Monthly Archives: November 2011

Up on the rooftop… Family finds clatter is from black bear

By Joseph Robertia

Photos courtesy of Dennis Ogren. The shadowy bulk of a black bear is seen the evening of Nov. 12 outside the Ogren home in Ninilchik. The bear climbed up a ladder to the second-story roof, possibly seeking a way inside to the smells of apple butter Martha Ogren was cooking.

Redoubt Reporter

Like many homesteaders, Martha and Dennis Ogren believe in spending time in late fall and early winter putting up food for the rest of the year, to enjoy themselves and to share with guests.

But the spicy-sweet scent of a simmering batch of apple butter brought in an unwelcome visitor earlier this month — a black bear climbing the Ogrens’ roof in search of food.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in more than 60 years of living here,” Martha said. “And I haven’t seen a bear all summer.”

A black bear she estimated to be 1 to 2 years old showed up the evening of Nov. 13 at the Ogrens’ two-story home about 10 miles north of Ninilchik, Continue reading

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Road upgrade process needs work — Soldotna to reconsider special assessment district rules

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Brian Shackleton. Lingonberry Lane, along the Kenai River near Swiftwater Park in Soldotna, disintegrates into muddy ruts in the spring. Residents are hoping to get the rustic road upgraded.

Redoubt Reporter

Soldotna’s special assessment district process isn’t in as bad a shape as Lingonberry Lane becomes during breakup, but it, like the road, could use some improvement.

That was the consensus after the Soldotna City Council dealt with a petition from the neighborhood to form a special assessment district to upgrade the rustic road.

The council decided in a meeting Oct. 12 not to go ahead with the petition. Though the special assessment district process had only barely begun, the issue had gone far enough to determine that the policy could use some attention.

“This was my first SAD in the two years I’ve been on the council and it certainly raised an eyebrow on how things should be working. I’m not happy that a minority group of people can force the majority to do something, even though the way our current SAD reads, they can,” said council member Dale Bagley.

The issue came to the council over the summer, though problems with the road have been ongoing long before that. Lingonberry parallels the Kenai River and is used to access property in the Mullen Homestead and New Morning subdivisions, sandwiched between the Kenai River to the south, Swiftwater Park to the east, East Redoubt Avenue to the north and the Soldotna “Y” corridor to the west. This summer, it became a division running through neighborhood residents.

The road is a built-up version of first an airstrip, then a dirt track Marge and Frank Mullen put in to access the property they homesteaded since 1947. Some improvements have been made over the years — particularly when the road was extended to link up with Swiftwater Park Campground Road about 12 years ago, to allow neighborhood access from the east, rather than over the narrow, degrading bridge over Soldotna Creek to the west, which didn’t accommodate fire trucks or ambulances.

But it was not built to city road standards of today. To be fair, there was no city of Soldotna until it was incorporated in 1960, much less enforced road-building standards. Depending on conditions, the road is a bumpy ride to a tire-swallowing mud hole, and residents agree that they would like it upgraded.

There is not agreement over how to upgrade it, however. Likely to be the least-costly option would involve the neighbors deciding amongst themselves what level of improvement they’d like and hiring a private contractor to do the work. But that would mean maintenance — grading, plowing, etc. — would continue to be managed amongst the neighbors, and some residents think the road has not been adequately maintained in the past.

Marge Mullen has overseen the responsibility of arranging plowing, grading, etc., and collecting payment from neighborhood residents. That system isn’t ideal, for Mullen or neighbors who think more maintenance should be done.

“It’s like a Third World country,” said Billie Shackleton of the state of the road. “I’ve lived here 15 years and it’s always been a hassle. It wasn’t put in right in the first place, and so we are trying to fix it.”

