they followed the stream course until they noticed a road near the river. They pulled into a slough and tied off their craft, realizing the road likely belonged to Chevron’s Drift River facility, but not realizing the scrutiny under which they had just come.

“We got down the road a little ways, and, man, two or three trucks come barreling down the road toward us,” Johnson said. The trucks belonged to Chevron security officials, who were obviously upset by the adventurers’ appearance.

According to Johnson, a Chevron boss from the West Coast had just landed at the facility, and officials there were already on a heightened terrorism alert because they feared possible threats against a whaling convention in the area. Officials talked of confiscating the boat and all the gear until, as Johnson said, “cooler heads prevailed.”

“We had motored right up a pipeline,” Johnson said, and there was a concern about bombs. Ultimately, though, after a long powwow between officials, they decided not only to forget pressing charges but also — after checking out the inflatable and laughing at all the beer inside it — to escort Barnard, Stark and Johnson in a company truck on up the road and off Chevron property.

In the end, the trio saved five to 10 miles of walking. Still, there was plenty of walking to be done and plenty of cold-water crossings to be had, since the Drift River is a braided glacial stream. Fortunately, the bluebird skies continued and the sun remained warm. On Friday night, after stashing their pack rafts along the upper river, they camped at about 2,000 feet.

On Saturday morning they affixed skins to skis and began to ascend through a series of seracs, icefalls and thinly veiled crevasses. Especially nerve-racking was a notch they recognized as a collapsed crevasse beneath the snow fissures that would parallel the direction of their skis on the descent.

All that day, they covered less than five miles, camping at about 5,000 feet near the base of the main mountain. While Stark and Johnson remained in camp, Barnard scouted the route ahead, noting that the avalanche danger was high while still being able to select a reasonably safe route.

“You always want to ski (down) your ascent line because, if your weather turns to crap, you can kind of follow your tracks for a little bit, and it’s real important to know where you’re going,” Johnson said.
By noon Sunday, following Barnard’s plan, they were on the summit and preparing to head back downhill.

“We hit it just right,” Johnson said of the descent. “Another week and probably it would have uncovered a lot of crevasses, and these (snow) bridges would have been gone.”

As it was, noted Stark and Barnard, some of the bridges began to collapse as they traversed them.
Back at the Drift River, they made camp and readied their rafts for the trip out. A distance they had labored to cover over much of Friday, they floated in only two hours on Monday morning, but when they reached the Achilles they discovered that Monday’s smaller tides had left their boat high and dry in the slough. Consequently, they had to drag the craft over the mud and back out into the current.

“We had to take the outboard off,” Johnson said. “We took out all the stuff. Me, Craig and Rory, we drug that boat. It was probably a little over a quarter-mile. And then we had to go back and get the engine and then we had to go back and get all the stuff. We looked like a bunch of mud turtles out there.”

Eventually, they were back in the main channel with their gear packed and ready to go. They reached the Kenai beach on Monday night as the weather began to turn. “It was just blowing up,” Stark said. “It was starting to get just nasty there. We just beat a storm in.”

On the way north, they stopped off at the home of Johnson’s parents in Soldotna and learned that Johnson’s father had tried to “send” them a care package.

According to Barnard, Johnson’s father bought some food at Arby’s and then flew with a friend over Redoubt on summit day, planning to drop a bag of chow to the three men, but the fliers were unable to spot the climbers, and so the delivery never happened.

Less than a month later, they were ready for 11,070-foot Mount Spurr.

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Filed under mountain climbing, outdoors, volcanoes

Ascending the dome — Climbers summit 2nd volcano with little planning







By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Editor’s note: This week, The Redoubt Reporter continues a series about three seasoned outdoor enthusiasts who attempt to complete a quest to take on three Cook Inlet volcanoes over the course of three long weekends. Last week’s installment accom-panied these stalwart adven-turers as they crossed Cook Inlet, climbed Mount Iliamna, skied back down to dry ground, and then re-crossed the inlet in just three days. This week’s installment will feature the trio’s attempts to similarly conquer Mount Redoubt.

About five months after the successful 2006 climb and ski-descent of Mount Iliamna by Rory Stark, Tyler Johnson and Craig Barnard, Stark found his body in need of an overhaul.

In 2002 on Mount Hunter, Stark, who grew up in Homer, had been caught in an avalanche that injured his hip and mangled his ankles, requiring three surgeries to one ankle, fusing the bones so that front-to-back movement was still possible but side-to-side movement was not. The ankle injury altered his stride; however, it didn’t keep him off his skis or out of the woods.

In 2005, for instance, Stark and Johnson joined with a pair of other competitors to participate in the rugged Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic. They won by finishing in less than two days, the first competitors ever to do so, much to the chagrin of former record holder, the renowned Roman Dial.
But Stark’s compromised body could only endure such punishment for so long, and eventually one of his hips began to give out.

In October 2006, Stark went in for hip-resurfacing surgery.

Doctors dislocated the hip, and then ground down the head of the femur until they could mount a chrome-alloy ball on it. Into the hip joint, they affixed a metal socket, then set the ball into the socket and put the hip back together.

Seven months later, in May 2007, Stark was ready to tackle another volcano. The target this time was 10,198-foot Mount Redoubt, standing in its snowy mantle almost directly across from the city of Kenai.

“We realized that (the ease of the Iliamna trek) was complete luck, so we planned this one out a little better,” said Johnson.

To start with, they decided to allocate more time than they had the year before, so they planned for four days.

Although they still carried no climbing gear, they did pack a map, emergency-locator beacons and shovels, and three 4½-pound Alpacka one-man rafts. They also spent some time researching their route. Then, eschewing McDonald’s cheeseburgers this time, they settled on a diet of mainly burritos from Taco Bell, and a fifth of whiskey apiece.

An acquaintance of theirs with some experience on Redoubt laughed at their sense of preparedness, Johnson said. He also warned them about the crevasses on the mountain and worried about their decision to ski the untried north face, but his arguments failed to dissuade the trio.

Again leaving Anchorage on a Thursday night after work, Stark and Johnson picked up Barnard — a Vermont transplant living in Cooper Landing — and headed south. At about 3 a.m. Friday, they launched their 16-foot Achilles inflatable from the Kenai beach near the wastewater treatment plant and motored west across Cook Inlet toward the Drift River.

Entering the river mouth, they followed the stream course until they noticed a road near the river. They pulled into a slough and tied off their craft, realizing the road likely belonged to Chevron’s Drift River facility, but not realizing the scrutiny under which they had just come.

“We got down the road a little ways, and, man, two or three trucks come barreling down the road toward us,” Johnson said. The trucks belonged to Chevron security officials, who were obviously upset by the adventurers’ appearance.

