Monthly Archives: March 2010

Spring fling — School kids hit break on sledding hill

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Strategies for launching oneself down the sledding hill behind Skyview High School on Monday were as diverse as the modes of transportation.

Toboggans, snow saucers, a snowboard, single-person sled sheets and various-sized tubes whizzed down the hill and across the field, with occasional kids taking a trip down via nothing more than gravity and the seat of their snowpants.

For some, the goal was just to get on and go, not caring whether they ended up facing backward or forward, launching off or avoiding the snow ramps dotting the hill, covering the distance all the way to the hockey rink or tumbling out somewhere along the way.

For others, there was an art involved.

John, 9, and Ben Grossl, “turning 8 on June 4,” were out for speed and to catch some air. They lined up for the series of two jumps and launched themselves onto their sled sheets with as much force as possible.

“I get a running start,” John explained. “I think it gets you going faster and I like getting higher jumps so I, like, run.”

Luke Beiser, 10, made run after run on his snowboard, aiming for jumps and trying out tricks while airborne. Sometimes the biggest trick was nailing a solid landing, but far more often than not he made it to the bottom still standing.

“It’s just fun,” he said. “Sometimes I fall and sometimes I make it. I practiced all year last year.”

At 2 years old, Cayden Huff isn’t old enough to have gotten much sledding practice in his life, but he was making the most of the sunny March afternoon. No sooner would he tumble out of whatever ride he’d been placed in then he’d head off back up the hill, tackling the long, steep march with more energy and determination than many of the older kids displayed.

Being one of the littlest sledders of the day, he got de facto adopted by several families, with other kids taking turns riding down with him, pulling him back up if he didn’t walk on his own, or coming over to dust him off after his few attempted solo runs ended in minor crashes.

Mom, Jessica Huff, said that Monday was only about their second time out sledding this winter. She and Cayden recently moved to the Kenai area from Anchorage, and said it hasn’t been a good winter for sledding.

“We haven’t gone much in Anchorage because it’s been so cold. The one time we did go I was dying. It was like, ‘OK, let’s go home,’” she said.

Huff took some trips down with Cayden in an adult-sized snow tube. It’s a good ride, but could use some padding in the seat, she said.

“Ow. You can really feel your butt on every bump,” she said.

If she wanted to sit a ride out, Cayden’s aunt, Amy Bucho, of Kenai, and cousins Brittany, 11, Alyssa, 8, and Blake, 5, were there to fill in.

“We’re just getting the kids outside and having some family fun in the sunshine and warm weather,” Bucho said.

The Burke family, of Kenai, was making the most of the first day of spring break week. Mom, Jae Burke, said that Monday was the only day of spring break both she and her husband, Eric, had off together, so they let their daughters, Bailey, 9, and Taylor, 13, choose their day’s activity.

“The kids wanted to go sledding. This is their spring break so we did what they wanted to do,” Jae said. “We’ll go to Homer in a little bit and take pictures of the eagles, but they wanted to go sledding first while there’s lots of light.”

Being from Kenai, they don’t get to the Skyview hill often, Jae said, but it’s the kids’ favorite. Taylor was starting to revise that opinion after sledding in jeans and without a hat for a while.

“I’m ready to sit in the car. I’m cold and in pain,” she said. “I haven’t been sledding in a while, and it’s kind of fun. But it’s tiring and I keep falling off.”

Bailey wasn’t showing signs of slowing down, despite a rough landing that had her hair caked with snow. She got dusted off by her mom at the bottom of the hill before heading back up to the top, where her dad was waiting.

“My dad always pushes me, ’cuz it’s really fun and we slide down really fast,” Bailey said.

“This one doesn’t have a whole lot of weight to her,” Jae said. “But she’d go down on her snowpants if she had to.”

Brittney’s transportation that day was a snow saucer. She said she didn’t care what kind of sled she had, but she did have a favorite method of descent:

“Crisscross applesauce with the rope inside.”

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March into spring — Enjoy remaining winter before breakup sets in

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

I hear folks say they hate the month of March. It’s not really spring and yet it’s warm, for the most part, but the ground is still covered with snow. Those 40-degree days that are fairly common can quickly turn sour. A couple of years ago it was cold enough to freeze in the Homer Small Boat Harbor the latter part of March, and this freeze resulted in a postponement of the annual Winter King Fishing Derby while waiting for the ice to clear.

Such was the case last week after the storm system that swept Southcentral finally cleared and the temperatures dropped well below zero. For me, March is a great month. The days are longer, the sun has warmth when it does shine, fish become more active, and frequent blankets of fresh snow make the outdoors about as pretty as they ever get.

It seems March is as busy for outdoor activities as any month. For me, it’s busier than most months. I had plans to ice fish March 10 this year. It was a free day and being just after a big weather system, odds said the fish would be active and feeding. So when I woke up and started getting ready for the trip at 4:30 a.m., I was a bit taken aback by the 17 degrees below zero registering on the thermometer. But fishing and hunting are sort of like football, short of a catastrophic event, you go. And so I went.