“Mom has been doing that pretty much singlehandedly for pretty much 25 years. Hopefully someone else will step up and take that job out of her hands,” said Marge’s son, Frank Mullen, of Homer, who owns a parcel in the neighborhood. “It’s been kind of a nightmare because people don’t always pay, or sometimes they pay late. Of course, somebody needs to do it. Personally, I hope somebody volunteers to take on that responsibility and let my mom have a little peace and quiet.” Continue reading

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If the snowshoe fits … Ski trails find room for snowshoers

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Clark Fair, Redoubt Reporter. Fox Michaud climbs a hill during a ski race at Tsalteshi Trails last year. The Tsalteshi Trails Association’ s primary function is to provide a venue for school district-sanctioned ski events, but also is trying to accommodate use by community snowshoers.

Redoubt Reporter

There are many reasons why cross-country skiers love Tsalteshi Trials in the winter — nine miles of well-maintained, groomed trails; lighted loops for night skiing; two parking lots offering easy access; and a centralized location behind Skyview High School. Those same qualities make the trails attractive to snowshoers, as well, but earlier this month the board of directors for the Tsalteshi Trails Association decided that skiing and snowshoeing at Tsalteshi don’t mix.

In the spring, summer and fall, the trails are frequented by many different users — runners, stroller-pushers, dog walkers and bicyclists — which made snowshoers all the more confused that once snow falls, the trails are off limits to everything but skis.

After a community meeting Nov. 14 to discuss snowshoe use on the trails, the Tsalteshi board on Friday decided to loosen the ban by allowing snowshoes on the Wolverine Loop at the base of the trails system, accessed by a parking lot and trailhead off of Kalifornsky Beach Road across from the Soldotna Sports Center. The board also is asking for volunteers to serve on a committee to discuss further ideas for facilitating snowshoe usage on the trails.

Laura McIndoe, of Soldotna, went to the Nov. 14 meeting and subsequently volunteered for the committee after she heard about the ban.

“I was dismayed, I was saddened and I didn’t know why (snowshoes were banned), so I did appreciate that they had a meeting to talk about it. I told them I would be on this committee because I can see both sides,” she said. Continue reading


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Need on the rise — Food donations sought, public assistance participation sees increase

By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

and Naomi Klouda, Homer Tribune

The number of people in need this season stands higher than in previous years, a growth documented through the increase in food stamp applications and those calling on local charities.

The central Kenai Peninsula saw a 47 percent rise in the average monthly caseload handled by the Alaska Division of Public Assistance for food stamps between July 2009 and July 2011. The area includes Clam Gulch, Kasilof, Kenai, Nikiski, Soldotna and Sterling.

That is over twice the amount of the state average, said Ronald Kreher, the director of the Public Assistance office in Juneau. On the whole, the state’s food stamp usage rose 17 percent over the past year, he said.

On the central peninsula, the average number of households per month seeking assistance rose from 1,168 in fiscal year 2009 to 1,714 in fiscal year 2011. The average monthly number of individuals served in the Kenai area went from 2,775 in fiscal year 2009 to 3,801 in fiscal year 2011, for a growth of 37 percent.

The southern peninsula — Homer, Anchor Point, Nanwalek, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik, Port Graham and Seldovia — saw a 39 percent spike in the average monthly caseload handled by the Alaska Division of Public Assistance for food stamps between July 2009 and July 2011.

The number of Homer-area households rose from 421 in July 2009 to 544 in July 2010. By July 2011, the number was 586 households. The average number of individuals increased by 36 percent from 899 in 2009 to 1,227 in 2011. Continue reading

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Mountain men — Central peninsula pioneers ascend to pinnacle legacies

By Clark Fair

Photo by Clark Fair, Redoubt Reporter. A pair of hikers high on L V Ray Peak in the 1990s take a break while enjoying the view. Below is the curving surface of upper Crescent Lake, with a glimpse of Kenai Lake through the saddle between Madson Mountain, left, and Right Mountain. Carter Lake lies at the base of LV Ray Peak, to the right of the hikers and out of the picture.