According to Johnson, a Chevron boss from the West Coast had just landed at the facility, and officials there were already on a heightened terrorism alert because they feared possible threats against a whaling convention in the area. Officials talked of confiscating the boat and all the gear until, as Johnson said, “cooler heads prevailed.”

“We had motored right up a pipeline,” Johnson said, and there was a concern about bombs. Ultimately, though, after a long powwow between officials, they decided not only to forget pressing charges but also — after checking out the inflatable and laughing at all the beer inside it — to escort Barnard, Stark and Johnson in a company truck on up the road and off Chevron property.

In the end, the trio saved five to 10 miles of walking. Still, there was plenty of walking to be done and plenty of cold-water crossings to be had, since the Drift River is a braided glacial stream. Fortunately, the bluebird skies continued and the sun remained warm. On Friday night, after stashing their pack rafts along the upper river, they camped at about 2,000 feet.

On Saturday morning they affixed skins to skis and began to ascend through a series of seracs, icefalls and thinly veiled crevasses. Especially nerve-racking was a notch they recognized as a collapsed crevasse beneath the snow fissures that would parallel the direction of their skis on the descent.

All that day, they covered less than five miles, camping at about 5,000 feet near the base of the main mountain. While Stark and Johnson remained in camp, Barnard scouted the route ahead, noting that the avalanche danger was high while still being able to select a reasonably safe route.

“You always want to ski (down) your ascent line because, if your weather turns to crap, you can kind of follow your tracks for a little bit, and it’s real important to know where you’re going,” Johnson said.
By noon Sunday, following
Barnard’s plan, they were on the summit and preparing to head back downhill.

“We hit it just right,” Johnson said of the descent. “Another week and probably it would have uncovered a lot of crevasses, and these (snow) bridges would have been gone.”

As it was, noted Stark and Barnard, some of the bridges began to collapse as they traversed them.
Back at the Drift River, they made camp and readied their rafts for the trip out. A distance they had labored to cover over much of Friday, they floated in only two hours on Monday morning, but when they reached the Achilles they discovered that Monday’s smaller tides had left their boat high and dry in the slough. Consequently, they had to drag the craft over the mud and back out into the current.

“We had to take the outboard off,” Johnson said. “We took out all the stuff. Me, Craig and Rory, we drug that boat. It was probably a little over a quarter-mile. And then we had to go back and get the engine and then we had to go back and get all the stuff. We looked like a bunch of mud turtles out there.”

Eventually, they were back in the main channel with their gear packed and ready to go. They reached the Kenai beach on Monday night as the weather began to turn. “It was just blowing up,” Stark said. “It was starting to get just nasty there. We just beat a storm in.”

On the way north, they stopped off at the home of Johnson’s parents in Soldotna and learned that Johnson’s father had tried to “send” them a care package.

According to Barnard, Johnson’s father bought some food at Arby’s and then flew with a friend over Redoubt on summit day, planning to drop a bag of chow to the three men, but the fliers were unable to spot the climbers, and so the delivery never happened.

Less than a month later, they were ready for 11,070-foot Mount Spurr.

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Filed under mountain climbing, outdoors, volcanoes

Eating up resources — Risings costs challenge food bank, its clients to make ends meet





By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Harry Moore has spent 50 years contri-buting to the community.

Moore moved to the central Kenai Peninsula from Anchorage in 1952 when the Sterling Highway opened. He home- steaded on Funny River Road and spent his working years in trades that helped build brand-new Soldotna — “mechanic, road const- ruction and what not,” he said.

Since retiring, he’s facing the same dilemma many seniors are — income is fixed, but bills are not. Heating, electricity, Medicare, gas and food costs spiral upward, leaving Moore and others who once helped build communities now needing help from them.

On Nov. 19 help came from the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. Moore had a cab drop him and his power wheelchair off at the food bank just before 11 a.m., so he could sign the form for the seniors’ commodity supplemental food program. The program provides him with a slab of cheese and a prepacked box of food once a month, containing a variety of items — cereal, beans, peanut butter, powdered milk and the like.

“With me, I don’t need very much,” he said.

He’s been coming to the food bank for 10 or 15 years now, he said. He used to come in almost daily to eat lunch in the food bank’s soup kitchen, the Fireweed Diner. Now it’s more infrequently, but he doesn’t miss senior food box distribution day.

In the food bank’s records, Moore is a client, one of hundreds of seniors who get help during the month. But he’s more than a number. To his fellow Fireweed diners he’s a good lunch buddy, a sure bet for a laugh, quick with a smile, and he’s at the point in life where a good story takes precedence over a sip of coffee or spoonful of soup. To food bank staff, he’s also a supporter. He makes items for the food bank’s annual auction fundraiser, and brings a pan of homemade, sugar-free fudge that has become legendary in the building.

“I think there’s a lot of people in the community they do a lot of services for, mainly the elderly and what not, you know,” Moore said of the food bank. “It’s real important. They do a lot of services for the community. That’s why I make some stuff for the auction.”

Being both a contributor and consumer may be the attitude to take for seniors who find it difficult to go from taking care of themselves and others to needing help making ends meet.

“I don’t know what they think, but they probably think they’re getting something for nothing. I don’t think that’s the case. I think everybody contributes something to the community,” he said.

Senior food boxes are distributed a few days a month. Nov. 19 was the first day of distribution this month, which resulted in a line of seniors waiting to sign the eligibility form and pick up their food.

But the wait was short and the mood amiable, with many seniors making an afternoon of the errand by stopping for a hearty, well-balanced lunch and conversation in the Fireweed Diner, which serves meals on a donation basis.

“The lunch is nice, too. It gives you a chance to get out at noon,” said Phyllis Sather, of Soldotna.

Sather has been getting senior food boxes for the last three or four months, she said. Heating, electricity, gas and food bills have been going up.

“Oh yeah, every time you go to the store it seems like it goes up,” she said.

There isn’t a large amount of food in the boxes, but it helps, she said. A little bit goes a long way, especially when it can be difficult to seek help in the first place.

“I never signed up for anything like this before,” she said.

Evelyn Brandt, of Soldotna, was pragmatic about the food program.

“I find a use for most of it. If I don’t, I bring it back,” she said. “You get a lot of beans. You can do a lot of things with beans. It helps you know what you have to buy and what you don’t have to buy.”

Brandt has lived in the area off and on since 1969, raising her kids here and working a variety of jobs, including at the old Soldotna Drug Store and as a travel agent. She’s been getting senior boxes for the last three years and said anyone who’s eligible should take advantage of the program.

