Monthly Archives: March 2010

Good dog, intentions gone bad — CES search-and-rescue K-9 sidelined over budget issues

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Dale Lawyer. Ares the German shepherd delights a child at a community event. Dale Lawyer, an engineer-paramedic with Central Emergency Services, used the dog in educational and community outreach programs, as well as training him for search-and-rescue operations. Ares was suspended from CES’ budget last week.

Redoubt Reporter

As a working dog trained in search and rescue, Ares the German shepherd is the equivalent of 20 to 30 human searchers. After scenting on an item from a missing person, it takes as little as some disturbed vegetation or a faint puff of wind carrying an odor and Ares can find that person, miles away, on the other side of a lake, even if the trail is a day or more cold. Owned by Dale Lawyer, a paramedic/engineer with Central Emergency Services, Ares was a resource for the entire peninsula, able to aid in search-and-rescue operations at a moment’s notice.

But as of last week, due to a decision made in union negotiations, Ares is cut from CES’ budget, leaving Lawyer to search for answers and a way to get Ares back to work.

“If there’s a 5-year-old child that’s lost right now, we can’t go,’” Lawyer said Thursday. “It’s just really sad for something that service area members paid for. Your tax dollars paid to get this dog in service, yet you have to go to some mom and say, ‘Yeah, you paid for all this, but we’re not going to use it.’ That’s just not acceptable.”

Lawyer got Ares as a puppy from a breeder in Anchorage a little under two years ago. Lawyer purchased Ares himself, for about $1,500, and began training and evaluating him to see if the pup would be viable as a search-and-rescue dog — the only on the peninsula. When it was clear Ares was up to the task, Lawyer approached CES Fire Chief Chris Mokracek and the board of directors for Central Emergency Services and pitched the idea of bringing Ares on as a CES resource.

“Usually, they purchase the dog and cover the training. I wanted this to go so bad my family purchased the dog. We really wanted to get this going,” Lawyer said. “This is something I’ve seen that we’ve needed. I’ve been with Central Emergency Services for quite awhile now, and we’ve had a number of fatalities where a dog could have been brought in and I know the consequences would have been a lot different.”

Lawyer said the department and board were behind the program when he presented it last winter. The board set a $10,000 budget for the year, with $2,000 to $3,000 to pay for equipment and the rest to send Lawyer and Ares to training Outside to get the dog certified to do up to 24- to 36-hour trailing searches. Lawyer pitches in to cover costs for the dog, which lives with his family, and a community fundraiser raised about $3,000 to purchase equipment for him.

“Our board was mandating we do more for search and rescue and we hadn’t been doing it last year, as much as they had wanted to see. The board was 100 percent behind him, and the borough and everybody signed off on his budget last year without a problem,” Lawyer said. “For him to have a $10,000 budget, the board didn’t even blink an eye last year. He’s such a minute amount of our budget.”

Ares came to work at CES and also aids Lawyer in community outreach and a Lost in the Woods kids education program. Kids are taught how to stay warm, use signals, where not to hide, where to go to be found and how not to be afraid. Ares has been a hit with schools, kids, teachers and parents, Lawyer said.

“For the past year we’ve been constantly going to schools promoting the education program, trying to help kids, and the kids love him,” Lawyer said. “It’s going to be crushing for the kids because we’re scheduled up through summer school, and now we can’t go.”

Lawyer said he’s planning on spending another 10 years or so with CES, and wants to have Ares with him the whole time, which is the average span of a working dog’s career. Lawyer wants to get him certified in water and land cadaver searches and avalanche searches, as well.

“It’s not a moneymaker for me. He is a cost. It’s just the way it is, dogs cost. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme for me. He has to be on special dog food — he has allergies, like most shepherds do. It’s costly to have him,” Lawyer said.

Photo courtesy of Dale Lawyer. Dale Lawyer, an engineer-paramedic with Central Emergency Services, practices search-and-rescue techniques with his dog, Ares.

The money already spent on Ares is part of what irks him about his dog being cut, Lawyer said.

“And now they’re going to drop it all, and it’s just not acceptable to have this happen. It’s like you buy a diamond, you get it and then you send it back to the factory. You already paid for it but, ‘Here, you can just have it back.’ It’s just crazy,” Lawyer said.

“If all we did is search and rescue, and we didn’t do public programs and all that other stuff, I could see people having more of a problem with that amount of money. But with all he does, we’re constantly out doing public programs and doing the Lost in the Woods program for people. It’s invaluable,” he said.

Lawyer said he doesn’t know of anyone who has been unhappy with Ares or his performance. They haven’t failed any tests or received any poor performance reviews. The response to Ares has been glowing, Lawyer said.

“It’s not like we’ve been screwing up and not doing our job this year. I can’t find anybody who’s not happy with us, with what he’s doing,” he said.

And yet, Lawyer returned from a vacation last week and was told, “out of the blue,” that Ares had been cut, Lawyer said.

CES Chief Chris Mokracek said the decision came about as part of the budget process. Though Lawyer was given a memo saying the Line of Accounting for Ares had been terminated, more accurately the dog is suspended for now, pending review by the legal department, Mokracek said. The reason was partially financial and partially a legal liability issue, and had nothing to do with Lawyer’s or Ares’ performance, he said.