Leaving the vehicle with a sled full of ice fishing gear that morning, the temperature on my vehicle thermometer read 22 degrees below zero. Now, my temperature gauge only goes to 22 below. Evidently the company that makes them figured there was no need to go below that. En route to the fishing grounds, I saw one of those time and temperature signs that read 27 below. Suffice to say it was cold. In fact, it would be the coldest ice-fishing day of the year for me.

That’s the thing about March, if it were January and that cold I wouldn’t go. The fish are lethargic and hard to get to take anything in those temperatures. But in March, that all changes and it is the start of the best two ice-fishing months, regardless of temperature.

I made the mile trek to the area I was going to fish and quickly drilled three holes in the ice. By the time I had finished the last hole a thin layer of ice formed on the first two. Up to that point I was working pretty hard. The fresh snow was about a foot deep so breaking trail was hard work and drilling holes keeps you warm, but actually fishing doesn’t require a great deal of energy.

I knew I was going to be cold when I found that it was so cold the line would not free-spool from the reel when I let my 1-ounce jig head for the bottom. I had to pull the line off an arm length at a time down to 70 feet. Jigging my way up from the bottom in 5-foot increments, the line would freeze at the tip of the rod and had to be broken loose with each adjustment.

At 50 feet I had the first strike, a nice kokanee, dime bright and fighting much harder than its size would seem to allow. More kokanee bit as the morning went on, but the lake trout were not cooperating. The sun, however, was, which is one of the main reasons March is such a great time to be outdoors. As the sun came up it began to put out real heat, not like January when the sun might be bright but there seems to be no warmth from it. By 10 a.m. I was starting to warm up and by 11 a.m., when I hooked and landed my real quarry, a lake trout, it was downright nice.

March isn’t just great for fishing. Practically any winter activity can be enjoyed to its fullest. Snowmachining, skiing, snowshoeing, photography, etc., are at their best in March. For the hunter there is late-season ptarmigan. Snowshoeing up to benches just at tree line and searching the willow patches sticking up makes for a beautiful day outdoors.

Having said that, I have to further say that the odds are definitely in the ptarmigan’s favor. Too much country to cover and finding small coveys is somewhat like the proverbial needle in the haystack. The birds are stark white with only their eye showing a change from the white background. It is difficult at best to spot them, but if you think of snowballs about the size of a softball, you get the idea. Like spotting rabbits in their winter white, once you actually see one, it becomes easier. Oftentimes when you finally do, all of a sudden the patch of willows you are looking at comes to life. But spot them or not, just being in the gorgeous winter high country is worth the effort of the trip. Much like the high country in the summer, it hardly gets any better.

My hunting partner and I went up above Summit last week and snowshoed the high country for ptarmigan. We didn’t find any but it was still right up there amongst our best days afield. It could be yours, too. All you have to do is give it a try.

Steve Meyer has been a central peninsula resident since 1971 and is an avid hunter, fisherman and trapper. He can be reached at oldduckhunter@gci.net.

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Making the Grade: Reading into it — Parents help set kids’ attitudes to reading

By Therese Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Classroom teachers work hard to develop student reading skills, but parents have the greatest impact upon one of the crucial aspects, developing a child’s positive attitudes about reading.

Students with positive attitudes toward reading want to read. They enjoy reading and so begin to read regularly, and that improves their academic achievement and confidence throughout life.

Parents and teachers who try to develop good reading skills in today’s society face heavy competition from nonacademic activities like video games, television and computers. Yet strong reading skills are now more important than ever.

Developing a lifelong interest in reading and the necessary reading skills requires coordinated efforts by both parents and schools.

Promoting positive reading attitudes

Children develop strong likes and dislikes as they grow, including attitudes about reading. Parents often underestimate how much their own attitudes and actions influence their child’s reading habits.

Children’s first values come from their parents. Children’s first experts and heroes are their parents. Thus, a parent’s attitudes toward reading, positive or negative, have lasting effects upon how children approach learning to read and about reading throughout life. By the time most children enter school and first encounter their teachers, whether they view reading as excitement or as drudgery has already been affected by their parents’ attitudes and actions.

By listening to what their parents say about reading and watching what their parents read, and when, children pick up verbal and nonverbal cues about the apparent importance of reading to their family. Most children desire the approval of their parents, and so they tend to develop those attitudes and values that their parents praise and reinforce.

Parents can promote positive reading attitudes in the following ways:

  • Provide a variety of reading materials at home. This can include magazines, newspapers, books, dictionaries, interesting nonfiction, entertaining stories and any reference materials. Children will be more likely to read for pleasure if a variety of interesting reading materials are readily available to them in the home.
  • Let children know how much you enjoy reading and learn from reading. Your excitement and interest in reading will transfer to your children. Just observing you read helps your children become aware of the positive value that you place on reading.
  • Read with, and to, your children. Young children as well as older children enjoy listening to stories read to them and read with them. You can help teach reading to young children and to children who find reading a struggle. One of the better methods that parents can use to help teach reading is for the parent and the child to take turns each reading a paragraph. Family reading time, where each family member reads a part of the story, can be a very rewarding and supportive time for your children.
  • Talk about reading materials with your children. Ask your children questions about what they read. You can also ask fact questions about what they read to find out how much your child remembers. Ask your child guessing questions partway through a story about what they think may happen. Then, read with them to find out if the guess was correct.
  • Visit a library. Encouraging your children to browse new materials at a library and to pick out their own reading material encourages their individual interests. Many local libraries offer a story time, which can be a fun way for young children to meet other children and to become exposed to a variety of books.
  • Notice when your child reads or shares information obtained from reading and praise them. Because children want to please their parents, recognition and positive reaction to their reading will have a very significant effect on their desire to read.