“If it’s pride that keeps them away, they better think about it. They’ll be starving,” she said.

The food bank has seen an increase in people seeking services, paralleling rising food, gas, heat, electricity, health care and other costs, said Linda Swarner, executive director of the food bank.

Last year the food bank gave senior food boxes to an average of 290 people a month. This year it’s 321. The Fireweed Diner served an average of 1,699 meals a month last year, compared to 1,981 this year. The food bank also gives out emergency food boxes to low-income households once a month and distributes perishable items — like yogurt, bread and milk. The monthly average of households getting emergency food boxes this year is 549, up from 510 last year, and the monthly average of people picking up perishable items is 532 this year, compared to 494 last year.

Eligibility for food bank programs is dependant on income. Seniors have an income limit of $22,750 for a two-person household, and families eligible for emergency food boxes can make $32,375 for a two-person household. There is some minimal paperwork to be filled out for food boxes, but it all basically operates on the honor system. If someone says they need help, the food bank believes them.

The problem is there may not be enough food to help everyone who needs it. Rising bills means a rising number of food bank clients, but it also means fewer donations. Food for the diner, food boxes and other services the food bank provides — like giving food to senior centers to use to cook lunch — come from grocery stores and donations from the public. The food bank is getting school groups and others coming in to volunteer service with the holidays approaching, but the amount of donated food is not as high as it’s been in past years.

Swarner said the food bank has given out 10,000 more pounds of food on average each month than they’ve taken in. Food drives in November and December are usually a big boost to the food bank, especially in providing holiday food boxes for families.
“It looks like our food drives are going to be a lot less, just the way the economy is,” Swarner said.

Last year was the first that the food bank didn’t have enough food to meet holiday needs. Monetary donations from the business community allowed the food bank to go buy turkeys from grocery stores to give to people. This year the state is chipping in $6,000 to be shared between the Fairbanks, Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula food banks to buy food to give out for the holidays, Swarner said.

And she’s still hopeful for an increase in donations.

“We just received three turkeys, so you just pray that somebody’s going to keep coming through the door,” Swarner said. “We have a very generous community. It’s just going to be tough, though.”

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Filed under charity, food bank

Eating up resources — Risings costs challenge food bank, its clients to make ends meet





By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Harry Moore has spent 50 years contri-buting to the community.

Moore moved to the central Kenai Peninsula from Anchorage in 1952 when the Sterling Highway opened. He home- steaded on Funny River Road and spent his working years in trades that helped build brand-new Soldotna — “mechanic, road const- ruction and what not,” he said.

Since retiring, he’s facing the same dilemma many seniors are — income is fixed, but bills are not. Heating, electricity, Medicare, gas and food costs spiral upward, leaving Moore and others who once helped build communities now needing help from them.

On Nov. 19 help came from the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. Moore had a cab drop him and his power wheelchair off at the food bank just before 11 a.m., so he could sign the form for the seniors’ commodity supplemental food program. The program provides him with a slab of cheese and a prepacked box of food once a month, containing a variety of items — cereal, beans, peanut butter, powdered milk and the like.

“With me, I don’t need very much,” he said.

He’s been coming to the food bank for 10 or 15 years now, he said. He used to come in almost daily to eat lunch in the food bank’s soup kitchen, the Fireweed Diner. Now it’s more infrequently, but he doesn’t miss senior food box distribution day.

In the food bank’s records, Moore is a client, one of hundreds of seniors who get help during the month. But he’s more than a number. To his fellow Fireweed diners he’s a good lunch buddy, a sure bet for a laugh, quick with a smile, and he’s at the point in life where a good story takes precedence over a sip of coffee or spoonful of soup. To food bank staff, he’s also a supporter. He makes items for the food bank’s annual auction fundraiser, and brings a pan of homemade, sugar-free fudge that has become legendary in the building.

“I think there’s a lot of people in the community they do a lot of services for, mainly the elderly and what not, you know,” Moore said of the food bank. “It’s real important. They do a lot of services for the community. That’s why I make some stuff for the auction.”

Being both a contributor and consumer may be the attitude to take for seniors who find it difficult to go from taking care of themselves and others to needing help making ends meet.

“I don’t know what they think, but they probably think they’re getting something for nothing. I don’t think that’s the case. I think everybody contributes something to the community,” he said.

Senior food boxes are distributed a few days a month. Nov. 19 was the first day of distribution this month, which resulted in a line of seniors waiting to sign the eligibility form and pick up their food.

But the wait was short and the mood amiable, with many seniors making an afternoon of the errand by stopping for a hearty, well-balanced lunch and conversation in the Fireweed Diner, which serves meals on a donation basis.

“The lunch is nice, too. It gives you a chance to get out at noon,” said Phyllis Sather, of Soldotna.

Sather has been getting senior food boxes for the last three or four months, she said. Heating, electricity, gas and food bills have been going up.

“Oh yeah, every time you go to the store it seems like it goes up,” she said.

There isn’t a large amount of food in the boxes, but it helps, she said. A little bit goes a long way, especially when it can be difficult to seek help in the first place.

“I never signed up for anything like this before,” she said.

Evelyn Brandt, of Soldotna, was pragmatic about the food program.

“I find a use for most of it. If I don’t, I bring it back,” she said. “You get a lot of beans. You can do a lot of things with beans. It helps you know what you have to buy and what you don’t have to buy.”

Brandt has lived in the area off and on since 1969, raising her kids here and working a variety of jobs, including at the old Soldotna Drug Store and as a travel agent. She’s been getting senior boxes for the last three years and said anyone who’s eligible should take advantage of the program.

“If it’s pride that keeps them away, they better think about it. They’ll be starving,” she said.

The food bank has seen an increase in people seeking services, paralleling rising food, gas, heat, electricity, health care and other costs, said Linda Swarner, executive director of the food bank.

Last year the food bank gave senior food boxes to an average of 290 people a month. This year it’s 321. The Fireweed Diner served an average of 1,699 meals a month last year, compared to 1,981 this year. The food bank also gives out emergency food boxes to low-income households once a month and distributes perishable items — like yogurt, bread and milk. The monthly average of households getting emergency food boxes this year is 549, up from 510 last year, and the monthly average of people picking up perishable items is 532 this year, compared to 494 last year.

Eligibility for food bank programs is dependant on income. Seniors have an income limit of $22,750 for a two-person household, and families eligible for emergency food boxes can make $32,375 for a two-person household. There is some minimal paperwork to be filled out for food boxes, but it all basically operates on the honor system. If someone says they need help, the food bank believes them.