“The dog is awesome. Dale has done an excellent job with it. We just have to prioritize services. We can’t have every idea that comes down the line,” Mokracek said. Continue reading

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Powerful winds of change — Weighty decisions await candidates for HEA Board of Directors

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. The HEA Soldotna substation is the site for the proposed Independent Light proposal before the HEA Board of Directors.

Redoubt Reporter

Five candidates are running for seats on the Homer Electric Association Board of Directors.

Ballots will be sent to HEA members Friday. If returned by mail, ballots must be received by May 4. Or members may vote at the HEA annual meeting May 5 at Kenai Central High School.

Following are question-and-answer interviews with the candidates. All were asked the same eight questions.

1. Why did you decide to run?

2. What strengths and experiences do you feel you can bring to this position?

3. What should HEA’s relationship with Chugach Electric Association be after the current contract to purchase power expires?

4. What is your opinion of the Independent Light proposal?

5. What are your thoughts on natural gas, coal, wind, hydro, solar, tidal and other renewables as potential energy generation sources for HEA in the future?

6. Can you share your thoughts on electricity rates? For instance, how big of a priority is it for you to lower rates, and how do you think that should be done? Or do you think higher rates are an unavoidable cost of the future?

7. What’s your vision for the future of HEA?

8. Is there anything else you’d like members to know?

Information guide:

GRETC — The Legislature is considering a proposal to create a state-sponsored Greater Railbelt Energy and Transmission Corporation, which would unite the Railbelt electric utilities, including Homer Electric Association, in transmission and generation assets, making them able to pursue large-scale generation projects jointly.

Independent Light — The HEA Board of Directors is considering a proposal to generate more of its own electricity. The Nikiski phase of the proposal would add a turbine at the existing Nikiski power generation facility to capture steam once used by the Agrium plant, without using any additional natural gas. The Soldotna phase would install two natural gas-fired turbines at the Soldotna substation, which already has a building to house the turbines and much of the needed infrastructure. Independent Light is expected to generate 110 megawatts of power.

Kenai Winds —The Legislature is considering a request to fund a project that could bring about 14 megawatts of wind-generated electricity in Nikiski into the HEA grid. A $7 million request would fund development of batteries that could store the energy and transfer it to the grid when enough is built up.

Susitna and Chakachamna — Two large-scale hydroelectric projects are being discussed in the state, one proposed for the Susitna River and one at the outlet of Chakachamna Lake across Cook Inlet. Continue reading

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Almanac: Toasting warm memories at BJ’s — Last call for alcohol after 30-plus years

By Clark Fair

Photos courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula College Anthropology Lab. A Cheechako News advertisement for the Bear Den Bar in the early 1960s features proprietor Chell Bear and his “friend,” a black bear holding a bottle of liquor.

Redoubt Reporter

Starting at about noon on Sunday, Ardie Crawford and an industrious group of her friends and family gathered at BJ’s Lounge in Soldotna to begin dismantling a business that Crawford had been a part of for more than 23 years.

Amid constant chatter and the rising tendrils of smoke from many cigarettes, televisions came down from wooden perches in almost every corner, neon lights were unscrewed and unplugged from the windows, and tables and chairs were shoved into clusters in the main rooms to keep them out of the way of the workers.

Along the walls stood several large mirrors, a jukebox and an old cigarette dispenser bearing an “Out of Order” sign. Piled on the tables were dartboards and signs and TV sets. Two large Smokeeters hummed away near the ceiling. Where artwork and memorabilia had been stripped from the painted walls, white silhouettes showing the original latex were outlined by yellow from decades of smoke.

Atop the long bar, with its curved ends, stood five tall stacks of glass ashtrays and an assortment of miscellaneous cords, cables and tools. Behind the bar scurried a handful of helpers, organizing, toting boxes, calling to each other, and wiping down the woodwork. In front of the bar stood a row of black bar stools, all pointed toward the drinks that would no longer be served.

The origins of the bar go back more than three decades, before Crawford came onto the scene. In fact, a bar has been standing in approximately the same spot since before Soldotna was a city — back all the way to a village in its infancy.

In Soldotna’s early days, the late 1940s, there were few places for people to gather. There were no established churches, but there was a post office. However, people sought more convivial surroundings, and soon there were three drinking (and, at times, drinking and eating) establishments in the area — 4 Royle Parkers (begun as a small Ridgeway eatery in the log home of Jack and Margaret Irons), Davenport’s (which became The Ace of Clubs and is now The Maverick Saloon), and a small bar/restaurant built initially by Joe Faa on a piece of land that today is the southwest corner of Kobuk Street and the Sterling Highway.

Just before the time that Chell and Maxine Bear sold the Bear Den in the mid-1960s, this is how it appeared. The front door faced the Sterling Highway, and a large sign (just out of the photo, on the right) featured the first neon used in Soldotna.

In 1949, Faa approached Jack and Dolly Farnsworth about purchasing a piece of their property, but at that time the Farnsworths had not yet received patent to their homestead, according to Dolly, so it was illegal for them to sell land. Consequently, Faa turned instead to Howard Binkley, who readily sold him the land he desired.

Faa and his wife, Mickey — who became Soldotna’s second postmaster after the first one, Maxine Lee, left town — were out of the bar business in the early 1950s, selling out to Emmett Karsten and Chell Bear, who had moved his wife, Maxine, and their four children into the area in 1949 while he worked for the Alaska Road Commission. Karsten and Bear together formed the B & K Bar, but it would remain as such only briefly.

