Monthly Archives: July 2009

Dyeing to count — Fish and Game tests new way to estimate smolt numbers

Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Captured and dyed sockeye salmon smolt become golden after being submerged in a dye bath. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists dye, release and recapture sockeye smolt each spring as part of a project to determine smolt abundance in the Kenai River.

Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Captured and dyed sockeye salmon smolt become golden after being submerged in a dye bath. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists dye, release and recapture sockeye smolt each spring as part of a project to determine smolt abundance in the Kenai River.

Patrice Kohl
Redoubt Reporter

While many Americans mark spring by dyeing chicken eggs, Bill Glick marks spring by dyeing sockeye salmon smolt.

Each spring, Glick, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game fish biologist, captures a few thousand Kenai River sockeye smolt, dyes them gold and releases them back into the river. Kenai River smolt dyeing began in 2005 as part of a Fish and Game mark and recapture project to estimate out-migrating smolt abundance.

In the future, however, the spring parade of gold smolt swimming down the Kenai River could come to an end if, as Fish and Game biologists hope, a genetic-based method of estimating smolt abundance can be used to replace the dye-based method. A genetic-based method would reduce smolt handling and could produce more accurate estimates, said Mark Willette, a Fish and Game research biologist for upper Cook Inlet.
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Kenai River on the rise — Dammed lake behind Skilak Glacier lets loose

Photo by Lyman Nichols, NOAA. An ice-dammed lake is seen at the head of Skilak Glacier in 2002, with the glacier extending down the valley to the right. The lake fills with runoff water and drains every two to three years, raising water levels in the lower Kenai River.

Photo by Lyman Nichols, NOAA. An ice-dammed lake is seen at the head of Skilak Glacier in 2002, with the glacier extending down the valley to the right. The lake fills with runoff water and drains every two to three years, raising water levels in the lower Kenai River.

Patrice Kohl
Redoubt Reporter

Last week, Jim Coe witnessed signs of a phenomenon that he wouldn’t usually expect to occur until after the blueberries had fully ripened and hares had begun to grow white coats. U.S. Geological Survey hydrographs charting water levels in the Kenai River indicated that after peaking on Wednesday, water levels in the Kenai River at Cooper Landing had begun to drop, but river water downstream of Skilak Lake was not following suit.

Instead, river water downstream of Skilak Lake climbed on Thursday, Friday and again Saturday. Finally on Saturday, Coe, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration river forecast center senior hydrologist, began to suspect a glacier-dammed lake outburst had sent water gushing into the Kenai River.

About once every two to three years, runoff water collects in a valley perpendicular to the side of Skilak Glacier grows into a lake too big for the glacier to hold back. The lake’s water bursts out below the glacier, flows into Skilak Lake and into the Kenai River. But records going back to 1985 indicate that all of the outbursts since 1985 have occurred in either the fall or the winter. Neither precipitation nor snowmelt, however, could account for the water level trends the hydrographs had recorded, and on Saturday, Coe began making some calls.
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Talk about technology… Web site out to preserve, spread area’s Native dialect

A Dena’ina language Web site allows visitors to explore the Kenai Peninsula’s Native tongue with interactive pages including peninsula maps. Native place names on the map link to pictures of local places and audio recordings of how to pronounce the Native place names.

A Dena’ina language Web site allows visitors to explore the Kenai Peninsula’s Native tongue with interactive pages including peninsula maps. Native place names on the map link to pictures of local places and audio recordings of how to pronounce the Native place names.

Patrice Kohl
Redoubt Reporter

People have spoken Dena’ina on the Kenai Peninsula longer than any other language, but the chances of hearing anyone speak Dena’ina on the peninsula today are slim to none. Fewer than 50 Dena’ina speakers remain, and the last speaker of the Kenai dialect of Dena’ina, Fred Mamaloff, died in 2006.

Of the few remaining Dena’ina speakers, most live west of Cook Inlet in the Nondalton area. All but one are over 60 years old. Having lost its last speaker, the Kenai dialect of Dena’ina — Kahtnuht’ana Qenaga — faces the threat of being forgotten, but Kenai Peninsula College, Kenaitze Tribe and Cook Inlet Tribal Council have launched a project to help preserve Kahtnuht’ana Qenaga.