The problem is there may not be enough food to help everyone who needs it. Rising bills means a rising number of food bank clients, but it also means fewer donations. Food for the diner, food boxes and other services the food bank provides — like giving food to senior centers to use to cook lunch — come from grocery stores and donations from the public. The food bank is getting school groups and others coming in to volunteer service with the holidays approaching, but the amount of donated food is not as high as it’s been in past years.

Swarner said the food bank has given out 10,000 more pounds of food on average each month than they’ve taken in. Food drives in November and December are usually a big boost to the food bank, especially in providing holiday food boxes for families.
“It looks like our food drives are going to be a lot less, just the way the economy is,” Swarner said.

Last year was the first that the food bank didn’t have enough food to meet holiday needs. Monetary donations from the business community allow
ed the food bank to go buy turkeys from grocery stores to give to people. This year the state is chipping in $6,000 to be shared between the Fairbanks, Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula food banks to buy food to give out for the holidays, Swarner said.

And she’s still hopeful for an increase in donations.

“We just received three turkeys, so you just pray that somebody’s going to keep coming through the door,” Swarner said. “We have a very generous community. It’s just going to be tough, though.”

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Filed under charity, food bank

Blind sided — Flats duck hunters tangle with Parks over regulations

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Steve Meyer has been fall duck hunting on the Kenai River Flats since he was a kid over 30 years ago, practicing his shots at communal duck blinds set up even before he ever set foot on the flats, and teaching his kids to do the same. Some seasons Meyer spends as many as 90 days hunting between September and December.

“I’m pretty avid, and frankly I don’t shoot that many ducks. I just love doing it,” Meyer said.

Meyer’s habits haven’t changed much over the years, but somewhere along the line the legality of them did. He and his fellow flats duck hunters have been informed that the blinds they’ve used for decades and much of the territory they shoot from is off limits, and has been for quite some time.

“It’s traditional. We’ve been doing this for as long as any of us can remember, hunting these areas, and there was never any problem. Now all of a sudden Parks decided they’re going to start enforcing something we weren’t even aware of,” Meyer said.

The Kenai River Flats are under the jurisdiction of the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, managed locally by the Kenai River Special Management Area. Parks regulations stipulate no hunting within a half-mile of any developed structures on the flats — including homes, roads, parking lots and the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge — and no permanent structures.

That means the two blinds hunters have been using for decades had to go.

“Those blinds had been left alone all these years, they’d almost become community blinds. People took their kids out there, and they were fairly close and easy access, and all of a sudden this year they disappeared,” Meyer said.

The fact that the blinds had been there for so long without being torn down and replaced every time a hunter used them made them permanent structures, which aren’t allowed in state parks, said Jack Sinclair, area Parks superintendent. Perhaps the department could have done better in warning hunters the blinds were going to be removed, but the result would have been the same, he said.

“In the end we would have to have those out of there anyway. There wasn’t any way to compromise on that particular issue,” Sinclair said.

The issue of shooting boundaries may be negotiable, at least hunters hope it is.

The common practice on the flats is to keep a quarter-mile distance from structures when shooting.

“All the duck hunters that have been down there this year are kind of stunned that we’re not allowed to hunt down there anymore,” said Scott Miller, of Soldotna.

“Last year Parks started constricting where we could hunt. They were being very cordial about it, trying to inform us these areas we traditionally hunted out there were being closed down, not because they’d been open, but they’re starting to enforce the original KRSMA half-mile rule,” he said.

KRSMA took over management of the flats in 1985. The purpose of the half-mile restriction is to protect people and property along the flats. Hunters say that’s more space than necessary, and Meyer and others took a proposal to the KRSMA board Oct. 9 to request a change to a quarter-mile shooting restriction.

The 15 or so hunters making the request have a report on the lethality of shotguns used in waterfowl hunting showing they are safe beyond a quarter mile. They also found examples from around the Kenai Peninsula, state and country where a quarter-mile restriction is the norm for shotgun hunting, including Watson Lake on the Sterling flats, the Anchorage coastal area and Mendenhall Lake in Juneau.

Hunters asked Parks representatives if people living along the flats had complained about duck hunters over the years while they were operating on a quarter-mile boundary. They had not.

“We’re a pretty responsible group of people. They never had complaints, it just didn’t happen. We weren’t shooting up people’s houses or anything like that,” Meyer said.
So why is it a problem? And why now?

It’s a problem because the regulations stipulate a half-mile, Sinclair said.

“Now after all these years they have more money because of the oil (increased state revenue from high oil prices), they’re getting more enforcement officers down there,” Miller said.

The half-mile restriction cuts off prime hunting areas, including the major ponds many hunters like to frequent, Miller said. You either have to get a boat and float the river, or do like Meyer does and walk out beyond the KRSMA border about a mile and a quarter below the bridge.

“There’s essentially almost nowhere you can hunt from Eagle Rock down until you get way down on the flats,” Miller said.

The flats have been a favorite hunting spot for Miller’s family for decades. He’s hunted there with his dad, and his brother, Brian, has recently gotten into it. They’ve taught their kids to hunt, as well.

“It’s a fun, family thing, just kind of a nice area close to home. You can get out there on a weekend or evening or something and do a little duck hunting and fishing,” Miller said.

“We have all been kind of closed in down there because of development and we know we can’t hunt how we used to 20 years ago, but we still want to have an area to go,” he said. “We realize we’ve been restricted because of the housing, and that’s fine, but I’d like to see the areas that can be open, opened, because that’s not really a reason to shut down a traditional-use thing.”

Meyer said the flats are the best hunting spot close to town. Beyond that is the outlet of Skilak Lake, but that’s not ideal because fall rainbow trout fishermen can make it dangerous to hunt there.

“We’re just running out of places to go. It seems like it’s another stab at hunters, and Alaska’s supposed to be kind of about hunting. It’s just as traditional as any subsistence here, or any of the fishing that we have here,” Meyer said. “We’re kind of a minority, but people who want to hunt, that’s part of why we’re here. It may not seem like a big thing, but it’s just another one of those small segments that gets pulled away from people, and then it’s on to the next thing. It just gets a little concerning.”

Sinclair said there’s nothing he can do about the regulation — it has to go through the board process to be changed — but he hopes to see that happen by next hunting season.

“I think Parks realizes, at least I do, that there’s a need to have those kind of uses maintained on the river. I don’t think we’re trying to block that from happening,” Sinclair said.

Meyer said he’s going to stay involved in the process, in the hope that hunters’ traditional use of the flats becomes legal use once again.

“We’re certainly going to give it our best shot,” he said.