In 1952, Karsten sold his share of the bar to the Bears, and when Chell and Maxine became the sole proprietors, they changed the name of the business to the Bear Den — a name that lasted for more than 30 years.

The Bear Den, which would later sport Soldotna’s first neon sign on the front right-hand corner of the building, became a gathering place. Marge Mullen, who has lived in Soldotna since the late 1940s, said that the bar was frequented by many of the men in the area — to drink, talk and sometimes look for work. People often contacted the bar if they wanted information, she said.

Chell and Maxine Bear, proprietors of the Bear Den, smiled for the camera in front of the fireplace and next to the small dance floor in their establishment.

In fact, during some of the early elections in Soldotna, voters came to the Bear Den to cast their ballots, Mullen said. On polling days, the bars had to close between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and during that time the space was used for polling.

Of course, the main attractions at the Bear Den were good company, accommodating hosts, a variety of alcohol, and dancing.

“The windows would be open on a summer night, and the music would come pouring out,” Mullen recalled. “You could tell a lot of dancing was going on.”

Glenn Kooly, a longtime friend and classmate of the Bears’ son, Ted, also recalled fondly the atmosphere at the Bear Den.

“Back in them days, the bars didn’t close,” he said. “The door was never locked. People just walked in and out. Sometimes there wasn’t anybody in there (tending bar), and the place’d be half full.”

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Filed under Almanac, entertainment, history

Counterintelligence — In trivial matters, it takes one to know one

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Chris Jenness. Team Redoubt Reporter did some mental and physical heavy lifting in winning Friday’s Triviapalooza challenge at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Pictured are, from left, David Wartinbee, Matt Tunseth, Mike Morgan, Jenny Neyman, Jamie Nelson and Joe Kashi. Other ringers were Clark Fair and Allen Auxier.

Redoubt Reporter

I am the proud owner of a phenomenally ugly pool trophy.

How it came to be enshrined in a place of honor in my office is validation of the adage that it’s not what you know, but who you know, that’s important.

Even more important: What the people you know, know.

All that is by way of announcing that a team representing The Redoubt Reporter won the Triviapalooza challenge held as a joint fundraiser for the Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau and Triumvirate Theatre on Friday.

Ordinarily, modesty, social graces and fear of the air being let out of my tires would prevent me from crowing about this too much. Certainly not in print with the ridiculous adjoining photograph of me hoisting the aforementioned plastic abomination while my teammates hoist me.

But in this situation I feel able to brag without it being indicative of a terminal case of inflated ego, because I can state with complete honesty that I had absolutely nothing to do with my team’s victory.

Zip. Nada. I was as useless as running shoes on a garden slug. Ineffectual. Noncontributing. Dead weight. Redundant as half the verbiage in this paragraph.

Of the 90 trivia questions asked, there were precious few I was able to answer. Of those I did know, there wasn’t one where my 2 cents counted for anything. Others at my table had deposited the correct response on the answer sheet long before my mental hamster could be bothered to even haul itself off the couch, much less lumber onto its wheel and cough up a fuzzy nugget of knowledge.

“This famous Tarzan actor was formerly famous as an Olympic swimmer?”

No clue.

“How long is the lifespan of a taste bud?”

I dunno, but probably less when eating hot sauce.

“Name all 10 Canadian provinces?”

Ummm… Alberta. Quebec, B.C., the two named after dogs, the one that sounds like Sasquatch, something about Price Edward in a can … .

“What singer got shot at while flying over Jamaica in a plane with U2’s Bono and then wrote a song about it?”

Jimmy Buffett? Huh. That’s news to me.

Luckily, it wasn’t news to my team, which bested some stiff competition. Everyone participating did so admirably, especially with how bordering on bizarre many of the questions were.

Second place was The Cabin Fever Club, and third place was the Law Dawgz, representing the Alaska Public Defenders. The room was filled with pillars of intelligence. Just being willing to show up and pay an entry fee in order to be voluntarily pop-quizzed for two-plus hours showed impressive personal commitment to the value of knowledge and education.

Our team just so happened to luck into the right mix of interests, experiences and fields of expertise to pull off a win.

Actually, there was no luck about it. I knew they’d know these things, just as surely as I knew I wouldn’t. They were ringers, every last one of them.

Biology professor, geology enthusiast and all-around science guy Dr. David Wartinbee, who happens to also be a pilot and hold a law degree. Joe Kashi, attorney, pilot, technology and photography expert with writing credits from The New York Times. Clark Fair, journalist and former high school teacher, current college professor, lifelong peninsula resident and historian. Professor Mike Morgan, a musician and concert promoter with a master’s degree, wicked sense of humor and affinity for paying attention to the political shenanigans around him. Matt Tunseth, sports reporter and lifelong Alaskan, equally as interested in discussing the Vikings’ chances at the Super Bowl as he is local, world or national affairs. Jamie Nelson, whose knowledge of current movies, TV, music and pop culture is oddly disproportionate to the relatively small amount of time he spends actually watching, listening and paying attention to such things. And Allen Auxier, station manager for KDLL. He’s in public radio, for crying out loud. Enough said.

As a rival team member pointed out, there were more PhDs, MAs and various other extraneous letters floating around our table than in a can of vegetable soup. More IQ points than there are calories in a whole tray of Cinnabon rolls. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, I was asked, for so blatantly stacking the deck?