The project has opened access to Kahtnuht’ana Qenaga study guides and archived audio files on a newly created Web site, http://qenaga.org/kq. Audio files include pronunciation samples, vocabulary and stories. For words that may appear daunting, such as niłqun qegh’utda (meaning, day after tomorrow), audio samples help open Kahtnuht’ana Qenaga up to peninsula residents and others wanting to learn more about the area’s Native tongue.
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Good as gold — Chilkoot Trail sparkles for modern stampeders

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Jen Dulz, of Wasilla, stands on a ledge just below the summit of Chilkoot Pass on July 8, looking back at the twisting valley she just climbed.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Jen Dulz, of Wasilla, stands on a ledge just below the summit of Chilkoot Pass on July 8, looking back at the twisting valley she just climbed.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

9:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 8, 2009 — The view looking back from the summit of the Chilkoot Pass is one of accomplishment.

Rimmed by glacier-strewn mountain tops, the rapidly descending trail used in the Klondike gold rush stampede of 1897-98 picks its way through the twisting valley floor below, over the boulders climbed, the snowfields traversed, the slippery streams forded and the aptly-named Long Hill ascended.

I admit it, I was feeling pretty pleased. I’d just lugged myself 16 miles and 3,700 feet up the trail since the day before, with three miles and 2,500 feet just since that morning. All the while oppressed by extra gravity from a pack that was inexplicably eight pounds heavier than the maximum, 30-percent-of-body-weight load I intended to take on the trip, and the foot blisters oozing to life inside my hiking boots.

I’d made decent time, even with my I-hate-mornings tendency of being the last hiker to the trailhead the day before and out of camp that morning. And I’d done it on my own, without anyone to rescue me from the turtle position I found myself in after failing to counterbalance my backpack while scrambling up an embankment, or anyone to pass the tent, cooking gear and other weighty items off to when I decided, at about Mile 8 the day before, that it was seriously somebody else’s turn to carry the dang things.

But just as the Chilkoot excels at instilling awe from the grandeur of the scenery and history of the trail, it is apt at squashing ego into perspective. Think you’re tough hauling 30 or 40 pounds 3,700 feet up the trail? Try lugging 100 pounds, like the Native Tlingit packers used to do for hire.

Think you made it to the top with energy to spare? Then hike back down, strap on another pack and do it again — 40 to 50 more times — like the prospectors had to do to haul up the year’s worth of food, gear and supplies that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police required them to have before they allowed passage across the border.

Feel like you made a sacrifice to be there, spending the time and money it takes to fly, ferry or drive to Skagway in Southeast Alaska, the jumping-off point for the trail? That’s nothing compared to the stampeders, who spent every cent they had in an already depressed economy, and left their jobs, homes, friends and loved ones behind just for the shot-in-the-dark, no-rational-chance-of-success dream of striking it rich in the Klondike.

For the stampeders, the 32-mile Chilkoot was a necessary evil, and a grueling and often lethal one, at that. It was the quickest and cheapest way to get to the Klondike gold fields in the Yukon. Once over the 16.5 miles and 3,700 feet of the pass, it was downhill another nine miles to Lake Lindeman, or 15.5 miles to Lake Bennett, where prospective prospectors built boats to travel the rest of the 500-plus miles to the gold fields by water.

If and when they made it to the Yukon, stampeders discovered the most lucrative claims had already been staked, and the vast majority left without the riches they had dreamed of and gambled on.

A view from the Canadian side of the pass looking down at Crater Lake in a volcanic caldera. Smoke from wildfires obscures the mountains in the distance.

A view from the Canadian side of the pass looking down at Crater Lake in a volcanic caldera. Smoke from wildfires obscures the mountains in the distance.

But judging from the journals, letters and other records of the gold rush, they took with them the wealth of memories that came from participating in what is now regarded as the most challenging, emblematic and exciting chapter of that era. Even if they didn’t have gold in their pockets, the images of the land and the trail still sparkled in their mind’s eye.

“There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will.”

— Robert Service,  “Spell of the Yukon”
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Banding together — Family joins forces to bring David Allan Coe concert to town

Photo courtesy of Maximus Entertainment. David Allan Coe will bring his country rock performance to Soldotna due to the efforts of Dean and Genie Norris, and Johnny Morrow, who teamed up to form a production company specifically so they could watch a Coe concert. Coe will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center.

Photo courtesy of Maximus Entertainment. David Allan Coe will bring his country rock performance to Soldotna due to the efforts of Dean and Genie Norris, and Johnny Morrow, who teamed up to form a production company specifically so they could watch a Coe concert. Coe will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Dean Norris has elevated diehard fan status to a new level.

He grew up listening to “good-old country music,” he said — Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and David Allan Coe.

“All those guys were kind of top-notch to me. That’s what I’ve listened to since I was 5 or 6 years old. So for 30 years I’ve been a fan,” Norris said.