Teachers have a very important role in helping children learn how to read. Parents also play a critical role when they instill in their children a permanent enjoyment and passion for reading and learning. Both home and school are critical in promoting reading as a path toward lifelong learning.

Terese Lipinski Kashi, Ph.D., NCSP, is the 2009-10 president for the Alaska School Psychologists Association.

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Electrifying presence — Rowley brought power to Kenai

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part story concerning the life of Frank Rowley and the ways in which he changed the city of Kenai. Part one concerns mainly how Rowley brought about this change, while part two will focus on the incredible good fortune that allowed him to come to the Kenai Peninsula in the first place.

By Clark Fair

Photos courtesy of the Rowley family. Frank Rowley smiles as he does maintenance on one of the four pistons in the large diesel engine that powered the Kenai Power plant. The piston head here stands about 3 feet high and is approximately 18 inches in diameter. Note the size of the connecting rod hanging overhead.

Redoubt Reporter

With a small group of linemen from Anchorage and a collection of equipment that nobody else wanted, Frank Rowley made one of the most important steps toward modernization in the history of Kenai: In the early 1950s, he brought the small fishing village into the age of electrification.

In a community that had few private generators, in a place where only kerosene lamps flickered in the windows of homes after nightfall, Rowley brought light. To the throbbing diesel engine inside his Kenai Power plant in Old Town Kenai, he hooked up a series of electrical grids that would act as the template for the modern infrastructure that serves the city now.

After selling his Anchorage-based Mountain View Light & Power company to the Chugach Electric Association, Rowley looked to Kenai for his next opportunity. In a community that was yet to attract the attention of the federal Rural Electrification Administration, he saw a chance to pioneer a project that he believed would improve the lives of its residents.

Starting after his first visit to Kenai in 1949, he acquired the property for his power plant and, with the help of the Anchorage linemen, used military-surplus equipment to auger holes for the treated poles that would hold the transmission lines they strung throughout the village.

The first lines were made from galvanized number-nine steel wire salvaged from old fish traps, and he began generating power to about 50 subscribers through those lines in 1951. Initially the power came from an array of three small generators — two 50-kilowatt International Harvesters and one 60-kilowatt General Motors 6-71 series — and later from a mammoth Fairbanks-Morse engine that he managed to resurrect from the junk pile.

The 1920s-vintage engine, according to his longtime employee, Hedley “Hank” Parsons, was a 32-E, a four-cylinder monstrosity that had been used in the construction of the Distant Early Warning system in northern Alaska and had become so battered that it was considered a complete loss.

According to Rowley’s son, Raymond, who still lives in Kenai, the journals on the crankshaft had been pounded so much that it was no longer round, and the engine had run out of oil. Still, Rowley saw potential in it, and he had it shipped in pieces from Nome to Kenai, where he hand-repaired the damage and then reassembled the entire machine.

He bolted it to a concrete slab about 5 feet below the surface of the ground, and then he built a metal building over it and a shop out in front. Out near the front of the shop he placed a 5,000-gallon barrel of diesel fuel to run the engine, and nearby he later added an auxiliary 2,000-gallon barrel.

This is the Kenai Power complex. The long side of the plant faces the Rowley home, seen here at the far right side of the photograph.

Parsons, who now lives in New Hampshire, said that when Rowley began his electrification project in Kenai, many members of the community eyed him skeptically. Some of them, he said, “made fun of Frank because they didn’t know what the hell he was doing. And then he lit up the whole town and supplied power to the canneries in the summertime.”

Suddenly, no one was laughing anymore.

Once Kenai residents got electricity, “the whole town depended on it,” said former borough mayor Stan Thompson. Continue reading

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Filed under Almanac, history, homesteaders, Kenai

Art Seen: Colored evolution — Strong strokes leads to imagery in nonrepresentative art show

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

"Spanish Street" by Jim Evenson

James Evenson’s original work on view at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center can basically be labeled abstract. Another way to say it is nonrepresentational, though an interesting feature to the way Evenson works is that he utilizes a measure of representation to foster the alchemy of the creation.

He works intuitively, spending a great deal of time with his thoughts and an empty canvas or sheet of paper. As he begins to make marks, they are generally bold, and as forms appear that he can latch onto, the story of the piece is born. The resulting art may or may not have anything recognizable in evidence when the paint or ink settles, but in many ways that is beside the point. His work carries energy and vibrancy that is inspiring to see coming from a man in his 80s who never seems to stop exploring his world like a little kid.