There are many things I’m ashamed of in life: That I once owned an album by “New Kids on the Block” (it was a gift! I swear!). That I couldn’t answer more of the trivia questions. My fashion choices during the whole of the 1990s.

But this? Heck no.

That’s the beauty of being a reporter. You don’t have to know anything. You just have to know people who know things and get them to tell you.

Friday evening was not my finest performance in terms of demonstrating personal mental acuity. My pants — not so smart.

But I counted the evening as a fine testament to my ability to recognize the braininess of other peoples’ britches and get them to sit at the same table as me, in spite of starting the day in Anchorage, a previously scheduled poker game, a 5 a.m. fishing trip the next day, a karate class cut short, and a million other, better uses they all had for their time. It was like school lunch period all over again, except the smart people were the cool people and I was perfectly happy to carry their trays and clean up their crumbs.

To my esteemed teammates, thank you for lending your time, intelligence and cavernous repositories of random information to the cause. I may not have known that I longed to own a truly hideous example of plastic billiards statuary until it was handed to me, but thanks for making the dream a reality, nonetheless.

More importantly, thank you for lending your time, intelligence and considerable, diverse talents to the paper. Clark and Matt are freelance writers, David and Joe are columnists and Jamie does ad sales. While Mike and Allen aren’t technically involved, other than indulging my interview requests on occasion, I was equally proud to stamp them as representatives for the night.

You all are worth your weight in gold — the fake flaky kind coating the plastic laurels and cue stick on my trophy, and the real kind, which you could probably tell me the specific gravity, molecular structure and Alaska mining history of.

Geeks, the whole lot of ya. And I hope you never change.

Jenny Neyman is the editor/publisher of The Redoubt Reporter.

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Hunting for a good reputation

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

“We cannot live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend on other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. … In such desecration, we condemn ourselves to a spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.” — Wendell Berry

I was fortunate to grow up in a rural environment. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad bringing home ducks, geese, pheasants and deer. The idea that something had died so that I was able to eat supper was as natural to me as peeing on everything is to a Labrador retriever puppy. It was always a mystery to my mother how I was able to learn everything there was to know about animals, birds, trees, plants and most anything outdoors, and yet I was unable to grasp the significance of washing once in a while.

We were farmers and had livestock, but that never kept us from hunting whenever possible. The lion’s share of meat on the table was wild game. I learned about animal anatomy not from science books in school, but from cleaning and butchering the game we ate. I earned my way into the hunting field by cleaning the various animals and birds brought home, starting at age 5 or 6.

Our world has changed a lot since those days and it is not particularly surprising that plenty of people are disconnected from the simple fact that our existence depends on the death of other living things. Or how many may not understand the “fire in the belly” that drives those of us who would rather provide sustenance at our own hand than purchase it a store. In the often sterile environment that people are now subject to, it isn’t really that surprising and is one reason the conservation groups I associate with are focused on exposing our youth to the wonders of being not just an observer, but a part of the natural process.

One cannot simply tell others how much better a steak tastes at the end of a hard day in the field that’s taken from an animal you hunted fairly and took reverently, than a steak bought at the store. Of course, the taste doesn’t actually change, regardless of how the meat is brought to hand, but the perception does, and that’s the difference of the experience itself.

Throughout history there have been those who hunt and those who do not. Those who do have always been the minority, just as they are today. But historically the majority that does not hunt understands and accepts what hunters do as part of a natural process. With that, hunters need to pay heed to how they conduct themselves in the field. Public perception is just that and when hunters conduct themselves “ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively” they lose the all-important majority public opinion. Hunters have on their side the rich culture, tradition and heritage that is quite literally as old as the presence of man on this planet. And it is a culture that has expanded in recent times with the proliferation of women joining the ranks of hunters. I suspect there has always been women with the same “fire in the belly” that men have, they just never had permission to act on it. Now they don’t need anyone’s permission.

Hunters also have the history of being at the forefront of virtually every conservation issue on the North American continent. That there still exists natural fauna, both game species and nongame species, can be credited in a large part to the conservation efforts of hunters. Continue reading

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Science of the Seasons: Rotifers well worth the little peek

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. This picture shows two rotifers. One is somewhat retracted while the other is stretched out and has its corona expanded with cilia somewhat visible at the end. It is actively filtering water and straining particles out of the water column. The oval structure below the corona (headlike structure) is the grinder organ called the trophi.

Back in the 1700s, the early microscopist Anton van Leeuwonhoek noted that if he took dried materials from a rain gutter and added water, within a few days there were tiny animals moving around. He was observing anhydrobiosis of a group of organisms known as rotifers. These tiny aquatic animals were able to survive desiccation and then seemingly come back to life when inundated again.

Like Leeuwonhoek, virtually every biologist who has looked at a drop of pond water has seen these interesting creatures. Rotifers can be as long as a millimeter, but most are only a 10th of that. While some might be visible to the unaided eye, most are transparent so it really does take a microscope to see them.

The most prominent feature of rotifers is the source of their name. They have a ring of cilia on the top of their corona (head) that creates currents of water toward, and into, their mouth. These cilia arrangements and their movement was seen by early biologists and the animals were described as “wheel-bearers.” We now understand that there isn’t a spinning wheel on their head area, but rather a bunch of cilia beating synchronously. These cilia function in feeding and also give them the ability to actively swim from one place to another. The rhythmic beating cilia enable some rotifers to swim up to 1.5 millimeters per second. Thus, they can search for food or run away from predators.