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Learning, entertainment go hand in hand in CES puppet show




By Naomi Hagelund
For the Redoubt Reporter

With six puppeteers, a stage and an emcee decked out in full firefighter gear, Central Emergency Services showed a roomful of preschoolers how to practice fire safety Nov. 12 at Kenaitze Cuya Qyut’anen Head Start in Kenai. More than 20 children gave their attention to an assortment of puppets, which sang about ways to be safe about fire, such as stopping, dropping and rolling, calling 911 and testing smoke detectors.

Gary Hale, CES fire marshal, said this is the 13th or 14th year the puppets have been used to educate children about fire safety. The program started with an original set purchased in 1987 of seven puppets, a VHS training tape and two prerecorded audiocassettes with scripts. The show has expanded to more than 75 puppets, more than 150 songs and a full sound system.
The educational puppet show has become so popular that the fire marshal had to turn down seven performances this year.

“We go for five weeks and four shows a week,” Hale said. “It’s so demanding.”

The show started in the second week of October, which is also when more than 150,000 fire departments in the nation began participating in fire prevention week, Hale said. The performances ended Nov. 13, totaling 19 locations from one end of the Kenai Peninsula to the other, more than 22 shows and almost 2,000 children. Each show needs at least five puppeteers, who perform six songs per show. The show lasts about 45 minutes, with lessons taught by Hale in between each song.

The puppeteers work behind a fully encompassed stage, changing puppets for each different song and moving the puppets’ mouths while reading a script. “It’s chaos, organized chaos,” said Brad Nelson, CES’ new assistant fire marshal, now in his third month as a puppeteer. “The fun part is deciding which puppet to use for which song. Anything to get the kids laughing.”
Many people are incorporated into the show.

“We’ve used spouses, our on-call people, which are volunteers, and our paid personnel,” Hale said. “All of them have contributed to making this a huge success for so many years.”

One of the challenges the traveling puppet show faces is finding upbeat, interesting songs to incorporate into the program.

“We have 150 songs, but some of them are very bad and some of them are very good,” Hale said. “We find them everywhere we can.”

“In the jungle, the safety jungle, oh we are safe tonight,” lip-synched a lion puppet to an altered version of a classic oldie.

“The lion was my favorite,” one boy said. “And I learned to never touch a lighter.”

A lot of the songs are based on “oldies but goodies” tunes with new lyrics from the Colorado Springs Fire Department. Keeping the program fresh and interesting for all ages is a challenge, so the program is generally limited to second grade and under, but CES still gets requests from grades as high as sixth to bring the puppets back.

As big as it’s gotten, the show isn’t done expanding. CES is ordering 16 more puppets and is hoping to ask Hobo Jim to perform new songs for the show.

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Editorial: The Redoubt Reporter brought about with the help of these fine folks, plus Juan Valdez

Four months. Seventeen editions. One hundred seventy-four stories. And we’re just getting started.

It’s been a wild ride getting this paper going. By far this is the most challenging, exhausting, frightening, yet rewarding thing I’ve ever done. With Thanksgiving upon us, I thought it appropriate to acknowledge some of the many things I’ve been thankful for over the last few months:

Staff. I am blessed to have some of the most talented, hard-working, encouraging and incredibly patient individuals working with me on this venture. Sales staff: Joe Rizzo, who always knows how to make a deal and — more importantly — when to bring me ice cream. And the eternally upbeat Jamie Nelson, who is never in a bad mood, never lacking optimism and never has a bad thing to say about anyone, or if he does, it comes off as constructive criticism.

Chris Jenness, graphic designer extraordinaire, who puts the paper’s news content to shame with how good his ads look. Thanks to a new baby and huge workload, he’s also the only one up late enough to indulge me when my sense of humor and IQ deteriorate.

Clark Fair, freelance reporter. Not only is Clark a talented writer and photographer, he comes up with stories I never knew existed. Reading his stuff every week is an exercise in amazement. Soldotna once erupted in a ball of flames? Huh. Didn’t see that coming.

Contributors. The pages of this paper have been graced with the work of several talented, knowledgeable, creative and (most importantly) timely community members. Thanks to editorial columnists Alan Boraas, the Kenai Watershed Forum, Bill Gronvold and Stephen Stringham, cartoonist James Brown, columnists David Wartinbee, Joseph Kashi, Zirrus Vandervere, Andy Veh and Dave Atcheson, and freelancers Naomi Hagelund, Ben Histand and Matt Tunseth.

The Homer Tribune. Publisher Jane Pascall and reporter Naomi Klouda at Homer’s independent, locally owned newspaper have been wonderful resources for advice, information and moral support, even if it’s just to trade, “you won’t believe the week I’m having” stories.

Family. Not one family member has told me I’m crazy for doing this, and restraint does not run deep in my relatives. Even my parents have learned to play along in their support. They don’t ask specific questions anymore, like how much sleep did you get or whether I’ve eaten anything but cold cereal and bagged salad for the last month. It’s just, “How is everything going?” “Fine.” Then it’s on to the weather.

Friends. I’m shocked I still have any. When I do acknowledge their existences, it’s usually only while they help me move furniture, edit stories, give me food or carry out some bizarre favor I’ve asked of them. It’s a mystery why they don’t start sprinting when I begin a conversation with “Hey, could you … ?”

These days it’s never followed by something simple, like “pass the ketchup” or “save me a seat at the movie.” More like, “Hey, could you … jump in the recycling bin at the landfill for me?” Or: “… take pictures of a room full of pasty Alaskans in swimsuits dancing in giant bubbles? Wait, where are you going? Is that a ‘no,’ then?”

Yet they stick around, dutifully schlepping papers around the community, offering to drive on long trips so I can type or nap, and pointing out when I’ve neglected to change my clothes. Hey, when you work 36 hours straight, it gets hard to tell today from yesterday and dress accordingly. Which brings me to:

Sleep. Sometime in September I lost all ability to regulate my mood. My temperament is now completely dependent on how much sleep and caffeine I’ve had. If I’ve had at least five hours rest the night before and the coffee’s kicked in, I can function normally, or at least fake it well enough that most people don’t seem to notice the difference. If it’s five hours over three days and it’s been a few hours since my last refueling, I’m equally liable to fly into a rage, burst into tears or become semicomatose at any moment. My wildest fantasies these days involve an electric blanket and a nap.

Spare moments. When I think of how much time I used to spend watching TV, surfing the Internet, doing leisure activities or just generally goofing off, it seems in retrospect like I shouldn’t have been able to hold down a job. Now, having to creatively schedule time to go skiing, have dinner or even read a book before bed makes me appreciate the things I like to do more than I ever realized.

