Monthly Archives: November 2012

No paper this week, happy Thanksgiving!

The Redoubt Reporter will return Dec. 5. In the meantime, don’t forget to enter our Fall into Winter reader-submitted photo contest. Details here:

The Redoubt Reporter is holding another in its series of reader-submitted photo contests.

Photos will be judged and winners selected by a three-member panel. After each contest closes, we’ll publish and discuss some of our favorites in the Redoubt Reporter. Some of the selected photographers will be invited to frame and hang their photos at a Redoubt Reporter June 2013 group photo show scheduled at the Sterling Highway Kaladi Brothers coffee shop.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1, 2012. All submissions must be in high-quality digital format. Submit no more than five JPEG images by email to redoubtreporterphotos@gmail.com.

Entry rules:

1. Our theme is “Falling into winter on the Kenai” and submissions must fit this theme.

2. Entrants must be amateur photographers who are residents of the central Kenai Peninsula.

3. Photographs can be of any subject fitting the theme but must have been taken of the Kenai Peninsula on or after Aug. 1, 2012.

4. If you submit photographs in which people are recognizable, you must also provide us with their permission for us to publish any such photographs.

5. Please do not submit portrait photos. Do not submit photographs whose content would not be appropriate for publication in a family newspaper. Do not submit photos of illegal subject matter. All such photos will be deleted immediately without notice to you and at the sole discretion of the editor.

6. Photographers must include their name, telephone number, email address, town of residency and each photo’s date, location and description of subject matter.

7. Submitted JPEG images should be of the best possible technical quality. Good technique and technical quality are important, but originality, creativity, interesting subject matter, artistic merit and good composition are even more important.

8. By submitting photos, you agree to our publication of them in the Redoubt Reporter newspaper and on our website. The Redoubt Reporter will have the right of first publication of your photos. However, you will retain the copyright for all other purposes and your name will be listed if we publish any of your photos.

9. Our decisions about what’s published or selected for exhibition are final and are admittedly subjective. Space is limited, and the judging panel and editor reserve the right to choose photos at their discretion.

10. Retain your original digital files of all submitted images. We are not responsible for preserving copies of your digital images.

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Hut, hut, hike or ski — Manitoba Cabin gets new lease on recreation life

By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Repairs near completion on the 70-plus-year-old Manitoba Cabin in the Summit Lake area of the Kenai Mountains earlier this month. Originally a mining cabin, the structure also has been a popular stopover for backcountry skiers, and now is available to rent through the Alaska Mountain and Wilderness Huts Association.

Two years of working through a governmental permitting process, months of planning, a $10,000 grant, an on-site specialty contractor working more often than not since summer solstice, plus thousands of hours of volunteer labor have gone into preserving the once-condemned, 70-plus-year-old Manitoba Cabin, to give it a future in keeping with its historic past.

And you’d never know any of that to look at it, passing by on the trail across Canyon Creek, just below the cabin in the Summit Lake area of the Kenai Mountains.

“Just walking up the road it’s like, wow, it looks exactly the same as it did back then,” said Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, who has been skiing Mount Manitoba since the 1970s, each trip passing by the squat, weathered wood structure sitting sentinel on a rise above the creek at the base of the popular backcountry ski area.

That’s exactly the point, say those behind the cabin restoration project, who are going to extra effort to make sure the cabin looks like it hasn’t had much work done at all.

“We wanted to salvage as much as we can and keep the historic nature of the building. We don’t want to put something here that doesn’t belong here. It’s a beautiful site, why not put together something that you’re proud of?” said Harry Hunt, the contractor leading the renovation effort on behalf of the Alaska Mountain and Wilderness Huts Association.

To clarify: The “back then” goal isn’t to keep the cabin looking as it has in the recent past — crumbling, decaying, succumbing to the inevitable conclusion of disuse, carpenter ants, encroaching vegetation and unchecked moisture. It’s to return the cabin to the days, 20 years ago, when it was still a welcoming destination for backcountry skiers, or even longer ago when it housed a series of miners hoping to tease glints of gold out of the creek below.

“As we renovated we tried to preserve its historic look and feel as much as possible,” said John Wolfe, president of the huts association. “Because of the history of the area and the recreational opportunity of the area, that’s what the heritage area is all about, so that’s part of why we’re trying to preserve the look and feel of this building and interpret its history.”