Their primary food sources are algae, minute pieces of organic detritus and small protozoans. Once they have swept the particles into their mouth area, another unusual structure comes into play. Within their muscular pharyngeal area is an oval-shaped, gizzardlike grinding structure called trophi.

The trophi enable rotifers to literally grind up their food particles just like we chew our burger and fries. From there, the even finer particles pass into their short intestinal structure for absorption of needed nutrients. Perhaps one of the points about rotifers that biologists marvel at the most is the complexity of structures and organ systems in such a tiny organism.

Oh, and yes, they have a very tiny brain and sometimes eyespots for detection of light.

At the other end of these creatures we often find a pointed footlike structure with miniscule toes. Their toes enable them to attach to structures like a convenient plant stem or mass of detritus. Once attached, they can stretch out and filter food from the water column or retract themselves when they sense danger.

Rotifers are common in all fresh waters and some even thrive in brackish or marine waters. There are many different species and some like to be on the bottom while others seem more comfortable swimming freely in the middle of the lake. While they are tiny, they can be found in large numbers in certain situations. For example, they can be extremely abundant in sewage treatment ponds since there is so much organic detritus available. In low-nutrient, oligotrophic lakes of Alaska, they will probably be in greatest abundance along the shoreline and on the bottom sediments. There are rotifer species that seem to prefer just about every imaginable aquatic situation, such as low oxygen levels, high temperatures or even highly alkaline waters. Continue reading

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Filed under ecology, insects, science, science of the seasons

Monumental trip — Kenai students see living history in D.C.

By AdriAnna Newberry

Photos courtesy of Bill Ashwell. Kenai Middle School students pose with their beloved tour guide and bus driver duraing their Washington, D.C., trip over spring break. Kneeling is Raquelle Reynolds. Front row, from left, are Havan Shaginoff, Chance Allen, Dustin Everitt, Dacia Shier, Kathryn Knackstedt and Cody Conaway. Back row, from left, are Caitlin Steinbeck, William Ashwell, J.D. Payne (driver/guide) Caleb Caldwell and Ariana Gabriel.

For the Redoubt Reporter

History comes alive on a tour of Washington, D.C., so a spring break excursion to the nation’s capital inspired many revelations for Kenai Middle School students about what life was like at various points in the past.

But that didn’t manage to totally scrub them of their more modern-day sense of humor and fascination with the horror-movie macabre.

Among their stops was a ghost tour of old-town D.C. Their guide was dressed in 18th-century clothes and told ghost stories throughout the tour. Some were scary, some were funny and some were an exact fit with middle-school humor — one such tale being of the “invention” of pink lemonade.

“This one person wanted lemonade but they wanted ice in it, which is kind of rare back then. They didn’t have any ice so they got it from the morgue. There was still some blood on it and it turned the lemonade pink,” said student Dustin Everitt.

In the American History Museum, students saw the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln, his hat, as well as molds made from his hands. They also learned an interesting bit of trivia — the 6-foot, 4-inch Lincoln, after being shot, had to be laid diagonally in order to fit on a 5-foot bed to await treatment.

“I thought it was cool to go to Ford’s Theater and Mount Vernon because they were both places where former presidents actually lived and died. They had it back in its original state, like how it was when they were living there, so it was just cool to see exactly what they would see every morning and stuff like that,” said Caleb Caldwell.

Other visits of interest included re-creations of Colonial Williamsburg, the Jamestown settlement and Powhatan Indian Village. Each settlement had costumed actors to interact with the group and explain the way of life in the days of the settlements. The simplicity of life caught the interest of some group members.

“I really liked the little Indian village they re-created. I actually kind of wanted to live there. It was really cool. Everything was still simple and you had to get food and you stayed outside all day,” said Caitlin Steinbeck.

“I think it would be fun to live there for a while, but I’d start missing the everyday things that we have, all the electronics and stuff,” said Bill Ashwell.

Caleb Caldwell, Bill Ashwell and Chance Allen show off their D.C. garb.

Not that there was a lack of electronics when it came to learning on the trip. Another popular visit was to the Aerospace Museum.

“The Aerospace Museum was cool. They have these simulators you can go in where you go all the way upside down and everything and you get to fly around and shoot down other stuff,” Caldwell said.

Ariana Gabriel, who wants to be a pilot, seconds the museum’s cool factor.

“They had a Boeing 747 cockpit. I thought that was awesome,” she said. Continue reading

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Plugged In: Click on even more bang for your photo bucks

By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Last week we told you about the best digital camera values in the $100 range, so now it’s time to look at some upper entry-level digital SLR cameras that have both outstanding value and image quality.

I like high-grade equipment that produces the highest possible image quality, but I do have to spend my own money. That obviously puts a premium upon getting the best possible image quality within an affordable price range.

Luckily, there are some excellent values, especially in the middle range between $500 and $1,000. Often, the image quality of midrange cameras, typically upper entry-level dSLRs, is as good or better than many semipro models costing two or three times as much. Why?

This year’s hot technology is next year’s refurbished camera selling at 60 percent off. That doesn’t mean that a 1- or 2-year-old refurbished camera is a bad camera by any means. In fact, it’s often an excellent buy, but digital photo technology continues to improve quickly.