In “Valhalla Landing” one can detect the massive flaming hull of a boat. The brushstrokes are lively and the vibrant colors create a

"Predator" by Jim Evenson

sense of immediacy. True to his form, as Evenson recognized the shape of the hull of a boat as he worked, he drew upon his Norwegian roots and began to visually describe an ancient ritual. Vikings or chiefs or even successful sea captains who died were often treated to a regal ceremony where their boats were drawn into a bog and, with their bodies on board, the ships were set ablaze.

“Predator” found its creative turning point when a creature’s eye appeared. “Incubus” was born of the struggle created by so many weird shapes fighting each other for prominence. “Incubus” means “baby devil,” and as I listen to Evenson describe the process he’s used, the salient feeling is how individual and eminently personal each piece is to him.

"Valhalla Landing" by Jim Evenson

Thirty-four large works fill the space at the center, and it does not take an art connoisseur to appreciate the strength and magnitude of the exhibit.

Showing in conjunction with his works, Ahna Iredale of Homer has some new, fanciful, well-crafted and functional ceramic pieces. Many of the pieces of both Iredale and Evenson have sold early on in the display period, and both are longtime recognized artists in the area. This show represents the second dual exhibit they’ve had together, the earlier one occurring 23 years prior.

A bout with measles in second grade began Jim Evenson’s artistic endeavors. As he spent time drawing, he learned quickly and became the go-to guy for questions about all things artistic. He makes a point of stating that he doesn’t generally call himself an artist, preferring instead to think of himself as a human being who regularly created and taught art, played and taught basketball, caught many a fish and was a family man, as well. He gives workshops at his Bishop Lake studio for the stone lithography technique with which he and his wife still actively create, and, when asked, always seems willing to give tours of his studio.

Although he has worked with objective subject matter often in his long art career, he recognizes that the real challenge and joy comes from successfully navigating the

Ahna Iredale, of Homer, contributes her whimsical, nature-themed pottery

abstracts. What many folks fail to realize is that when an artist cannot rely upon viewers having an immediate association with a piece because they recognize the subject matter, the artist is much more heavily tasked with resolving the core elements of a piece of art: line, texture, composition and tone.

Years of study and discipline go into being an artist who is capable of working successfully in the abstract arena, and Evenson does it with grace, humor and intelligence.

The exhibit will be available until April 3 and is a must-see for anyone who would like to have an understanding of the arts in our area. Evenson is the true gem of the Kenai Peninsula, and his work is ever new and always inspiring.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

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Caper swoops to the stage

Staff report

Photos courtesy of SoHi. Jeff Melvin, Nick Tesch and Dillon Ball are assigned a mission way above their heads.

The Soldotna High School drama department will present the swashbuckling comedy, “The Other Three Musketeers and The Jewel of Malta,” on March 25, 26 and 27. The play, written and directed by Mike Druce, was inspired by Alexander Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers.”

In this version, the original three musketeers are away on a hunting trip with the king when the devious Cardinal Richelieu, played by Jessiah Steffy, enlists the aid of three lesser-known musketeers, Paris, D’Jon and their servant, Bordeaux. The assignment is to retrieve the stolen Jewel of Malta, a priceless black diamond, and rescue the three kidnapped daughters of the Spanish ambassador.

The other three musketeers soon discover they are involved in a complicated plot of false identities, royal spats and a host of fake diamonds.

Although the play is inspired by the Dumas classic, it also owes a little to

Cardinal Richelieu (Jessiah Steffy) and The Regent (Beth Wilson) conspire in “The Other Three Musketeers and The Jewel of Malta.”

“The Pink Panther,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “Indiana Jones.”

The play begins at 7 p.m. each night. Admission is $5. Tickets may be purchased at the door. The other three musketeers are played by Dillon Ball, Jeff Melvin and Nick Tesch. The cast also features Beth Wilson, Alek Romatz, Lizzie McDermid, Delana Duncan, Chrissy Smith, Kayla Overpeck, Briana VinZant, Keegan Eshleman, Cole Aaronson, Tanner Link, Josh Rutten, Quinton Kennedy, Matt Peterson, Kenny Pootjes, Derek  Thomson, Riley Thompson, Eleonore  Graces, Swan Brooner, Ally Goodrey, Katelyn Jordon and Kevin Oelrich.

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Plugged In: Good word — Voice recognition worth a try

By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Spring seems to be in the air, at least sporadically, and this week we have some new technology and photo suggestions that may put a “spring” in your step, just in time for Soldotna’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

I was really late writing this week’s column due to the press of other matters, so it’s a really good thing that I purchased Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 10 and installed it on my home computer.

This week’s column is “written” using direct voice recognition into my computer. I did not have time to “train” the software installation to more perfectly recognize my own voice and accent — I’m using it straight out of the box. To give you an idea of the accuracy of NaturallySpeaking, neither I, nor my editor, will correct any typos or odd grammar in this section of my column. Any errors in this section are voice transcription problems.