Redoubt Reporter

As the Sterling and Seward highways wind through mountain passes between the city of Seward and the central Kenai Peninsula, they pass two especially impressive, rocky and impassive triangular peaks that loom above the blacktop and surrounding countryside. These two peaks, Cecil Rhode Mountain at Mile 48 of the Sterling Highway and L V Ray Peak at Mile 32 of the Seward Highway, both rise to more than 4,000 feet but commemorate very different men.

L V Ray Peak 

Hikers climbing the Carter Lake Trail near the Trail Lake Fish Hatchery will notice the dark gray pointed summit of LV Ray Peak aiming heavenward just south of the highway. Connected by a ridgeline to Madson Mountain, which towers over Moose Pass, L V Ray tops out at 4,840 feet and is named for LeRoy Vincent Ray — a Seward lawyer and mining investor who was the city mayor three times and the Senate president of the first Alaska Territorial Legislature.

Ray, commonly known as L.V., was born in Brookline, Mass., in 1878. After studying for the bar under several attorneys and spending a year working in Ketchikan, the 28-year-old Ray arrived in Seward for the first time in January 1906. The town was booming with industry — shipping, fishing, mining and the Alaska Railroad — and there was more to come after the opening of the Iditarod Trail and the establishment of the Chugach National Forest in the next few years.

With industry also came a burgeoning population and a commercial center, and Ray fit right in. He opened a law office in 1906 in the Harriman bank building downtown, and the very next year he was appointed assistant U.S. attorney for the Third Judicial Division. After being stationed for a time in Seward, he was transferred to Valdez, where he met and married young Hazel Sheldon in 1908.

According to historian John P. Bagoy, Sheldon, who had been born in Seattle and had lived in Alaska since she was 11 years old in 1900, was working as a Valdez telephone operator when she met L.V. After his job prompted a few brief moves, L.V. brought his bride back to Seward to live in 1910.

Ray’s daughter, Patricia Williams, now 102 and living in Anchorage, described her dark-haired father as “fine-looking” and “well-liked.”

“He was a very private person, well-educated and dignified. I would say that people came to him rather than he to them,” she said.

In Seward, she said, L.V. Ray was “a person to be admired, and there weren’t the feelings about attorneys then that there are now.”

Two years after the Rays moved to Seward, Alaska became a territory, and in March 1913 L.V. took his place as Senate president. The first act of this first Alaska Legislature was to grant women in the territory the right to vote. (By comparison, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified seven years later, would provide all U.S. citizens the right to vote.)

That was hardly the only big event during Ray’s days in Seward, however.

In July 1923, during one of Ray’s terms as mayor, the president of the United States came to town. Warren G. Harding, who was touring the western United States, western Canada and Alaska, cruised into Seward aboard the naval transport, the U.S.S. Henderson.  Continue reading

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‘Crossing’ turns into long journey — Author publishing through online service

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Marilynn Wheeless, of Kenai, recently got her first book, “Caribou Crossing,” published through on online service.

Redoubt Reporter

To Marilyn Wheeless, publishing a book is somewhat akin to being a parent.

“It’s like birthing a baby. You want it out there, you want it to grow up, but you don’t want to let go of it,” she said.

The process of ushering her first published book in the world, however, was a little longer than the average child-rearing period. If her new children’s book, “Caribou Crossing,” were an actual kid, it would be all grown up and old enough to have kids of it own.

“I started it about 15 or 20 years ago — I’m not kidding,” Wheeless said.

A lifelong Alaskan, Wheeless, of Kenai, is also a near lifelong writer. She’s been writing since she was 10, and often draws on life experiences and the perspectives she’s gained living where she has for her writing. She grew up in Ketchikan, spent 20 years in Sitka and has been in Kenai for 29 years. She’s a legal secretary for a local law office, is on the board of directors for KDLL Public Radio, is active in Pioneers of Alaska, and the Kenai Writers Group.

“The lifelong experience of living in Alaska has promoted a lot of ideas for good stories,” she said. Continue reading

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Designed to heal — Birchwood Artisans group finds therapeutic value in creating art

By Joseph Robertia

Photo courtesy of Katie C. Wales with the Birchwood Center. The Cottonwood Artisans group made these pieces of artwork to sell at Soldotna’s Farmers Market on Saturdays in the summer. The group also makes pieces to sell at local holiday bazaars.