Midrange cameras often a better buy

Generally, higher image quality is not the most important selling point for a model intended for professional or semiprofessional photographers. Rather, rugged build quality, the ability to take six or eight pictures a second and some fancy features are what usually set apart a semipro camera from an upper entry-level camera.

These features are probably not worth the extra cost to anyone who does not try to make a living with a camera, and that includes almost all of us. Rather than purchasing an expensive semipro body and a mediocre lens, you’re usually much better off in the long term if you purchase a less expensive but good-quality body that you can afford to replace in three or four years, along with an excellent lens.

The quality of your optics is still the single most important factor in producing the best possible photo images. The cost savings between a good midrange camera body and a semipro camera is often sufficient to pay for an excellent lens while still saving money. An excellent lens will still be excellent 10 years from now, but it will be used on a new, far more advanced camera body.

Same sensors, different prices

In many cases, upper entry-level cameras use precisely the same sensor and image processing chips as the semipro models costing two or three times as much. When you consider how quickly digital imaging technology continues to improve, there’s little reason to spend twice or three times as much in a camera that may be built to last 15 years in amateur service, but will be seriously outmoded in three or four years.

Objective data detailing how various cameras perform on important measures of image quality is available at and I primarily relied upon the DXO data, which is an industry standard.

Let’s first look at Canon’s new semipro 7D. The 7D body alone cost nearly $1,600. Adding a decent but not spectacular 28- to 135-mm kit lens adds another few hundred dollars. On the other hand, you can buy the new Canon T2i, which produces essentially identical image quality for less than half the price. For less than the cost difference between these two bodies, you would be able to buy Canon’s spectacularly good 15- to 85-mm zoom and still have some money left over. You would have a very high-quality camera-lens combination.

Sometimes, as in the transition between Canon’s XSi, their later T1i and the current Canon T2i, there is little difference in ultimate image quality between models from year to year. As with the transition between Canon’s 40D and the newer 50D, the older camera may provide somewhat better image quality.

That happens when manufacturers focus upon increasing the number of megapixels rather than upon more important image quality measures, such as lower noise, better tonal quality and higher dynamic range. More megapixels on the same-size sensor almost always means higher noise and reduced tonal quality, both of which reduce sharpness, detail and low-light capabilities. A higher dynamic range reduces the amount of lost detail in both shadows and highlights, avoiding totally black shadows and featureless highlights. Continue reading

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Adventure for a lifetime — Soldotna homesteader inducted into hall of fame

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Wild North Photography. Soldotna homesteader Marge Mullen was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame in early March, along with 15 other pioneering women. She was recognized for founding the Kenai Peninsula Conservation Society, her preservation of local history and spirit of community activism.

Redoubt Reporter

A half century ago, when Alaska’s history was still current events, there was no award for being a good homesteader. There was no plaque honoring achievements in building communities, establishing schools or preserving Native culture. There was no prize to act as incentive for advancing civil rights, being good stewards of the land or addressing the needs of those often overlooked by the powers that be.

Receiving accolades or redirecting attention from the men who often filled the spotlight of the state’s history is not what motivated Alaska’s pioneering women. They made their contributions to the development and betterment of Alaska, its communities, its people and its culture in the same way they would knead a loaf of bread to feed their families or haul water to wash their clothes — it was simply something that needed to be done. And so they did it, no matter the effort, sacrifices or lack of praise and overt appreciation involved.

With the establishment of the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame in 2008, there is an avenue for recognizing those contributions. But as this year’s ceremony showed, receiving recognition is as foreign a concept to the 16 inductees of 2010 as shirking their work would have been.

“They were able to accomplish a lot, and I think that’s an inspiration to everyone,” said Nan Elliot, who nominated Soldotna homesteader Marge Mullen for the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame and attended the induction ceremony March 5 in Anchorage.

Elliot said she recommended to one of the organizers of the ceremony that, next year, they set some new modesty-limiting ground rules for the inductees when they are asked to say a few words.

“They couldn’t get up there and thank everybody else and say how they didn’t deserve to be in this august company, because every one of them was such a sterling example,” he said. “So many were the forces behind the scenes. They were just out there living good lives and seeing what needed be done in the realms of their strengths. They just thought of themselves as common folks and were really able to make a difference.”

Mullen, 90 this year, is a case in point. She said the ceremony was lovely and she was pleased to see so many deserving women be honored for the many great things they have done, especially the Native women, who often haven’t gotten the recognition they’ve deserved, Mullen said.

“I was really thrilled, but I don’t think my story held up against those others,” Mullen said. “I felt I wasn’t very worthy next to those really great names there.”

She has just lived her life, Mullen said. Maybe so, countered Elliot, but the way she’s lived it has helped shape a community and create a legacy of activism, environmental stewardship and a spirit of doing what you can, when you can, where you can that continues to inspire future generations.

“She certainly doesn’t blow her own horn. She has to have other people out there blow it for her,” Elliot said. “You don’t get a gold medal for being a really great homesteader, for having an adventurous spirit, for being a mover and shaker and being a community activist. She was the community because there wasn’t anybody else around,” Elliot said. “I think it was that strength of spirit and her humbleness that have really inspired so many people to do a lot of things that I don’t think people could dream of doing today. She’s such an inspiration for the way in which she’s lived her life, with a love of nature and real appreciation for what’s around here.”