The cabin was built in the 1930s and was inhabited by a series of placer miners up until the 1980s, when the Anchorage Nordic Ski Club became its caretaker. The Manitoba area has been a popular recreational destination for about as long as backcountry skiers have been etching their serpentine tracks down the flanks of the Kenai Mountains. The grade of the double-humped slope offers the thrill of descent with little risk of avalanche. Access to the mountain is convenient from Mile 48 of the Seward Highway, with an old road leading about a half mile to a bridge across the creek at the cabin site, narrowing to a switchback trail that shuttles skiers up through the brush to the expanses of slopes and sky above tree line.

But while the area has remained popular with skiers and still holds active mining claims, the Manitoba Cabin fell into disuse and disrepair. The Nordic Ski Club of Anchorage started operating the cabin as a recreational site through a special-use permit with the U.S. Forest Service in 1982. Despite several repairs, the Forest Service deemed the structure unsafe for habitation and the ski club’s permit lapsed Dec. 31, 2001.

The cabin site had been part of federal mining claims administered by the Forest Service, with the state of Alaska taking control of most of the Summit Lake area through a federal-to-state land conveyance. Only a few privately held in-holdings remained as active mining sites. If and when those claims became inactive, the land lapsed into control of the Alaska Department of Natural Recourses, which didn’t particularly relish the idea of having to maintain cabins and associated structures.

“We heard that the state typically would ask the federal government to remove ‘trespass cabins’ that might exist (when claims lapsed and land transferred to ADNR) so that they didn’t have another thing to think about, another headache to manage,” Wolfe said.

But before the cabin was destroyed, the huts association began a permit process to lease the land from the state DNR and restore the structure. The site is a little outside the group’s original and primary focus — establishing a system of whistle-stop backcountry huts along the Alaska Railroad’s Anchorage-to-Seward route. But it was perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the organization to promote outdoor recreation by providing convenient communal lodging.

“That’s one thing that’s great about Manitoba Cabin, it’s kind of halfway between the Kenai-Soldotna

Manitoba Cabin is practically brand new following extensive renovations, but original materials were salvaged wherever possible to preserve the look of the cabin.

area and Anchorage and Seward, so it’s sort of a meeting point in the middle in terms of an outdoor ski area, and it’s pretty cool to get out and run into people from elsewhere. On a small scale it’s what’s best about huts everywhere. If you go to huts in the Alps or wherever, the very best thing is that you’re mixing with a bunch of people from all over,” Wolfe said.

The huts association had a romantic vision for the site — renovate the cabin structure, build additional housing and add some comforts and conveniences to create a warm, dry, cozy retreat for visitors to share a hot meal and their mutual appreciation for outdoor recreation.

“It’s meant to be a little bit different and filling a niche between your standard public-use cabin and your really high-end wilderness lodge. It goes toward the public-use end of the spectrum, but you don’t need to bring a tent, you won’t have to bring kitchen stuff. It’s supposed to be a little bit better appointed and require you to carry less stuff. That’s kind of the hut model in the world. Huts can be a lot of different things, but usually they provide the ability to do a multiday, hut-to-hut sort of experience with carrying not much more than a daypack, and so that’s where we’re heading,” Wolfe said.

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Gobble your own gobbler — Fowl farmers raise homegrown meals

By Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Saki Bartch. Saki Bartch, of Nikiski, will go to her bird pen, rather than the grocery store, for the main dish of her Thanksgiving meal. She raises turkeys, chickens, ducks and geese.

As people across the state and country pull from their freezers frozen, pink-skinned, bumpy blocks of what formerly was a living bird, a few folks enjoy their turkey being a bit fresher for their Thanksgiving meals — as in it was just walking around a couple days before it became a holiday dinner.

“I have a broad-breasted white that I’m getting ready to butcher. He’s probably up to around 30 pounds and has been free-ranging all summer long on grains, grass and bugs,” said Sarah Donchi, owner of Kenai Feed and Supply on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Donchi is not alone in her endeavors. Her store caters to those who live a lifestyle revolving around farming and livestock, and in spring she sold turkey poults, along with the young of other edible fowl species.

“I probably sold around 500 of them and I’d guess most, if not all, were for butchering eventually,” she said.