Since moving to Soldotna from Washington state eight years ago, Norris and his family have been missing the opportunity to go to concerts and see big-name performers. Especially as a North Slope worker, Norris has a particular jonesing for activities when he’s off work. High up on his list of things he’d like to do is see Coe perform live.

“Me and my daughters wanted to go to a concert before he quit touring,” Norris said. “Just community entertainment. We’re starving for that stuff. We’re from down around the Seattle area, where you can do a lot of that. Up here, they don’t offer anything.”
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Science of the Seasons: No need to crane for a look at this super fly

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. Crane flies, like this female specimen, may look a little like giant mosquitoes, but they are no cause for alarm, as they are leaf eaters.

Photo courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. Crane flies, like this female specimen, may look a little like giant mosquitoes, but they are no cause for alarm, as they are leaf eaters.

Buzzing and bouncing on the side of the house, under your eaves and above the grass lurks a creature that must be the super ninja version and the biggest mosquito you have ever seen. It looks big enough to take a full unit of blood at one sitting. Be afraid!

In Alaska, we pride ourselves with having the biggest, strongest and meanest of critters, so this giant, blood-sucking machine seems to fit in with that mindset. But fear not. This bumbling fly is completely harmless. It may look like a mosquito with a stinger on its tail but it can’t feed as an adult, and that “pointy thing” on its abdomen is for laying eggs. Sorry to burst your bubble, guys, but you won’t be able to prove your machismo by handling this large fly.
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Hooked on Alaska: On the bite away from the crowds

Photos courtesy of Mark Conway. Ryan Combs, of Jackson Hole, Wyo., holds a trophy-sized, 21-inch grayling. Arctic grayling in Alaska are considered of trophy size if they are 18 inches or larger.

Photos courtesy of Mark Conway. Ryan Combs, of Jackson Hole, Wyo., holds a trophy-sized, 21-inch grayling. Arctic grayling in Alaska are considered of trophy size if they are 18 inches or larger.

By Mark Conway, for the Redoubt Reporter

Freshwater fishing on the Kenai Peninsula has about as many opportunities for different fish to fish for as it has different areas to fish. Being on the Kenai Peninsula for the past 15 years, I have to get out of the Kenai River box of thinking, and realize that there are places to fish besides the Kenai River.

On the Kenai Peninsula, you have to admit, though, we are really blessed with Kenai River sport fishing. The Kenai, besides being one of the best salmon rivers in the state, has an enormous rainbow trout and Dolly Varden population, as well.

As folks focus on the sockeye salmon run right now, filling their freezers with this season’s abundance, don’t forget that some of the most spectacular fishing can be beyond the Kenai River, just a short drive or hike away.
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Almanac: Driven to leave their mark — Homesteaders put their stamp on peninsula’s roadways

Editor’s note: This is part two of a history of some of the road names on the central Kenai Peninsula. Part one, published last week, covered roads off the Sterling Highway from Three Johns Street at Mile 76 to Echo Lake and Gaswell roads at Mile 100. Part two covers roads out to Webb-Ramsell Road off Cohoe Loop, plus 13 more along the Kenai Spur Highway as far north as Halbouty Road at Milepost 29.5.

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Drivers who leave the Sterling Highway and venture behind the stands of conifers and deciduous trees that parallel the blacktop may find all sorts of odd appellations: Loud Court, Tobacco Lane, Granny Ann Avenue, Magic Dragon Lane, Mule Shoe Street, Missing Link Road, and too many others to list. But those who stick to the main drag and head south will pass by the green signs indicating these byways:

  • Tote Road (Milepost 101) — The name of this road has an uncertain origin, but some believe — since temporary roads were often called “tote roads” because individuals using them had to hand-tote everything up and down their often rugged routes — that this road may have been so dubbed until it was eventually improved for regular traffic. If so, the name obviously stuck. Continue reading

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Plugged In: Balanced exposure, contrast not a gray area

By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Last week, we discussed why the Zone System is the classic approach to making exhibition-grade photographic prints and why its use with film required a degree of technical knowledge and personal discipline that generally confined its use to very serious photographers.

Digital technology has changed all that, not only for traditional, black-and-white photography, but also for color photography. As a result of the high degree of control recently possible with digital color images, color photography is finally gaining respectability as fine-art photography.

The procedures I suggest are applicable to almost any digital image, but I suspect that readers who are more serious about photography will be using compact cameras or larger, digital SLR cameras that can record data as inherently more-controllable, RAW-image formats. Continue reading

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Hot dogs, Jesus on the side — Dipnetters get free food, Bibles from Baptist missionaries

Photos by Patrice Kohl, Redoubt Reporter. Alan Ratzlaff, of Anchorage, returns to his dipnet site on Kenai’s north beach Saturday after retrieving a free hot dog and bottle of water from Baptist volunteers.