Redoubt Reporter

Long before there were psychologists and psychiatrists to help, people used art to explain their inner thoughts and feelings. Today, art as a form of therapy is better understood and actively utilized by mental health professionals.

“The groups and activities promote recovery, empowerment and self-reliance,” said Katie Wales, a clinical team leader with the Birchwood Center, a psychological recovery center for adults that is associated with the Peninsula Community Health Services organization.

The Birchwood Center provides skill-building, activity and psychotherapy groups. From these sprouted the Birchwood Artisans, a group of 20 to 25 clients who, in addition to participating in groups, also collaborate with staff to create arts and crafts projects. Continue reading

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Art Seen: Student work shows artistic mastery

“Bikadelic” is an acrylic on canvas painting by Kaitlin Vadla.

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

I recently was invited to help judge the current Kenai Peninsula College Student Exhibit with Cathleen Rolph, and found it to be a difficult task because there were so many wonderful pieces to consider. That is a great sign for an exhibit that has many first-year students, and speaks volumes about the quality of instruction occurring there.

The Juror’s Choice Award went to already accomplished artist Chris Banas for his self-portrait in pastel. The bold, confident lines and poignant rendering is, in my opinion, quite simply the way portraits should be done. My sense upon coming across it was that it moved me to want to know the artist as well as the subject (which, it turned out, were one in the same in this case). I didn’t have any trouble casting my vote in that direction.

Continue reading

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Plugged In: Focus in on holiday shopping list early

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Christmas combat shopping is nearly upon us, so it’s time to be making lists and checking them twice.

We’re also making lists. This week, we’ll rate the still image quality of a few dozen of the better cameras available with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to “don’t even ask.”

It may help if you neatly number your preferences in some bright color directly on this article and then casually leave a copy in a clearly visible place at home. Don’t tell us that we’re not trying to help you and the U.S. economy.

For each of several-dozen currently available camera models, I compared identical copies of a standard test photo containing hard-to-resolve items like delicate green feathers against yellow backgrounds, exquisitely detailed Italian wine bottle labels and fuzzy yarn. After much squinting to detect subtle differences, I’m ready to visit an optometrist. Continue reading

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Anti-coal force digs in against governor

By Naomi Klouda

Photos courtesy of Judy Heilman, Chuitna Citizen’s Coalition. The Chuit River flows through the proposed Chuitna Mine area on the west side of Cook Inlet, 45 miles from Anchorage. The state recently opposed a petition to protect the river from PacRim Coal’s strip-mining plans.

Homer Tribune

When Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration concluded that PacRim Coal’s proposed mine through 11 miles of salmon stream is not unsuitable, those who fought to protect the river were only temporarily stunned.

“This is just a bump on the road. We’re not giving up,” said Bobbi Burnett, secretary-treasurer of the Chuitna Citizen’s Coalition. “The salmon are more important. They can last hundreds of thousands of years, but the coal will be done in 25 years.”

In the two weeks since Gov. Parnell and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources dismissed an unsuitable lands petition filed by local citizens, the public awareness campaign on behalf of the river may have finally reached mainstream Alaskans.

Gov. Parnell is being called to the mat in a flood of mail to his office and in a public war waged through a letters campaign. With the decision Chuitna has achieved name recognition closer to par with the proposed Pebble Mine, its proponents hope. In its obscure but central location 45 miles west of Anchorage, the governor’s rejection has helped wake a matter that rested uncomfortably under the rug. Or, in this case, under the rich peat moss of a fertile coal bed that also cuts through a rich, intact salmon stream featuring five healthy species’ runs.

“Gov. Parnell should be ashamed of himself,” said Judy Heilman, president of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, whose admonishment of the state’s position made it into nearly every newspaper in the state. “We trusted the governor when he said his administration would never trade one resource for another. But now it’s clear. The governor is willing to trade our salmon and fishing jobs in exchange for coal to power China.”