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Open hearts, open homes — Peninsula youth in need of more foster families

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Despite the best-laid plans, sometimes in life, things have a way of not working out as expected. For Soldotna resident Sherri Vickaryous, she thought after having her own kids she and her husband would be done with diapers and other related responsibilities of rearing children.

“We got, Rhianne, at 3 months old. And, Riley, at 5 years old, came along a month later,” she said, referring to the two children she fostered until last year when the adoption paperwork for the sisters was finalized and they legally became her children.

The kids were actually Vickaryous’ step-grand-children. Her husband’s daughter from another marriage gave birth to them, but due to personal problems was unable to raise them herself. She legally gave up her parental rights.

Now 6 and 10 years old, Vickaryous said it’s hard to imagine that, despite being the kids’ primary care providers for half a decade, until the adoption went through last year, she could have lost the kids had her husband passed away.

“He was the blood relative, but I was a step-parent, so we were afraid, legally, I could lose the kids if anything happened to him,” she said.

Vickaryous and her husband navigated the long road that was fostering and eventually adopting the children, and she said it was a confusing process at the start.

“We had no clue what to do,” she said.

For others who find themselves in a similar situation to Vickaryous, or just looking to assist a child in need, the state of Alaska Office of Children’s Services holds Resource Family Orientations the third Wednesday of each month to educate and inform people about how to provide foster care or work toward an adoption.

“We are always in need of foster homes across the Kenai Peninsula. The majority of the homes we have available are full at any given time, a difficult reality when needing to place even one child, let alone a large sibling group,” said Tonja Whitney, a community care licensing specialist at OCS.

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Federal budget cuts already felt

By Naomi Klouda, Homer Tribune

Photo by Naomi Klouda, Homer Tribune. Steve Delehanty, manager of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, already has been dealing with budget-trimming directives from the federal government.

Federal employees make up 33 percent of the state’s employment picture, and a new retirement incentive in place is encouraging 10 percent of them to retire.

The potential to lose the more experienced wildlife biologists, NOAA experts and career professionals in National Marine Fisheries Service could cause a significant impact in coastal communities along Kachemak Bay.

In the Homer area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is the largest federal employer with 25 to 30 people, including seasonal workers. Employees of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center building already went through heavy budget cuts last year, said Refuge Manager Steve Delehanty.

An incentive system to encourage longer-term employees to retire is in place until Dec. 31. The idea isn’t a mandate or a layoff, said USFWS spokesman Bruce Woods. But in the long term, it could save the wildlife service millions of dollars in salaries.

In return, the retirees get $150 to $200 more per month than they will if they put off retirement until next year.

Delehanty said he doesn’t anticipate losing any of his employees to early retirement. This refuge’s painful budget cuts came last year when four positions were cut or not filled and other decisions had to be made, including docking the research ship MV Tiglax for two weeks to cut staff and fuel costs from the budget.

“Our budget is flat, so when we made the decisions to cut, it was to make it balance. We were choosing between fuel for our building and the ship and other cuts,” he said. “We made the painful decision to tie up our ship for a couple of weeks. We didn’t fill a receptionist position — when you call there’s no receptionist to answer the phone. We cut hours the visitor’s center is open.”

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Common Ground: Ruff course in vocabulary

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Christine Cunningham and Parker, working on speaking the same hunting language.

Just as I was about to press the trigger of my 1-gauge over/under shotgun, the image of my English setter bobbed into view. The white tail ptarmigan I’d been holding on, waiting for it to fly, startled from its perch. And, instead of firing, I watched as my 1-year-old setter bounded in the air after it as if she were happily chasing a butterfly.

Parker’s tongue hung from the side of her mouth as she ran the length of its takeoff and beneath its white-winged glide down the mountain. They had made it past the effective range of my shot by the time they parted ways — the ptarmigan higher in the sky than it would have otherwise gone, and Parker keeping pace with it on the ground. She was so proud of herself. If the point of having a pointer was to watch a dog startle a flock of birds, she was on the job.

She ran back toward me for her congratulations and, since I do not have the sternness required of first-rate dog trainers, I melted under her charms. She was so happy I just didn’t know how to tell her that she really, really screwed up. Instead, I wanted to give her a prize for participation. She was my little effort all-star.

We were having a happy reunion when I looked up to see the still-frozen expressions of shock on my hunting partner and his professional hunting dog’s face. Winchester, a well-trained English setter who approached his bird-hunting work with the sophistication of an expert, and my hunting partner, who had experienced countless mornings on the same mountain where everything went right, were staring at the two of us amateurs like we had just crashed a black tie party dressed as zombies.