Coffee shop ladies. They amaze and motivate me every Wednesday while I’m out delivering papers. If they can be awake, showered, dressed, chipper and able to operate machinery before 6 a.m., surely I can at least drive and try not to drool. The friendliest I’ve met by far is Patty at Jitters Espresso in Sterling. She’s as good a pick-me-up as the coffee.

Soldotna Post Office employees. Training me to do mass mailings would probably be akin to teaching a marmot to juggle. Yet Jeff, Brenda, Steve and everyone else helped me through it, and never once let their faces register what I’m sure they were thinking when they’d see me lug papers through the line. In my defense, though, it’s not exactly an intuitive process. Form 3602ez (nothing “ez” about it) for mass mailings; tub labels with the zip code in the destination line but not, God forbid, in the “sent from” line; newspaper bundles wrapped in not one, but two rubber bands; and don’t even think about paying for that with a credit card, missy! Cash or debit only!

Support. The community has welcomed this paper since the first edition, and I am more grateful for that than I can find words to describe (and I’ve got a big dictionary, so that’s saying something). Talented writers volunteering their services, advertisers seeing value in our product, people willing to tell their stories and readers interested in learning about them.

From our first edition we got notes, letters, e-mails, phone calls and even flowers wishing us well, most from people I’d never even met before (thanks, Arkey’s!). The comments that have meant the most to me are from people who probably didn’t even intend to be complimentary, like the young couple who said they’d never been in a newspaper before, or the lady at a coffee shop in Kasilof who was saving papers because she said she knew someone in every edition.

Enough sleep, a “normal” schedule, time off, a steady salary and actually folding my laundry are a long way off yet, but this paper has already accomplished what I most hoped it would: It proved people do value journalism. In an age when “media” has become a four-letter word, it’s heartening to know the profession I love still has a home, and can be considered a worthy neighbor.

Finally, I am grateful to the ultimate driving force behind the Redoubt Reporter, the bedrock it is built upon, without which it would cease to exist:

Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Jenny Neyman is the editor and publisher of the Redoubt Reporter.

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Guest editorial: Kenai Watershed Forum teaching love of the outdoors

Here in Alaska, we are blessed with a wealth of natural resources from oil to salmon, lumber to gold. Often, different groups of users have different ideas of what should be done with those resources. Many Alaskans stood proudly chanting “drill, baby, drill” as we watched our governor on a national stage calling for the development of Alaska’s oil fields, while many other Alaskans proudly display their “No Pebble Mine” stickers on their cars, trucks, bikes and mandolin cases. The views on how to make the best use of these resources are about as varied as the resources themselves.

The Kenai Watershed Forum is dedicated to protecting the many wonderful resources on the Kenai Peninsula and helping with responsible development and use of them. The Kenai Watershed Forum is also working on developing the most important resource in all of Alaska: its youth.

Through its education programs, the Kenai Watershed Forum is creating informed decision makers who will inherit the results of decisions made by adults today. Every school year, Kenai Watershed Forum staff works with local schools in the classroom and in the field to increase students’ understanding and appreciation of the places they live.

This year, the Kenai Watershed Forum is working on a monthly basis with 11 classes in six different schools through its Adopt-A-Stream program. These students are learning about water quality and watersheds in the classroom and in the field, traveling to streams for monthly water quality monitoring. By providing hands-on, field-based science opportunities, students are not only given the chance to explore their environment, but also to practice scientific procedure and application. Other classes have been involved in KWF educational programming on the subjects of watersheds, ecology, cold-weather safety and wetlands.

While the lessons taught by Kenai Watershed Forum staff strive to increase students’ awareness of their surroundings, the goal of the lessons isn’t to turn everyone into “tree-hugging dirt worshipers.” Instead, the educational programming is designed to offer a chance for students to increase their knowledge of what it takes to keep our watersheds healthy, and to foster an appreciation for their environment. In his book, “Beyond Ecophobia,” author David Sobel suggests, “If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”

That is what the Kenai Watershed Forum strives to do, not only in the classrooms, but in the community, as well: to create an appreciation for the wonderful place in which we live, and to encourage exploration that leads to a better understanding of who we are and how we fit into the plan for our environment’s future.

Dan Pascucci is the education coordinator for the Kenai Watershed Forum.

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New owners, same Old Town charm — Veronica’s coffee house changes hands, not much else



By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Veronica’s Coffee House is changing hands, but other than a few new faces and a “Dora the Explorer” cup on the shelf for the new owner’s granddaughter, patrons shouldn’t see a difference in the Old Town Kenai landmark.

“We’re not going to change a thing,” said Diane Hooper, co-owner. “I love this place. Veronica’s is my favorite restaurant. I love the people who come here, and the music. People have come to expect certain food on certain days, and we’re not going to change that.”

Hooper, of Kenai, is in the process of buying the restaurant with her friend of 30 years, Kathy Miller, from Wasilla.

“We both came to a place in our lives where it happened. We talked about doing a business together, centered around food. Both of us have a passion for food and love to entertain,” Hooper said.

After having a variety of jobs in her working career, from Alaska State Trooper dispatcher to travel agent, and most recently the secretary at Kenai Grace Brethren Church, Hooper found herself looking for work. She considered going to culinary school, but that didn’t stick, she said.

Miller came to the peninsula to visit a couple months ago and they looked into purchasing an espresso shop, but it was out of their league. Then she heard about Veronica’s being for sale, and things seemed to click, Hooper said.

“It just happened,” Hooper said. “All the doors just opened, everything felt right. It’s a magical place at night with the snow falling and the lights on and the music. And now I can be part of it every day.”

As she now jokes, “I looked for a job the last several months and I couldn’t find one, so I bought one.”

Hooper and Miller met as new mothers in Valdez and reconnected in Wasilla a few years later, where they ended up living in the same subdivision and raising their kids together. Whenever Miller came to Kenai to visit Hooper, they’d end up at Veronica’s.

“Veronica’s is really special to us. It’s really eclectic, which is something that we really like, and the food was really good and the people are really friendly. There was just something about it,” Miller said.

She’s leaving her job as a hotel manager in Anchorage and moving to Kenai this week. Miller has had prior food service experience, working with her sister in a catering business and cooking on the North Slope.

“It’s very much a big change. With the hotel I’m on call 24-seven and there’s always employee problems. Making more for somebody else is great, but it’s always better if you own your own business and make money for yourself, so I’m really excited for this opportunity,” she said.

Hooper has jumped right in, learning to wash dishes, use the cash register and prepare the food on Veronica’s menu. Her next feat will be learning how to make coffee, all taught by employees Chris Pepper and Katie Evans, who will stay on with the restaurant.