Photos by Patrice Kohl, Redoubt Reporter. Alan Ratzlaff, of Anchorage, returns to his dipnet site on Kenai’s north beach Saturday after retrieving a free hot dog and bottle of water from Baptist volunteers.

Patrice Kohl
Redoubt Reporter

Vladimir Netsvetayev, of Wasilla, arrived at the mouth of the Kenai River on Friday morning determined to dipnet enough sockeye salmon to feed his big family with plenty of fish for the year. But dipnetting made him hungry, and when a tent of Baptist mission volunteers arrived to hand out free food and drink, he was only too happy to devour three hot dogs and gulp down a glass of lemonade.

Netsvetayev said he didn’t mind that the volunteers handing out the hot dogs and refreshments had brought a religious presence to the beach. He said he is himself religious, and that although he saw a table of Bibles sitting out next to the hot dog table, no one approached him to engage in a conversation about God or Jesus.

Bruce Hazeltine, of Anchorage, said he is not religious, but appreciated the work the Baptist volunteers were doing. In addition to handing out hot dogs and refreshments, the Baptist volunteers also offered child care, trash pickup and help directing traffic.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Hazeltine said. “Especially if they’re cleaning up. My God, who could be against that?”
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Sickeningly familiar — Mother relives pain of daughter lost to cancer as youngest child falls ill from brain condition

Photo courtesy of www.caringbridge.com. Emily Grace Jacobs, 2, poses in front of the elephants at Children’s Hospital in Seattle in May, where she was diagnosed with Chiari malformation of the brain.

Photo courtesy of http://www.caringbridge.com. Emily Grace Jacobs, 2, poses in front of the elephants at Children’s Hospital in Seattle in May, where she was diagnosed with Chiari malformation of the brain.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

In a faint twinkle of light, Marcia Jacobs felt the full magnitude of motherhood, in all its unfathomable depth and intricacy, just five weeks into her pregnancy with Emily.

That’s how soon her doctor could detect a fetal heartbeat, which shows up as a blinking light on a screen.

“He checked and he’s like, ‘It’s a viable pregnancy.’ I just totally sopped his shirt. I cried so hard, there was a big wet spot on his shirt, and I was grabbing tissues, blotting his shirt, I was so embarrassed,” she said.

Motherhood is like that — too vast in concept and consequence to comprehend in its entirety, so it manifests itself in millions of little moments; brief snippets that can alternately flood the heart with joy, or break it with pain and worry. A smile. A cry. The curl of a wisp of hair. The first blip on an ultrasound. The look on a doctor’s face when he says a child is very, very sick.

Jacobs had already experienced the unfathomable love and profound pain of motherhood with her first child, Anjuli, who died of brain cancer in 2001 when she was 4 years old. Her death left Jacobs shattered. She became dedicated to the fight against childhood cancer, but otherwise she was adrift, emotionally and financially drained, having to find work and searching for purpose in life again.

She found it six years later, in the moment that twinkle, which became the light of the life, Emily Grace Jacobs, appeared on the screen. But in another moment this spring, she again relived the pain and fear of being the mother of a sick child, when Emily was diagnosed with a serious neurological condition.
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Kenai River users get a say — Study seeks information about activities, problems on the Kenai

Patrice Kohl
Redoubt Reporter

Come summer, the Kenai River becomes a recreational circus. King salmon fishermen clog the river with drift boats, motorboats and guided boats, sockeye salmon fishermen crowd the river’s banks and dipnetters flock to the river’s mouth. This frenzy of activity can bring fishing groups, landowners, nonfishing user groups and bears into conflict, and degrade the health of the river.

Managing recreational activities is a tricky balancing act, and regulation changes can erupt in enormous debate. In an effort to better understand the issues it is trying to manage, Alaska State Parks has launched a study surveying recreational users.

The first part of Kenai River Recreation Study began in May, with surveyors roaming Kenai River recreational areas and asking recreational users to fill out a short survey. The survey asks recreational users about their activities and to evaluate the impacts of various recreational uses and management actions that might be used to address problems.

“It’s a lot about what people think of those things, it’s not a lot about measuring, like, how much litter is out there,” said Doug Whittaker, a researcher with Confluence Research Consulting, a research firm contracted to conduct the study. “There aren’t a bunch of techs out studying bank erosion issues. But we do have questions that ask the public, ‘Is there too much bank erosion? Would you like something done about it? Do we need more closures? Do we need more boardwalks?’”
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