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Soldotna: Real good, then — Cheechako reporter covered community with love

By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

Edward R. Murrow, Woodward and Bernstein, Helen Thomas, Walter Cronkite, Hunter S. Thompson, Barbara Walters, Jim Lehrer — journalism comes with an extensive pantheon of notable figures, as inescapable for idealistic cub reporters as the inevitable realization that you will likely never make that list, and the eventuality that you will, someday, accidentally print “asses” when you mean “assess.”

Having such an ingrained roster of professional idols is helpful in an aspirational sense, but they’re distant, mythic role models, at best.

How much use is that? Ted Koppel isn’t going to copyedit my page proofs. I can’t call Tim Russert to help me phrase a question to which a political candidate will actually give a straight answer. And some of the pantheon’s most legendary exploits — eliciting tears during interviews, reporting under the influence of hallucinogens, using porn titles as nicknames for sources — don’t exactly constitute a practical how-to guide.

Lucky for me I got to know Katherine Parker, a real, live model of how to be a member of this profession in this particular corner of the universe. Her most prominent traits — moderate, humble, trusting and kind — aren’t conjured by the names above. And her reporting career was conducted in a time and place so far from anywhere considered notable in the mythos of capital-j Journalism as to barely qualify as a suburb of the middle of nowhere.

But she’s meant more to me than any of the inherited roster of reporters I’m supposed to idolize, and my life here has been indelibly enhanced by Katherine, just as Soldotna, her home, has been.

Katherine and Charlie Parker moved to Soldotna in 1961 to homestead on 40 acres atop a hill overlooking the still-infant community. Charlie worked as a surveyor and owner of the Map Shop, and in 1972 Katherine hired on as reporter for the Cheechako News. She became a fixture at public meetings, taking copious notes for her reporting, and chronicled all manner of happenings around town.

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Art Seen: Festive firs — Visitors center’s halls decked out for tree auction

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Zirrus VanDevere. The Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center is decked out with its annual Christmas Tree Auction. Silent auction bids and bucket raffle tickets are available through Dec. 8.

A number of nonprofits have worked toward getting the word out about their group’s efforts by volunteering to decorate Christmas trees at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center once again this year. Donned, “A Festival of Trees,” the jolly grouping of evergreens (or, everwhites, as the case may be) add a festive touch to the main hall and have a range of donated items adorning the trees and the spaces below.

Some of the trees use a silent auction to raise funds to split between the group and the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, and others utilize a bucket auction where tickets are purchased for three bucks a pop.
During the busy festivities of Christmas Comes to Kenai, kids will get to purchase up to five tickets for a dollar each, giving them a good chance at a tree full of goodies.

The auction will close Saturday, Dec. 8, when representatives of each group will talk a little about what they are up to while everyone otherwise listens to live music and munches on Christmas cookies. The bidding will end at noon, and the winners will be announced. Trees are graciously delivered by Spenard Builder’s Supply a few days after the closing event.

The following are participants in this year’s auction: 4-H, American Legion George H. Plumley Memorial Unit No. 20, Kenai River Brown Bears, Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, Kenai Watershed Forum, Kenai Fine Arts Center, Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, Matti’s Farm, Pi Chapter Beta Sigma Phi, Re-Group, Kenai Saturday Market and Skyview High School Swim Team.

Zirrus VanDevere is the exhibits and cultural coordinator at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

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Plugged In: Making a list, checking values twice

‘Fall into winter on the Kenai’ photo contest closes Dec. 1

The Redoubt Reporter is holding another in its series of reader-submitted photo contests.

Photos will be judged and winners selected by a three-member panel. After each contest closes, we’ll publish and discuss some of our favorites in the Redoubt Reporter. Some of the selected photographers will be invited to frame and hang their photos at a Redoubt Reporter June 2013 group photo show scheduled at the Sterling Highway Kaladi Brothers coffee shop.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1, 2012. All submissions must be in high-quality digital format. Submit no more than five JPEG images by email to redoubtreporterphotos@gmail.com.

Entry rules:

1. Our theme is “Falling into winter on the Kenai” and submissions must fit this theme.

2. Entrants must be amateur photographers who are residents of the central Kenai Peninsula.

3. Photographs can be of any subject fitting the theme but must have been taken of the Kenai Peninsula on or after Aug. 1, 2012.