Speech recognition has been around since about 1997 when IBM shipped a version of voice-recognition for its OS/2 operating system. Speech recognition never quite caught on because earlier versions were not very accurate, required substantial training, or somewhat difficult to correct mis-recognized text, and tended to be somewhat slow on older computer hardware, it never quite caught on. For many people, myself included, typing tended to be faster.

Version 10 of Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional corrects all those problems and is a true pleasure to set up and use, even when you have a “distinctive” accent like myself. NaturallySpeaking did not require any significant training to recognize my voice almost perfectly. In fact, they’re probably fewer typos in this week’s column because I’ve been dictating it rather than typing it. The newest version of NaturallySpeaking can actually be said for many different English accents, including East Coast English, British English, Spanish, accented English, Australian accents etc.

Be sure to carefully correct any voice-recognition text, however. Several years ago, I dictated a lengthy brief for the court using an earlier version of NaturallySpeaking. I thought I carefully corrected that brief, but Judge Harold Brown, then our senior Superior Court Justice at Kenai, was sufficiently astute that he inquired on the record whether I had dictated that brief using voice recognition software. Obviously, I fail to catch some necessary corrections. Luckily, editing, particularly inserting text, is very easy. Just place your cursor where you wish to insert a word, a phrase or a sentence and began talking.

One of the more productive features of NaturallySpeaking Professional is its capability of recording a voice macro command. For example, I could easily create a command that would bring up letterhead already dressed to an appropriate party or attorney or bring up standard form contract clauses when drafting lengthy legal documents. To get to that point requires quite a bit of substantive work, mostly identifying appropriate form clauses, such as arbitration requirements, and then setting them up as a voice macro command.

Voice recognition software tends to work best with a very clean digital audio signal and with a very fast computer. Although Nuance packages an analog headset/microphone with NaturallySpeaking software, I found that a USB Digital Signal Processing (DSP) headset results in a cleaner digital input that’s recognize more accurately. The DSP headset includes hardware that is optimized for converting analog voice into a digital USB signal.

A fast computer also helps reduce the delay between the spoken word and its appearance on your computer screen. Nuance appears to use an approach pioneered by IBM in the late 1990s — a statistical model of how frequently specific words are within reasonable proximity to each other in average or more sophisticated speech patterns. This linguistic model then corrects any ambiguous voice-recognition by finding the best statistical match between clearly recognized words in close proximity with each other. That definitely increases recognition accuracy, but requires some additional computer performance. Although a slower computer will still get the job done, you may find it frustrating.

The professional version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking costs $199 and works with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows XP, Windows XP x64, Windows Vista and Windows 7. If you do a great deal of typing and are comfortable dictating at a reasonably fast clip, then NaturallySpeaking should be very productive technology in your office or business. In fact, writing this week’s overdue column is moving along so quickly that it feels as though I’m slacking off.

Editor’s note: This ends the unedited demonstration of the voice-recognition software. Continue reading

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Federal bill gets credit for guns in parks — Firearms now OK in Denali, Katmai, 3 others

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A brown bear grazes for berries in Denali Nation Park in fall. Due to a federal legislation change, any national park visitor able to own a firearm will be able to bring it to national parks, including Denali, Katmai and three other parks in Alaska that previously did not allow guns.

Redoubt Reporter

In Katmai National Park and Preserve, Denali National Park and other areas of the state, visitors bring cameras to shoot bears. This summer, they may bring something much more deadly.

On May 22, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 into law. Tacked onto that piece of legislation is an unrelated amendment that repeals a National Park Service rule prohibiting the possession of firearms in national parks and reverting regulation to individual states. As of Feb. 22, the effective date of the legislation, credit card holders no longer have to fear their interest rates will increase without warning, or that they’ll have to visit a national park without a gun for self-protection.

“I’ve never had any desire to visit Denali Park as a backpacker or a hiker because of that restriction. I live in a rural area and I’m constantly watching my backside. I know the one time I don’t bring my gun I’m going see a bear. So if I’m thinking about going somewhere like Denali and I can’t protect myself, I just don’t go,” said Bob Bird, of Nikiski, one of the organizers of a Second Amendment/Constitutional Task Force Rally scheduled for Thursday in Kenai.

Bears, however, may be well-advised to cultivate more fear of tourists packing heat, say tour and photo guides operating in Katmai National Park.

“I think it’s a recipe for trouble, a gun in somebody’s hand that, one, doesn’t understand guns very well but is wanting to carry one because they can. And, two, don’t understand bears very well, and you’re in a park with lots of bears. It’s a recipe for a disaster for somebody, especially the bears,” said John Rogers, owner of Katmai Coastal Bear Tours out of Homer.

In Alaska, the reversal of the gun ban only affects five national parks, those established prior to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980 — Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park in Skagway, the Sitka National Historic Park and the old sections of Denali, Glacier Bay and Katmai national parks. The 10 national parks in Alaska established by ANILCA conformed to state law on the possession of firearms.