“These guys have been great. I couldn’t have done it without them,” Hooper said, as she spooned pasta salad onto plates in the kitchen Friday night, while the open mic night crowd belted out a chorus of “Aye, yie, yie yie, sea stars aren’t starfish!”

“I can’t think of a more fun place to work and spend my time,” Hooper said. “I walked out the door and just had this overwhelming joy bubble up, I turned around and looked back and the snow was falling and you could see the stars — it was like someone had sprinkled magic dust on it.”

Soon-to-be previous co-owner, Rebecca Lambourn, said she’s glad to have found new owners who appreciate Veronica’s charm.

“It’s a very beloved community gathering place. And it’s fun, that’s what it’s about. I’m happy to find someone to keep that going,” she said.

Lambourn and her husband, Stan Coleman, bought Veronica’s a little over four years ago from a friend who was about to shut it down.

“I love this place. It was going to close so we wanted to keep it open for two big reasons — as a common gathering place, and at the same time to keep the music scene going,” she said.

Nearly as soon as they bought Veronica’s, the restaurant started hosting live music performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, with other events, like a folk jam, added in periodically. This fall Lambourn cut back to just open mic nights on Fridays, because there was a dip in people coming out to listen to the music. Lambourn said she’s hopeful the music scene will pick up again, and Hooper said she intends to keep the Friday night open mic venue going.

Though she loved her tenure at Veronica’s, it’s time to entrust it to someone else’s hands — and knees, Lambourn said. After knee replacement surgery, she finds it difficult to stay on her feet all day in the kitchen, and Veronica’s is a business that needs to be owner-operated to be successful, she said.

“I’m not a restaurateur. We did it for more cultural reasons, really. I’m not that into running a business,” she said.

Lambourn plans to teach more anthropology classes at Kenai Peninsula College, where she’s an adjunct professor. Coleman is refurbishing a boat and they plan to spend more time on that in the summer, perhaps going to Seldovia more often, where Lambourn may get involved with the arts council and music scene there.

“I thought I might match my socks or something, which shows you how chaotic the last four years have been,” she said.

That’s doesn’t mean she’ll be a stranger.

“We tried to make this a cozy, warm corner here in Old Town Kenai,” she said. “In some ways I almost enjoy the winter more in this place than summer. You drive by and it’s so warm and inviting. I wish the new owners best of luck in keeping the Veronica’s spirit alive.

“I feel really good that we’re — pun intended — ending on a good note.”

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Plugged in: Take a hard look at software downloads for computer safety

Downloading and installing security and operating system updates is critical to maintaining computer safety. One of the most important approaches is to ensure your computer downloads and installs both routine and critical security and operating system updates from Microsoft. Although a few have been problematic, most work well and without fuss. You can turn on automatic updates by clicking on Start, Settings, Control Panel, Security Center.

Periodically make a manual check for other updates to your operating system and the proprietary software that interfaces your Windows installation and the specific hardware installed in your computer, such as video and network adapters. “Service Packs” are large, comprehensive upgrades that address many different security and reliability issues at one time. As a general rule, your computer should have the most recent service pack installed. Indeed, many programs will not even work properly if newer service packs are not installed.

To check for updates, click on Start, Windows Update. Internet Explorer will open and check what’s already installed on your computer and any available new updates. I suggest you use the Windows Update “Express” option several times until Windows advises that there are no more critical items to be installed on your computer. Then, try the “Custom” option to check for any optional updates to Windows components, such as Media Player 11, or newer software “drivers” that interface your computer hardware and operating system.

These are not necessarily critical items, but probably should be installed in most instances. Some optional items, such as Media Player, may require a shutdown and restart after installation, followed by a further Windows Update. Express check to see whether your newly installed optional software requires some security or reliability patches or a service pack installation. One might believe, not unreasonably, that the downloaded optional components already include all necessary security and reliability fixes, but that’s not necessarily Microsoft’s approach.

After ensuring that your system is up to date, use Internet Explorer’s Tools, Internet Options, to check your general Internet Explorer security settings, making a sensible balance between security and ease of use. Microsoft’s defaults are generally a fairly reasonable approach. Turn off the automatic execution by your browser of Javascript and Active-X components and ask to be prompted before running them. Doing so gives you at least a little bit of control over potentially rogue programs that might damage your system or compromise your privacy and security.

Next week, I’ll discuss third-party anti-virus and Internet security programs. Because of antitrust concerns arising in times past, Microsoft does not include any sort of anti-virus program with Windows. You’ll certainly need one.

Local attorney Joseph Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and has been writing and lecturing about technology throughout the U.S. since 1990 for American Bar Association, Alaska Bar Association and private publications. He also owned a computer store in Soldotna between 1990 and 2000.

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Cold feet don’t foul up ducks — Waterfowl have several strategies for keeping tootsies toasty during icy months

Throughout winter, many Alaskans participate in various outdoor activities like skiing, skating, snowshoeing, ice fishing and snowmachining. A common problem for all participants is keeping their feet warm. There are a variety of possible solutions for cold feet: waterproof and breathable boots, extra socks, highly insulated boots and even heat-generating chemical or electric warmers.

But what about the waterfowl that remain along the rivers and streams all winter? Do they make Bunny Boots for ducks?

There are several species of ducks, mergansers and even swans that frequent the Kenai River watershed all winter long. They can usually be found in or near open water sections because that is where they can feed and it provides them protection from terrestrial predators like fox, coyotes, wolves and lynx. Nonswimming ducks can be found standing or lying on ice for long periods of time and they do not freeze. What’s their secret?

Waterfowl actually allow their feet to get very cold, keeping them just above freezing temperatures. Since their feet contain mostly bones and tendons surrounded by thick skin, there isn’t a critical need for the feet to stay any warmer. All of the muscles moving the feet are in the upper legs, and they are maintained at normal body core temperatures of 102 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.

If we immersed our feet in icy water for any length of time, our body core temperatures would drop drastically. Waterfowl do it all day long and are easily able to keep their core temperatures fairly steady. How?

Physiologically, waterfowl have a special blood vessel system at the start of their legs called a “counter current exchanger” that warms the blood returning from the feet. Cold venous blood coming from the feet runs very close to warm arterial vessels carrying blood toward the feet. The blood leaving the body is cooled and the returning blood is warmed. This way, very little heat is actually lost to the outside world from the feet.

While it might appear that their feet could actually freeze, the supplying arterial blood vessels can be dilated or constricted to allow just enough extra warm blood into the feet to keep them from actually freezing.

There are also several behaviors that these birds can use to help keep their feet warmer or to reduce body heat loss. One method is to stand on only one foot. When on one foot, the other can be tucked up close to the body and kept warm within the insulating feathers. If you observe this one-foot stance behavior, watch to see that they will periodically switch feet.