Lifelong adventure

Marge and Frank Mullen were city kids, raised in Chicago where designated parks and the prospects of lifelong apartment rentals didn’t do enough to fulfill their love of nature and desire to build and farm and do for themselves. Before they were married and Frank went off to World War II, they saw a blurb in the Chicago Tribune announcing that homesteading would open in Alaska in 1947. They were hooked.

“I think the main reason was Chicago is a beautiful city with beautiful parks, but that’s not enough getaway. My parents lived in an apartment building, and his parents lived in an apartment building. Neither one of them ever owned any land, so here was a lot of land to be had. It was the lure of land, I think. It looked good to us in that little article in the paper that we saw,” Mullen said.

Frank was a pilot, and they flew to Alaska in a little two-seater plane in 1945, settling in Anchorage for two years until homesteading opened on the Kenai Peninsula in 1947. They flew over the central Kenai Peninsula, scouting for a homestead site to stake their claim. They chose a 100-acre parcel on the bank of the Kenai River in what would become Soldotna, with Soldotna Creek running diagonally through it. The area today encompasses the land around the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways, as well as the confluence of Soldotna Creek and the Kenai River.

The written requirements for proving up a stake were brief.

“Under the homestead law that the World War II men were operating, we didn’t have to plant a potato or petunia at all,” Mullen said. “You had to be a U.S. citizen over 19 years of age. You had to build a cabin, but there were no details on size or anything. One guy did it in a packing box down at Whisper Lake. And the cabin had to be occupied for seven months of one year by the family.”

Still, when forging out into the wilderness — in Alaska, no less — those few requirements could be extremely challenging to fulfill. When the Mullens came down from Anchorage to build their cabin, there was no road to the area yet. They took a train and hitched a ride along a jeep trail as far as they could and walked the rest of the way — three days and 65 miles through country that was brand-new to them.

Once the 12-by-14-foot cabin was built, Mullen and her two oldest children, Peggy and Eileen, who were just babies at the time, lived there alone from April to November while Frank continued to work in Anchorage and flew back and forth.

“I experienced a lot. It was certainly a lot of personal growth because I had to find out how to do a lot of things. I had to find out you can’t live without water,” Mullen said. “I had to go down to the creek for water with two little toddlers, and they couldn’t walk like I could and I had to be sure that they were OK. Water weighs 7 pounds a gallon, and I had two 5-gallon buckets. It was a haul. Later I dug a couple wells myself closer to the house.

“I was only 27 so I was up for it. I knew that that’s what I came for.” Continue reading


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Toyota recall hits the road — Technicians visit Soldotna, Homer, Seward to make vehicle repairs

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Bill Millner, seen in mirror, watches Toyota master technician Brandon McBride replace the gas pedal in his truck on Thursday in Soldotna.

Redoubt Reporter

Bill Millner’s to-do list Thursday deviated somewhat from a standard day’s errands:

Stop at the bank. Check.

Shopping at Fred Meyer. Check.

Prevent truck from possibly accelerating unintentionally. Check.

Millner bought a new Toyota Tundra truck last year, which has since been included in the nationwide recall of Toyota vehicles for a faulty throttle pedal which could become stuck and cause the vehicle to accelerate even when the brakes are applied. Being a resident of the central Kenai Peninsula, with no Toyota dealership around, Millner thought he’d have to join a caravan of other Toyota owners driving their vehicles to Anchorage to get the necessary recall repair.

That is until last week when the recall came to him, and about 100 other Toyota owners on the central peninsula and in the Homer and Seward areas.

“I think it’s very good for them to do that. I couldn’t hardly believe it when I heard they were coming down (from Anchorage). They called me in California about a month ago,” Millner said.

Millner and his wife are snowbirds and hadn’t yet returned to Alaska in February from their summer home in California. But Toyota representatives still managed to find him and let him know Kendall Toyota in Anchorage was planning a mobile repair clinic in Soldotna, Homer and Seward in March so owners could get the necessary recall repair done without having to drive back to the dealership in Anchorage.

Brandon McBride, master technician with Kendall Toyota, said the company looked up the vehicle identification numbers on all the Toyotas it sold that are affected by the recall, and contacted those owners to let them know about the mobile clinic. Or Alaska owners could call the hotline number, 1-888-287-5256, and be informed of repair options that way.

The mobile repair clinic last week was the first time technicians have been sent out into the field on the peninsula, said Brandon Hansen, technician with Kendall. Hansen, McBride and service adviser Robert Smith were in Soldotna on Thursday, Friday and Saturday working on vehicles, and Smith and one technician went to Homer on Sunday and Seward on Monday to make repairs.

In Soldotna, they set up shop in the Fred Meyer parking lot. Kendall outfitted a freight truck with a heater and generator so Smith could use a computer to track appointments and log customers and the technicians could charge their cordless tools and warm up between being outside working in the parking lot.

Bill Millner talks to technicians Brandon McBride and Brandon Hansen in the Fred Meyer parking lot, where Kendall Toyota set up a recall repair service Thursday through Saturday.

Soldotna was the only stop on their recall tour where they were set up outside. In Homer and Seward they had arranged to work in garages.

“But they set this up pretty well for us,” Hansen said. “With the generator we’ve got all the power we need, and the heater keeps it warm.”

The clinic was actually a nice change of pace, McBride said. He brought his snowmachine down with him and was planning on getting some riding in after work.

“It’s nice to get out of the shop for a while. It gets kind of monotonous doing the same thing every day,” McBride said.

