Monthly Archives: May 2009

Are they here yet? Kenai tourism businesses hold out hope for last-minute, instate visitors

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. An Alaska-registered motor home leads a parade of vehicles into Soldotna at the start of Memorial Day weekend Friday. Tourism businesses say bookings are down so far for the summer, but they hope to make up the loss of Lower-48 visitors with instate travelers.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. An Alaska-registered motor home leads a parade of vehicles into Soldotna at the start of Memorial Day weekend Friday. Tourism businesses say bookings are down so far for the summer, but they hope to make up the loss of Lower-48 visitors with instate travelers.

William and Eunice Martens had plenty of time over Memorial Day weekend to work on the campground host area they’ve been adding to during their six summers at Soldotna’s Centennial Park.

The campground was down about 20 percent to 25 percent, William Martens said Monday, as he weeded a flower bed with a rebuilt shovel, next to a fence they constructed with scraps from the campground’s woodshed. Eunice had been at work getting their summer vegetable garden planted, housed in an old freezer that quit working.

Summers at Centennial can leave little leisure time for hosts’ summer home-improvement projects, as the in-town campground is usually quite popular with motorhomes and tent campers from around Alaska, the Lower 48 and beyond.
But not so far this year. The Yuma, Ariz., hosts have been at Centennial since May 15, and they haven’t had much traffic since then, Martens said. By late Monday afternoon, the spike in visitors that came over the holiday weekend had mostly cleared out.
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New view of high school — Skyview changing its identity to fit diverse student body

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The struggle to prevent high school dropouts is won or lost early. Senior or junior year may be the most active fronts in the fight to keep kids in school, but the most strategically crucial battleground is years earlier — with freshmen, even though thoughts of donning a cap and gown can be the furthest thing from their minds.

“Ninth grade is where we’re losing them. If they don’t have success their freshmen year, they go on to not graduate and be a dropout,” said Margaret Griffin, counselor at Skyview High School.

Skyview is instituting several changes next year, some aimed at setting students off on the right foot as freshmen, and others at providing more opportunities for engagement and real-world relevancy as they continue their march toward a diploma — whether that diploma be from high school, college or some other post-secondary opportunity.

Doing so requires a new view of education at Skyview.

“Skyview is trying to become unique and different and offer other opportunities for students. We’re trying to give them a lot of alternatives,” said Principal Randy Neill.
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Sisters, mothers, grandmas, friends — After 30 years in Kenai Catholic church, nuns accept thanks for the many roles they’ve played

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter
sisters retire Web
The introduction of Sisters Joan Barina and Joyce Ross to Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Kenai in 1979 is a reflection of the sisters’ induction to Alaska itself — they had some idea of what to expect, but were unprepared for the scope of the impact it would have on them.

“I was wondering what they would do. The church was going along fine at the time,” said Eileen Bryson, who was attending the church when the sisters arrived in 1979 — in pastel pants suits, as the story goes. “It was immediately apparent they would be very helpful. They became part of the church immediately. We’re at the point now of, ‘What will we do without them?’”

Bryson was one of many parishioners and friends cycling through an open house at Our Lady of the Angels on May 9 held as a going-away party for the sisters, who are retiring and heading back to their religious orders on the East Coast after 30 years at the Kenai parish. The sisters were surrounded by evidence of just how much a part of the church they have become — photos of their mundane tasks, like mowing the lawn, on up to the more meaningful, like performing ecclesiastic services and going on mission trips; a guestbook filled with page after page of well-wishes, words of thanks and declarations of how much they will be missed; and the parishioners themselves, who have taken the sisters’ message that they are the church to heart as much as they’ve taken the sisters to heart.

“You always say the church is the people,” Barina said.

“And they’ve proved it,” Ross said. “Hopefully we’ve helped them take ownership and realize that it’s their church. We always say the changes we have seen in the church are because of people’s ideas. They followed through on what they wanted to see. I think we’re the cheerleaders, encouraging them hopefully to pitch in and help.”
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Life, death, love, loss on Tustumena Lake

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Calvin Fair. This is the Cliff House as it appeared in November 1966.

Photo by Calvin Fair. This is the Cliff House as it appeared in November 1966.

When David Letzring reached for the inflight magazine, he had no idea that he was about to revisit a tragedy and be introduced to an unexpected romance.

It was early winter in 1978, and Letzring, who worked for Marathon Oil at the time, was settling into his Alaska Airlines seat for a flight to his office in Anchorage. From the seat pouch in front of him, he plucked the November issue of Alaskafest and began to scan through its contents. Soon he found himself beginning an article entitled “Anne: A True Story,” by Dan Strickland, who was identified as an Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee living and working in Fairbanks.

The first-person story began colorfully, with ebullient adjectives and a touch of personification: “The sun splashed down on the trees lining the river, wooing autumn colors of the leaves into radiant beauty.”