The distinction doesn’t owe to a debate regarding the safety or sense of allowing firearms for protection in parks, it was simply a matter of timing, said Chris Pergiel, regional chief ranger for the National Parks Service Alaska region.

“When ANILCA established newer parks in 1980, they had a different enabling legislation which took into account the Alaska circumstance that people typically hunted and carried firearms up here. It was just the timing of when those parks came into the system,” he said.

As a result, the gun ban reversal will have less of an overall impact in Alaska as in other states.

“Part of the intent was to make the laws more consistent throughout the National Park Service and understandable for the public, which is a little ironic because now we’re going to each individual state law. There are parks in the country, like Yellowstone, that are located in three or four different states within one park, so that may be confusing for people. Up here it will be pretty straightforward,” Pergiel said.

Though the law liberalizes the possession of firearms for self-defense, it does not change the allowed use of firearms in national parks in the state. Prior restrictions on target practice and hunting still stand, and firearms are still not allowed in federal buildings or facilities, including national park offices or visitor centers.

Businesses operating concessions within national parks will have discretion to allow firearms or not, Pergiel said. That discretion may have the effect of limiting firearms possession in national parks in the state, if, for instance, a business that transports visitors into a park chooses to not allow people to bring guns onto vehicles.

“As private businesses, they will retain the right — as they do anywhere else in the state — to make a decision themselves whether they want to allow firearms on or within their facilities in national parks,” Pergiel said. “They could not prohibit them from possessing them in the park, but they could limit that somehow through their facilities or their vehicles or vessels. We’re urging the concessionaires to follow the National Park Service’s lead to do what they need to do to run their operations, but to also preserve the intent of the law, which is to allow people to possess firearms.”

Pergiel said it’s difficult to estimate how many Alaska park visitors may take advantage of the rule change.

“I think some folks will feel safer being able to possess firearms for protection from wildlife, and other folks may feel less safe knowing there are people out there with firearms. It’s hard to say,” he said. “We certainly encourage people not to put themselves in a situation where they need to use a firearm, but from time to time there are bear-human encounters.”

Whether to bring a firearm will be a case-by-case decision up to each visitor who’s eligible to possess firearms. If it were up to Pergiel, he said he recommends pepper spray as bear protection over firearms. He said he doesn’t anticipate the rule change to cause any problems.

“Hopefully not,” he said. “We’ve allowed the carry of firearms in national parks here in Alaska for going on 30 years now, for most of them, and we have not had a lot of significant problems. There’s always some concerns with illegal hunting activities and the rangers are in the field monitoring that and taking action, but specific to this new law, we don’t anticipate a lot of change or any significant new problems.”

Bird said he is in favor of the rule change.

“I’m all in favor of your right to self-defense, whether it’s against a human being or a wild animal,” he said. “To say that you give up your right to self-defense just because you’re in a national park sounds a little silly.”

Some Katmai guides are not so sure the change is a good idea. Continue reading

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Playing respects — Bagpiper ushers rare, antique pipes on to happier home

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Steve Adams plays his set of Dunbar bagpipes at his home in Kenai on Saturday. He recently sold an antique set of bagpipes to a world-renown piper.

Redoubt Reporter

There can be no doubt of Steve Adams’ bagpiping hobby or near 100 percent Scottish heritage when visiting his home in Kenai. The Adams coat of arms hangs on a wall inside the door, leading down a hallway lined with photos of Adams piping in full traditional kilt and regalia. In the living room, the fireplace mantel is lined with Scottish knickknacks and plaid paraphernalia — bottles of Scottish beer, more photos and bagpiping figurines — including a Santa sporting a red, white and green tartan, and a tiny plastic Smurf with a red hat and yellow pipes. On another shelf is an antique apple doll made by Adams’ grandmother when he first started piping 40 years ago.

Given all that, Adams should be well aware of the old Scottish saying, “The worth of a thing is best known by the want of it.” Even though that proved to be the case when he sold his set of antique bagpipes recently, the phrase hadn’t crossed his mind as the situation developed. Nor did the equally pertinent Scottish saying, “One good turn deserves another.”

Adams’ enchantment with the bagpipes has been long-lived, but it wasn’t instantaneous. Growing up in New England, he once had a girlfriend who piped, but wasn’t interested in learning about the instrument himself at the time. He played French horn and was accepted into the Armed Forces School of Music. After a tour with the Navy, he attended a music conservatory in New England, though he didn’t graduate from college.

On a Sunday visit home he tagged along with his dad, who was going to bagpiping practice with the Shriners club he had just joined. The crowd was a boisterous bunch, as bagpipe bands tend to be.

“Piping is kind of interesting in the fact that you get two or three pipers together and give them an hour and they’re going to be arguing about something,” Adams said.

Adams neglected to mention his musical background, and the Shriners started betting him he couldn’t play the pipes.

“I knew dang well I could learn to play it if I wanted to,” Adams said.

Adams has a collection of Scottish and bagpiping knickknacks and figurines, many given as gifts over his 40 years of piping.