They had a steady stream of about 25 customers each of the three days, McBride said. Most vehicles take about a half hour to repair, Hansen said, with Camrys and Avalons taking about an hour and a half to two hours.

Affected models are the 2009-10 Corolla, 2009-10 Matrix, 2007-10 Camry, 2005-10 Avalon, 2004-10 Rav-4, 2010 Highlander, 2007-10 Tundra and 2008-10 Sequoia. For most vehicles the repair involves removing the gas pedal and installing a small metal shim about the size of a fingernail into a gap on the pedal and reattaching it into the vehicle. The repair is quick and easy and the technicians were trained for it, Hansen said. The only particularly challenging part is determining which shim to use, since they vary slightly in size depending on the year of manufacture, McBride said. Continue reading

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Cashing in on change — Business adviser: Keep improving to escape effects of slow economy

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

In a difficult economy, where businesses may not even be able to afford all their bills, they especially can’t afford to keep doing things the way they were when profits weren’t being pinched by a recession.

“They definitely have to be making some changes and thinking about the future. In these times, businesses need to be a little bit tactical in their approach to business and able to move around, rather than just doing things the way they’ve always done them,” said Bryan Zak, Southwest regional director of the Alaska Small Business Development Center.

For some businesses, that may mean expanding services or branching out into different revenue opportunities. Zak said he’s seen longtime local fishing charters on the peninsula start offering sack lunches and other perks to give them an edge in attracting the lower-than-average number of clients during the recession.

For other businesses, it could mean limiting costs, like a small grocery operation that cut its inventory during the slow season to be able to shut down a walk-in refrigerator, which trimmed its electric bills, Zak said.

For the owners of Veronica’s Coffee House in Old Town Kenai, it has meant creating a tropical oasis to brighten up the end of winter.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. From left, Sarah Superman, Diane Hooper and Kathy Miller show off their Hawaiian flare in Veronica’s last week. Hooper and Miller turned their desire to save money by skipping a vacation into a business promotion.

“We’d heard of a lot of people who were planning on going to Hawaii and we knew that we couldn’t go because we needed to be here,” said Diane Hooper. “If we can’t go to Hawaii, we thought we’d bring Hawaii here.”

Hooper had a stash of tropical decorations from a Hawaii-themed party she threw a few years ago, and she and co-owner Kathy Miller unleashed them on the quirky old cabin café. Tiki torches and pink flamingoes greet customers outside. Inside, a grass runner lines the coffee bar, Hawaiian-print cloth is draped over various surfaces, tropical flowers and parrots add pops of color against the weathered wood walls, and a sparkly palm tree brightens up the enclosed back deck, where a little stove does its best to match Hawaiianesque temperatures.

The theme, held through March, started more as a way to brighten themselves up after a long winter and the infeasibility of taking a vacation. But it’s turned into a good business promotion, as well. They’ve added Hawaiian-themed food and drink specials to the menu and offer a 10 percent discount to any customers wearing something tropical.

“We’ve got one guy who comes in with a different Hawaiian shirt on every day,” Hooper said. “It’s just made the sun shine in here every single day. It just started kind of for fun because I want to go to Hawaii, but it turned out really good because it’s given people a reason to come in. We’ve had people in here who said they’ve heard about it.”

Veronica’s has felt the pinch of the economy, Hooper and Miller said, though business is picking up this winter as opposed to last year, when they bought the café. They attribute it to the atmosphere they try to create, which they hope entices customers to come back.

“People just love it here,” Miller said. “We want to make it homey, very friendly and very welcoming. They can stay and hang out as long as they want. It’s an eating and gathering place for people. They don’t have to be run off within 45 minutes. And we just kind of love on all of our customers. They walk through the door and just know that they’re going to get loved on, and they love that.” Continue reading

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Business planning: Chart a path to success

By Bryan Zak, for the Redoubt Reporter

By now you may be wondering if this year’s business numbers will be any better than last year. But have you taken proactive steps to ensure your business is more successful this year?

To begin with, think about writing that business plan that perhaps you have never written, or update and dust off that a plan completed years ago. If you do not have time to write a business plan, how about using the Small Business Development Center National Information Clearinghouse at to find a business plan for a business that is the same or similar to your own? Sometimes, just reading a business plan for a similar business will give you ideas to achieve breakthrough results.

Business planning is about creating results. Whether you are researching the feasibility of a business concept, approaching a bank for a business loan or trying to attract investors, a business plan provides the roadmap for your business idea. The contents of the plan should match the purpose of the business you are developing. A business plan is a written document that evaluates all aspects of the practicality of a business idea. The business plan provides a blueprint for planning, setting goals, and implementing and evaluating a business model. It also helps the business owner prepare for possible problems and opportunities.

Why prepare a business plan? A business plan is useful for many reasons. First and foremost, it will define and focus your objectives using appropriate information and analysis tools. The business plan is often used as a sales tool in working with bankers, investors and lenders. This tool can also be used to identify business weaknesses, as well as offer a reality check on the viability of the business. Finally, the business plan provides both the business owner and potential investors profitability projections.

The Alaska Small Business Development Center has offices in Soldotna at the Red Diamond Center, in Homer at the Homer Chamber of Commerce, and once a month at AVTEC in Seward. The SBDC offers free business counseling, including business planning, as well as other services to assist you throughout your business life cycle. Continue reading

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