By Joseph Robertia
The Kenai and Russian rivers are world-famous for their fishing opportunities, but visiting anglers from all over the world don’t always share the same sense of stewardship and awareness of avoiding ecological impacts as those who call the Kenai Peninsula home.
Some anglers need to be informed about using designated access points to get to and from the river to prevent bank erosion. Others may come from areas without bears, so they lack knowledge of how to stay safe in an area where numerous hungry bruins are roaming. There are also stringy snags and knotted clumps of discarded fishing line along the banks that must be cleaned up to prevent injuries to wildlife.
To accomplish all of this, the Stream Watch program was launched by the U.S. Forest Service in 1994. This award-winning program utilizes trained volunteers to help protect world-class fisheries through public outreach activities and cleanup events.
The program has become so effective it is expanding to the lower Kenai River this season, and will now include an area from the Russian River in Cooper Landing downstream on the Kenai to Centennial Park in Soldotna. As such, the Kenai Watershed Forum brought on a new person to oversee the operation.
Lisa Beranek started as the Stream Watch coordinator May 13, and she said it’s been going great so far.
Originally from Michigan, Beranek has a bachelor’s degree in natural resource management, as well as a professional certificate in nonprofit and public administration. Before coming to Alaska, she most recently oversaw a salmon restoration project in Vancouver, Wash. She said she is looking forward to taking part in the ever-growing Stream Watch.
“From 2000 to 2010, the program has grown from 16 to more than 60 volunteer ambassadors. Each Stream Watch season, volunteers collectively donate an average of 900 hours to engage more than 4,000 people and collect over 500 pounds of trash,” Beranek said. “This summer promises to be even more productive as the Stream Watch program expands to protect the lower Kenai River through partnerships with the city of Soldotna, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Alaska State Parks. The annual program expects to grow from 60 trained to over 80 as the program expands to protect the lower Kenai River.”
Volunteering takes two forms — stewards, who commit up to three hours of volunteer work, or ambassadors, who commit up to three days of their time.
“Stewards can be individuals, clubs, community groups or business groups who go out for a day of cleanup,” Beranek said.
The volunteer work typically includes helping with easy-to-moderate projects, such as collecting wildlife-endangering debris, constructing monofilament line recycling containers, mending habitat fences and aiding in other restoration efforts.
Ambassadors must attend a six-hour training session, be physically fit and 16 or older. They are outfitted with the knowledge and supplies to walk the rivers, sharing information in a peer-to-peer manner.
“In addition to collecting wildlife-endangering trash and completing salmon-saving fencing projects, ambassadors educate river users on the importance of riverside plants, bear awareness, ethical angling and agency regulations,” Beranek said.
Ambassadors can be Kenai Peninsula residents, or others from Alaska or Outside. Campsites may also be available for ambassadors while working on their three-day shifts.
The program particularly needs volunteers for the busy season, from June through September. The next orientation session is June 25.
“It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors and meet some like-minded individuals,” Beranek said.
For more information on becoming a Stream Watch volunteer, contact Beranek by calling 398-4304 or emailing her at email@example.com.