What he didn’t realize at the time was what a large part in his life the bagpipes would come to play. Before long Adams was involved in four different pipe bands, with some piping-related activity happening every night of the week. Adams’ father started researching the family’s genealogy and discovered both sides were nearly 100 percent Scottish, which just added another dimension to Adams’ interest.

“I like the sound of them,” he said. “Pipes are something that are just really unusual. There are just nine notes. There’s no sharps, no flats, no major, no minor scales. It’s nine notes only, but it’s very intricate and very difficult because of the fingerings that are involved.”

Adams moved to Alaska in 1980. He lived in Juneau for six years and played with a pipe band there, and lived in Anchorage for six months and played with a band there, although he vowed to never live in Anchorage or Fairbanks after that. He moved to the central Kenai Peninsula, taking a job at the Soldotna Post Office 15 years ago, and became the area’s sole performing bagpiper.

There’s another piper in Homer, but in this area, any need or desire for a bagpiper means calling Adams. He’s performed at weddings, funerals, the Kenai Performers’ production of “Brigadoon” a few years ago, and various fundraisers, parades and other community events. Last week he played at the Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof for a send-off party for Iditarod musher Wattie McDonald, of Scotland. McDonald’s entire family flew over from Scotland to see him off to the trail, with all the men wearing kilts, including Adams, he said. Continue reading

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Beluga issue nets large reply — Critical habitat testimony stretches into the thousands

By Naomi Klouda

Homer Tribune

The testimony on whether or not to designate most of Cook Inlet as beluga habitat is now in, with some 91,668 responses to the public comment period that ended March 3.

The comments will be available to the public shortly at the National Marine Fisheries Service Web site, said spokesperson Sheela McLean. It is important to note that the number of responses didn’t calculate how many made repeat testimony. However, the numbers from organizations were noted, with Sierra Club accounting for 43,339 responses. The Natural Resource Development Council — countering the idea of designating Cook Inlet as critical habitat — weighed in with 39,939 responses.

NMFS counted 10 responses from North Star Terminal and Stevedore Co., LLC, which operates the Port of Anchorage, and 219 from postcard mailings. It also received 13 “unknown” letters and received 7,500 from a signature petition.

The NMFS is expecting to issue its decision sometime in October, McLean said.

Here is a sampling of commentary that came from residents in Homer and/or the Kenai Peninsula:

  • Roland Maw of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association: “It became apparent to us as an industry that belugas were declining 15 or more years ago. NMFS came to us as a group, and to the set net group, and asked us if we would have some observers on board our vessels and you have the results of that. We had observers to the tune of about 9,000 hours on our vessels and beaches. There were no sightings, no entanglements and certainly no deaths. We have been trying to be proactive, even though our government hasn’t been … This is a difficult problem to work through but we’ll get through it and we’ll be OK.”
  • Ken Tarbox, Soldotna: “I worked from 1980 to 2000 for Fish and Game. In that capacity, I flew over Cook Inlet and observed whales. I support the critical habitat designation identified, with a couple of exceptions. One, it is not far enough up the Susitna River. The whales would go much further up the Susitna River than what is designated. Two is the Kenai River. Even recently, since 2000, I’ve seen whales moving two to three miles up from the bridge. I assure you the lower Kenai is still used by belugas. I’ve seen as many as 30 in there in the spring and in the fall. Where we are not seeing them is during the July period when we historically used to see them.”
  • Harold Shepherd, director Center for Water Advocacy: “I am here to testify in support of proposed designation of critical habitat for beluga on behalf of our members, which includes native villages and tribal governments in Alaska including the Marine Mammal Council and the Eklutna, Kenaitze, Chickaloon, Ninilchik, Seldovia and Tyonek tribes… Many tribal organizations can be of significant assistance in implementation and support in helping keep the belugas from jeopardy.”
  • Beaver Nelson: “I have lived here since 1965. As a commercial fisherman I’ve spent a lot of time in Kachemak Bay and have observed belugas. Up until mid 1980’s there was a group of belugas that would come in every fall. All through October they appeared to feed on smelt (little wiggling clouds you could see in the grass). There would be 40-50 belugas in that area steadily. In mid to late 1980’s the belugas began to disappear. They were gone in a two to three year period to where there just weren’t belugas there anymore. You very rarely saw orcas back then, but in the late 1980’s the orcas became way more common. Even now if you go up in October you will see orcas up there hunting seal. My feeling is belugas are a candy bar for orca. They found a good food source and drove the belugas out of there. It is a risky venture for a beluga to move through there to run a gauntlet of orcas which seem to be increasing in abundance.” Continue reading

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Mastering the hills — Adult ski club tackles the trails

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Alan Boraas, Tsalteshi Trails Association. Tslateshi Trails Association held its first masters — for adults — ski relay race Feb. 13, and masters distance races on Feb. 14. The races are part of its Master’s Ski Club for adults. The club has grown from about 25 participants at its inception last spring to about 90 people on its contact list now. Above left, Adam Reimer, in the masters club race suit, leads a string of skiers up a hill in a 30-kilometer distance race Feb. 13.