But it was the fifth paragraph that grabbed Letzring’s attention. There, Strickland referred to a cabin known as the Cliff House, located at the end of a long glacial lake.

In Letzring’s experience, there was only one Cliff House. Until it had burned to the ground earlier that very summer, it had been located at the upper end of Tustumena Lake.

Two paragraphs later he found a reference to “Dave,” and he realized he was a character in this story, as was “George,” a Kasilof friend of Letzring’s named George Calvin. One other name was familiar, “Mike,” whom Letzring recognized as Homer-based guide, Mike McBride.

All of the other names were unfamiliar — the story had inexplicably changed Strickland’s own name to “Paul” — but Letzring knew who they were. And suddenly he remembered one horrible night three years before.
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Got it down — Son inherits dad’s need for speed in downhill bike racing

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Clark Fair, Redoubt Reporter.  Shawn Schooley and his son, Jacob, are preparing to compete in the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championship in downhill racing.

Photo by Clark Fair, Redoubt Reporter. Shawn Schooley and his son, Jacob, are preparing to compete in the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championship in downhill racing.

Shawn Schooley’s e-mail account in April contained a surprise message: “Congratulations! You’ve qualified for the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships at Granby, Colorado.”

Schooley, a 35-year-old partner with his father in Kasilof Plumbing and Heating, was incredulous.

And he was thrilled, if only he could be sure that the announcement was true. He navigated to the Web site of USA Cycling to check the organization’s official list of qualifiers, and there he spotted his name.

He knew that he must have qualified as a result of his top-10 finish in the downhill mountain biking event at the Fluid Ride Cup Series at Mount Hood in Oregon last September. At the time, he had known that the cup series featured national-level racing, but he had no idea it functioned as a regional qualifying event.

Then it occurred to him that perhaps his 14-year-old son, Jacob, had also qualified for nationals. After all, Jacob had also raced in the cup series and finished in the top 10 in his age group. Shawn scanned the junior-level qualifiers list and found Jacob’s name. They both were in.
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Statuesque attire — Kenai Elks Lodge installs weighty new mascot

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. An 8-foot tall, 700-pound bronze elk statue adorns the entryway to the Elks Lodge in Kenai.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. An 8-foot tall, 700-pound bronze elk statue adorns the entryway to the Elks Lodge in Kenai.

If the sign above the roofline and the mural painted on the face of the building aren’t enough distinction, the new addition to the fraternal organization on Barnacle Way in Kenai leaves no doubt — this is an Elks lodge.

An 8-foot tall, 700-pound bronze elk clambered up the building and now stands sentry above the entrance to the lodge, with eyes open, ears erect and head tilted up, showing off a full spread of antlers that would make any hunter a fine trophy. Although hopefully that won’t be an issue come hunting season.

“Well, I hope they can tell the difference between a live one and a dead one,” said Joel Macrander, exalted ruler of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge No. 2425.
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Sighting in on black bears — Hunting controls numbers, contributes to freezer

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Larry Lewis, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. A bear investigates a Dumpster on Otter Trail Drive in a previous summer. Bears become habituated to sites where they’ve enjoyed easy access to food, causing them to return to human-populated areas if they’ve found dinner there before.

Photo by Larry Lewis, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. A bear investigates a Dumpster on Otter Trail Drive in a previous summer. Bears become habituated to sites where they’ve enjoyed easy access to food, causing them to return to human-populated areas if they’ve found dinner there before.

The first sign of fresh greenery appearing in the landscape is a welcome sign of spring that most of us look forward to, perhaps even more so after this year’s seemingly longer and harsher winter than normal. The greenery promises another beautiful Alaska summer and seems to put everyone into high gear.

Most of us become somewhat rabid during the Alaska spring, as we know the time of moderate weather is short-lived and there is no time to waste getting out in it.

The appearance of new growth means a bit more to black bear hunters; food is once again available and the bears will be out filling their empty stomachs and making themselves visible. Black bears are omnivorous and their springtime diet consists largely of greenery and the occasional winterkill they may stumble across. That is until moose begin spring calving. Black and brown bears are one of the most significant factors in moose calf mortality and, depending on the area, may kill 80 percent of a given year’s calf production. This isn’t new; it’s simply a part of the natural world of predator/prey relationships.
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Science of the Seasons — Water not unscathed from wildfire’s effects

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo by David Wartinbee. Deep Creek winds through a section of forest ravaged by wildfire in the Caribou Hills fire in 2007.

Photo by David Wartinbee. Deep Creek winds through a section of forest ravaged by wildfire in the Caribou Hills fire in 2007.