Another common behavior is for the waterfowl to rest completely on the ice with both feet tucked up into the breast feathers. Their breast plumage provides amazing insulation, and they are able to maintain their body temperatures while sleeping on the ice. Their heads and beaks can also be tucked under a wing or buried in the feathers to preheat the air they take in and to retain some of the heat they lose during respiration.

This superb insulating quality of waterfowl breast feathers is well known and used in popular winter clothing filled with duck or goose down. Perhaps the very first down jackets were made by a number of Alaska Native populations. Dozens of waterfowl breast skins were sewn together to make very warm winter coats. Examples of these bird-skin coats can be seen in a number of Alaska museums.

In the case of waterfowl, they really do have “cold feet and a warm heart.”

David Wartinbee, Ph.D, J.D., is a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. He is writing a series of columns on the biology of the Kenai River watershed.

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No bones about it — KPC anthropology professor charts path to distinguished career

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Dr. Alan Boraas, professor of anth- ropology at Kenai Peninsula College, is the school’s most senior faculty member. But 36 years ago, the first time he asked for a job at the college, he was politely turned away.

Boraas had gone to Clayton Brockel, then the resident director of Kenai Peninsula Community College, a school in the process of building its first official structure, the McLane Building.

“He didn’t say, ‘Don’t ever come back,’” Boraas remembers. “He said, ‘We don’t have anything.’ He wasn’t overly encouraging. At the same time, he didn’t say ‘no.’”

Boraas, who grew up on a 1,000-acre wheat farm in Minnesota, had fallen in love with Alaska while beginning his master’s degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He had come to the peninsula in 1972 hoping to teach anthropology. Instead, he found himself living briefly in a camper in Soldotna’s Centennial Campground, working in a cannery, and then taking a job as a carpenter on the Damon Memorial Museum off Poppy Lane.

He was working on the museum roof early in the fall when Brockel pulled up in his 1963 blue Chevy Biscayne, affectionately known as “Ol’ Blue.” Brockel had an offer: “Would you like to teach ABE?” And Boraas replied, “Sure. What is it?”

“It” was Adult Basic Education, and the school had received a special grant to fund it. Brockel needed someone who could prepare adults to pass their General Educational Development (GED) tests.

“There was no promise of a future,” Brockel says now. “He went on a gamble. And he hung on there until we could get some money to hold on to him. He was thrown a bone, and he took it.”

Boraas soon parlayed this “bone” into his first anthropology class and also began teaching ABE classes to Kenai Native Association students at Wildwood through the Indian Action Program.

In the early days of his work in Wildwood, Jimmy Segura, the director of the Indian Action Program, said to him, “Our guys don’t have a lot of education.” Over the years, it was gratifying for Boraas to watch many of those “guys” — both women and men — earn an education and go on to become tribal, civic and community leaders.

Along the way, Boraas learned how gratifying teaching could be, and the importance of making a difference in people’s lives.

One thing led to another — it was “not career planning,” he said — and, as the college grew up around him, Boraas’ career also grew. He took on more anthropology courses and began making important local archaeological digs, including one in the mid-1970s at abandoned Kalifornsky Village. It was through this project that he met Peter Kalifornsky, who had been born in the village in 1911. Along with his sisters, Kalifornsky was among the last remaining speakers of the Outer Inlet dialect of the Dena’ina language on the Kenai Peninsula. He would come to influence the course of Boraas’ life and career long after Kalifornsky’s own death.

After a sabbatical at Oregon State University in 1979 to begin his doctoral work, Boraas continued to teach at the college and to further his investigation of Dena’ina prehistory, culture and linguistics. He also began writing articles about area history and culture for a local newspaper.

In 1983, he finished his doctorate, a study of the evolution of brain via specialization relating to the use of tools. He completed the degree over four years, focusing on it during summers and whenever possible while teaching, even traveling back to Oregon when it was necessary.

He laughed as he remembered that, after he had already presented and defended his doctoral thesis, he received a phone call from OSU.

“Got a call from the dean of the graduate school. ‘There’s a problem with your thesis.’ It’s the middle of summer. I’m out in the yard or something. The dean calls me. ‘It’s not on 20 percent rag bond paper. We can’t accept it.’

“In Soldotna in 1983, there was no 20 percent rag bond paper to be had.”

Finally, he located some 15 percent paper. Instead of retyping the entire thesis, he inserted the new paper into a photocopier, carefully copied his original work, and mailed it off to Oregon. No one was the wiser.

Sometime later, he received another notice from OSU.

“Since I didn’t go to my graduation (because of the expense and inconvenience), I didn’t get my diploma. And they sent me a card saying that, ‘If you want your diploma, we can send it to you if you send us $3.25 postage.’”

“I just spent thousands of dollars (in the OSU program), and they’re not going to send me my diploma unless I send them $3.25. So I never did get my diploma.”

It was the principle of the thing, he said.

In the mid-1980s, he had a life-changing encounter: Peter Kalifornsky, after the death of his younger sister, asked Boraas to help publish his collected writings. For years, Kalifornsky had, in his native language, been writing down stories of Dena’ina history, culture and mythology. He wished to compile his writings into a large volume that would feature all these stories both in Kalifornsky’s original language and in English.

“I was honored,” Boraas said of the opportunity. “When a man who is one of the last speakers of a dialect asks you to help him, you don’t ask questions. I daresay you don’t blink.”

He is reflective of that opportunity today: “The path one takes is often directed by the opportunities that present themselves. If you have the skills — background — to make a difference in whatever that opportunity is, you take advantage.”

With the help of James Kari of the Alaska Native Language Center, Boraas and Kalifornsky collaborated to complete Kalifornsky’s opus: the 527-page “A Dena’ina Legacy – K’tl’egh’I Sukdu: The Collected Writings of Peter Kalifornsky.”

In the early 1990s, Boraas was instrumental in the creation of Tsalteshi Trails at Skyview High School, and helped coach at the school. Skiing, Boraas said, is a means by which people of northern climates connect with their environment and embrace the range of seasons that the North has to offer.

Today, Boraas, 61, continues his Dena’ina connection. Although he is still at the college’s Kenai River Campus, he is not teaching this year. Instead, he is working to improve the Dena’ina language Web site to facilitate the reading and writing of the language, and is helping the Kenaitze tribe to finish analyzing an earlier archaeological project.

Despite all these accomplishments, however — and a lengthy entry on Wikipedia.org — Boraas, with a wry grin, refers to himself as “among the world’s most obscure archaeologists.”

Brockel, on the other hand, refers to him “as a real pioneer of the college.”

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