Redoubt Reporter

A handful of central Kenai Peninsula skiers in blue and yellow gripped their poles and tensed for start of the Tour of Anchorage ski marathon Sunday, ready to launch themselves into their 25-, 40- or 50-kilometer races, propelled by the desire to ski strong and months of physical conditioning, technique drills and ski training that would help make that happen.

Back on the peninsula, other owners of blue-and-yellow jackets went about their day Sunday, going for a ski, walking a dog or maybe just folding some laundry, propelled by a boost in health and fitness from the same program that was boosting the marathoners toward the finish line.

That’s the point of the Master’s Ski Club, put on by the Tsalteshi Trails Association — to be a tool for serious athletes to get faster and go farther, and to be a way for novice skiers or exercisers to just get out, get moving and build some skills and fitness to keep on going.

Club organizer Kjell Risung has been in both camps — elite athlete and out of shape — and wanted to create a program that would benefit people at either level or all points in between.

“I think any person can do anything they put their mind to. Our bodies are amazing. You can set yourself a goal and you can reach for it and do it,” Risung said. “Norman Vaughan had a saying, ‘The only death you die is the death you die every day by not living.’ The only one that stops you from doing it is yourself.”

Risung, a physical therapist in Soldotna, grew up in Norway, where kids learn to ski about as young as they learn to walk, and ski clubs and racing programs are popular for school ages on up through adults. Risung moved to the U.S. in 1987. He’s been in Alaska since the 1990s, when he got into mushing and ran the Iditarod in 1995 and 1996. But when he had kids, family became more of a priority than athletics.

Photo courtesy of Alan Boraas, Tsalteshi Trails Association. Gigi Banas skied the 15-kilometer distance in the race.

A year ago, Risung found himself largely sedentary and 40 pounds overweight, but with his kids grown to the point where he could take time for his own activities again. He set himself a lofty goal to keep his training on track — ski the 54-kilometer classic American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin. To say he achieved that goal is a monumental understatement. In one year of training he dropped 40 pounds — with another 10 to follow — and placed 27th in the Birkebeiner, as well as second in the Pepsi Challenge in Biwabik, Minn., and second in the 25-kilometer Tour of Anchorage classic race.

In the course of his training, shushing through the kilometers on local ski trails, Risung was struck by how many other adults he saw out making use of the trails, but usually skiing alone or in little groups. He also noticed the popularity of middle- and high-school ski programs in the area and the huge response Tsalteshi’s first youth ski program had last year, and wondered if adults would be interested in something similar. There seemed to be interest in skiing among the “master” class — meaning adult, not level of ability — in the community, but no program in place for them to learn or train together.

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Common Ground: Catch phrases — Ice fishing for ‘green trout,’ understanding with kids

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Christine Cunningham. William Hamby and Patrick Giver show off their “green trout,” caught as part of Trustworthy Hardware’s 2010 Ice Fishing Dercy. William won fourth place, and Patrick placed sixth in the Minnow Division.

I never had brothers. And the boys I knew in grade school were the kind that poured glue in my desk and aimed for my head in war ball. It would be fair to say it was hard for me to relate to either of my two nephews, William and Patrick, 5 and 6 years old, respectively.

I was listening to them in the back seat of the vehicle on the way to their first ice-fishing trip. The least I could do is try to be part of the conversation.

“What do you know about ice fishing?” I asked.

“You put a hole in the ice and you fish out of it,” William said.

He knows everything because he’s one year older than Patrick.

“One time I was ice fishing,” Patrick, the storyteller, said. “And a swordfish came out and tried to cut me and I punched him back down the hole.”

“Swordfish are in the ocean, not lakes, and oceans don’t freeze up,” I said.

I might have well have said, “Today is brought to you by the letters W and T.”

William, at least, was taking note. He would use this fact at a future time to prove he knew more than a certain other person one year younger.

But Patrick was the boy who poured glue in my desk. He didn’t want to learn anything. He was the boy who, much like the girl I’ve become, preferred telling a story to learning about how to avoid one. Patrick would like to try things, whether they existed or not. He wanted to jump off the ends of tables and go ice fishing for swordfish.

The ice was covered in snow with frozen-over holes marking familiar spots. I set up a separate tent for the two cousins, packed them into camp chairs, put bait on their hooks and showed them how to wait for a bite. Outside, my hunting buddy was fishing a hundred yards away.

I had just sat down in my own camp chair when I heard my buddy yell to the boys that he had a fish on. It didn’t matter to them how they got out of their chairs or the shanty. By the time I came to their rescue, fishing line was wrapped around their feet and their snack boxes were dumped out on the snow.

Once untangled, they took off across the lake like bird dogs that had marked a bird 60 yards away.

Patrick wiped out midway, and by the time all three of us made it to the hole, a 3-pound lake trout flopped on the ice. Their hands were all over the fish, petting it like it was a puppy. It took me back to my first fish-through-the-ice-experience. I was amazed that something so muscular and alive could be pulled up from the depths after hours of waiting in the quiet.

“What kind of fish is it?” I quizzed them.

“Green trout!” they said in unison. Continue reading

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