A couple weeks ago I happened upon some aerial photographs I took right after a major portion of the Caribou Hills burned. Many folks lost their cabins to the fire and everyone suffered a drastic scenery change. This weekend, while out in the Caribou Hills, I remembered that a large portion of the fire was in the Deep Creek watershed. That caused me to revisit some of the stream studies that have documented fire-caused changes.

Riparian areas around streams produce leaves, twigs, bud scales, bark, pollen and seeds that fall into the nearby stream. These vegetable materials often are a major energy source for organisms found within the stream. Fires destroy not only the materials that might fall into the stream but also the plants that are producing them every year.
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Art Seen: Big things in small packages

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

Susan Nabholz’s piece, “Yukon Relic,” is a closeup photo bursting with texture in the “Small Shots” show.

Susan Nabholz’s piece, “Yukon Relic,” is a closeup photo bursting with texture in the “Small Shots” show.

There are so many sweet little pieces at this year’s “Small Shots” exhibit at the Kenai Fine Arts Center, I hardly know where to begin. Although mostly photography, organizer Bill Heath has allowed for any medium to be represented in this open exhibit. He only asks that the images be small, saying, “This show was created to allow the new artists an opportunity to display on an equal footing with the established artists and to challenge the established artists to craft visually engaging images in a modest space.”

It is a nice mix of “established” and newer artists to the scene. Although the walls are packed and the images are staggered in order to fit them all, because the images are small and intimate they are not overwhelming.
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1st time 1 too many — Program takes community approach to meth abuse

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Being new parents can already feel like a roller-coaster ride: New experiences that instigate new challenges. Advice coupled with expectations. So much love and joy, underlain with the fear that something could go wrong. That, as parents, you’ll do something wrong.

For Mary and Joe Smith, their ride as first-time parents has been a particularly rocky one, because something did go irrevocably wrong with their kids. It’s something they don’t completely understand and can’t plan for or predict. They can’t always treat it with love and hugs, even though that’s their instinct. And they can’t erase it, even for all their parental desire to do anything to protect their kids.

The Smiths say their kids were theirs from day one. The first time they had them in their arms, that was it. But day one for the Smiths wasn’t day one of their kids’ lives. They were born into another family, one where drugs had taken priority over the kids’ safety and well-being. The kids were taken from that home and put up for adoption, which is how they ended up with the Smiths.

(Editor’s note: The Smiths live on the central Kenai Peninsula. The adoption process was difficult and only recently finalized, so they did not wish to use their real names or identifying information about them or their children for this story.)

Mary Smith said she doesn’t know what all happened to the kids before she and her husband got them. She’s pieced some of it together, from police reports, child abuse and neglect reports, and comments from social workers and neighbors. She knows it was a meth house, where the parents used and cooked the highly addictive and destructive stimulant. She’s heard of there being cocaine and heroine use, as well.

“You’re talking about children who live in filth, who live in a disheveled environment. They’re exposed to domestic violence and they also could be sexually assaulted. They are also in an environment where there’s a lot of pornography and exploiting of children. It could potentially lead to a really horrible life for these kids,” she said.
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~Robo swimmers~ Robotics makes a splash in science class

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Austin Frederick, left, and Nathan Zorbas, seventh-graders in Allan Miller’s robotics class at Kenai Middle School, pilot their SEAPerch submersible crafts in the King’s Inn pool Friday. The class built the aquatic robots from scratch.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Austin Frederick, left, and Nathan Zorbas, seventh-graders in Allan Miller’s robotics class at Kenai Middle School, pilot their SEAPerch submersible crafts in the King’s Inn pool Friday. The class built the aquatic robots from scratch.

“Up! Up! Go Up!”

“Turn! No, go back! No, you’re tangled!”

“Wait, hey, look out for the thing!”

So it went Friday, with a group of 15 Kenai Middle School students backseat driving for each other as they attempted to navigate their homemade, submersible robots through an obstacle course set up in the King’s Inn hotel pool in Kenai.

After building the robots from scratch — doing everything from stringing wire to soldering connections, waterproofing motor components and fabricating the skeletal structure — who would have throught the hardest part of the project would be driving the things?
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Birders watch eagle attack sandhill crane

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Just as Mossy Kilcher’s Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival guests were arriving in the morning to view sandhill cranes on her farmed fields May 7, an eagle swooped down and killed one of the elegant birds in front of visitors.

As part of the annual shorebird festival, Kilcher opened Seaside Farm to guests for Cranes and Croissants, a 7 a.m. breakfast event for those hoping to view the cranes taking respite in fields overlooking the sea. Kilcher, a lifelong Homer resident, has welcomed the cranes to her farm for 30 years, and gives presentations on nesting songbirds and a crane bird tour.

“They come here to photograph the cranes, and several had already arrived,” Kilcher said. “Someone saw the eagle on the crane, blood and feathers everywhere. But it was too late by the time I saw what happened. It was dead, limp and warm.”
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