“Initiatives and petitions are important, lawful expressions of citizens’ views. Still, the state permitting process is the place where all individual Alaskans and local communities can express their support or opposition to a project. Alaska has one of the most extensive permitting processes designed to assure public input counts and scientific evidence is considered,” said Sharon Leighow, press secretary for Gov. Parnell’s office.

“Local initiatives or petitions must be turned away if they attempt to favor narrow slices of environmental or industry interests over all Alaskans’ interests,” Leighow  said. “Where the resources of our state belong to all the people, the governor remains committed to assuring every Alaskan’s voice is heard in a lawful permitting process.” Continue reading

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Scratch surface on lice — School district updates policy for new research

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Think you know lice? Think again.

Not much has changed about the dreaded, itchy nuisance itself. One glimpse of white flecks along a kid’s scalp is still enough to launch a family into a flurry of housecleaning, laundry, head-shampooing and fine-tooth combing, all the while cringing at psychosomatic, creepy-crawly sensations.

But research regarding pediculosis, commonly known as head lice, has changed over the years, and recommendations for how to respond to an outbreak have been updated as a result.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District changed its lice policy in 2007, and again in 2010, to keep up with revised recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of School Nursing and other organizations, and this year is expanding its efforts to try and better educate parents and the wider community on how not to see red when they see white.

First of all, don’t overreact. While head lice remain one of the banes of school-going children in the U.S., an infestation isn’t particularly damaging to one’s health. Head lice, unlike body lice, don’t transmit diseases. They can cause itching and be tenacious to get rid of, but aren’t as harmful as many other common childhood afflictions, such as chickenpox, ear infections or pinkeye.

Citing evolving research, the district has become more lenient on allowing kids with evidence of lice to stay in school. Prior to 2007, any child with live lice or visible nits — egg casings — found in their hair had to stay home. After a policy change in 2007, kids were still sent home if live lice were found, and school nurses were supposed to differentiate between live nits and empty casings. Students with live nits were sent home and those with empty casings could return to class, but combing out nits had to continue and nits had to decrease daily until all evidence of lice was gone. Continue reading

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Taking care to grieve — Central Peninsula Hospital holds remembrance ceremony

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Pegge Erkeneff reads a tribute to those who died at Central Peninsula Hospital and Heritage Place in the past year during a Time of Remembrance ceremony Thursday at the hospital.

Redoubt Reporter

Elsie Watson, Shirley Heinicke, Vern Kitchen, Nick Leman, Lenora Cooper-Byrne.

When friends and loved ones think of these names, the memories are connected to their lives: What a huge fan Watson was of the Seattle Seahawks, so much so that even at 97 years old she still made weekly bets with her friends. Heinicke’s 24 years of service as a campground host for Alaska State Parks, including at her beloved Crooked Creek campground. How Kitchen, as a member of Teamsters 959, worked during the building of the Haul Road and was proud of being the first rock hauler to the top of Atigun Pass. The from-scratch lunches Cooper-Byrne fed school kids in Ninilchik during the 1970s and ’80s, especially the ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls that were even praised in a letter by Gov. Bill Sheffield.

For caregivers, staff and volunteers at Central Peninsula Hospital and Heritage Place skilled nursing facility in Soldotna, their connection with these people, and the 85 others who died at these facilities in the past year, came more at the end of patients’ lives than the fullness of it. They don’t have the photo albums, family stories or cherished mementos to help ease grief and celebrate memories. But they still were touched by the lives that ended under their care.

That is what led to the development of the annual Time of Remembrance ceremony held at Central Peninsula Hospital, this year on Nov. 10. In part, it was a way to celebrate the lives that ended at the hospital and Heritage Place.

“To honor them and to remember them so their lives meant something to us as caregivers. Especially at Heritage Place where they sometimes are there for a long time, it’s really important not to forget these people,” said Meg Zerbinos, spiritual care coordinator at the hospital and Heritage Place. Continue reading

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