4. If you submit photographs in which people are recognizable, you must also provide us with their permission for us to publish any such photographs.

5. Please do not submit portrait photos. Do not submit photographs whose content would not be appropriate for publication in a family newspaper. Do not submit photos of illegal subject matter. All such photos will be deleted immediately without notice to you and at the sole discretion of the editor.

6. Photographers must include their name, telephone number, email address, town of residency and each photo’s date, location and description of subject matter.

7. Submitted JPEG images should be of the best possible technical quality. Good technique and technical quality are important, but originality, creativity, interesting subject matter, artistic merit and good composition are even more important.

8. By submitting photos, you agree to our publication of them in the Redoubt Reporter newspaper and on our website. The Redoubt Reporter will have the right of first publication of your photos. However, you will retain the copyright for all other purposes and your name will be listed if we publish any of your photos.

9. Our decisions about what’s published or selected for exhibition are final and are admittedly subjective. Space is limited, and the judging panel and editor reserve the right to choose photos at their discretion.

10. Retain your original digital files of all submitted images. We are not responsible for preserving copies of your digital images.

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’Tuf luck — XTRATUF outsourcing sparks cry over quality of boots

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Alaskans have suffered through a decrease in quality in XTRATUF boots following manufacturing being shifted to China, but representatives say the boots are back up to snuff and tough as ever.

Redoubt Reporter

In Florida, they wear flip-flops. In New York, it’s Prada. In Alaska, XTRATUF boots reign as the supreme footwear of the masses.

Dog mushers working on glaciers wear the insulated versions to keep their feet warm. Oil field workers all the way to the North Slope favor their ruggedness. From fishermen to foresters, cannery workers to clam diggers, under rain suits or wedding attire, the ubiquitous, brown-and-cream-colored boots are part of standard Alaska attire.

“I have three pairs that I’ve had for two years, and two of the pairs were hand-me-downs that I got from someone who’d had them for two years themselves, and they’re still holding together,” said Austin Petty, of Soldotna.

Petty wears XTRATUFs nearly every day year-round, whether at work or at play. The boots are his four-season footwear.

“I work at a cannery and I wear them all day there. They’re warm, comfortable and you can walk on slime-covered docks and even on fish and not slip. Outside of work I’ll wear them for just about everything, too. I’ve hunted black bear in them and just this week went ice fishing in them,” he said.

Despite the brand’s devoted following in Alaska, the reliability of XTRATUFs came into question earlier this year after the production of the boots switched from being made in the U.S. to being manufactured in China. Honeywell — XTRATUF’s manufacturer and representative in the U.S. — assured vendors and consumers alike that the boots would be built the same and there would be no changes to any components. But common consensus has persisted that the boots just aren’t as tough anymore.

The rubber of the Chinese-made boots is said to be considerably slimmer on the calf, and that the rubber of the Illinois-made boots seemed oilier than its substitute. Most concerning is reports that the foreign-made boots begin to separate at the heel within weeks instead of years.

“I have some and from personal experience they’re not as durable as they used to be,” said Toby Burke, a wildlife technician at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, who spends a good portion of his day wearing XTRATUFs in the field.

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Last of the salmon people — EPA assessment describes culture of Natives still supported by wild salmon, clean water

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

In the battle over whether or not, or under what conditions, to allow development of the Pebble Mine prospect, much of the ammunition lobbed back and forth has been in the form of very large, ultimately very quantifiable numbers — an estimated 80 billion pounds of copper, over 100 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum; an open pit mine potentially two miles wide and several thousand feet deep with up to 10 billion tons of waste material stored in two tailings lakes held back by four-plus miles of dam; the potential of thousands of jobs in construction and mine operation; located in the headwaters of the largest wild salmon run in the world, where commercial fishing and related jobs account for about 75 percent of local employment.

Yet, not all factors in the decisions to be made can be entered into a calculator, such as the potential effects to Native villages of the region that rely on wild salmon and clean water as a cornerstone of not only their diet and economy, but their culture and the sustainability of their way of life. How do non-numeric concepts, like freedom, family and tradition, fit into equations balancing the millions of dollars worth of value in the Bristol Bay watershed’s commercial and sportfishing industries, or the potential billions of dollars worth of minerals in the ground?

Two anthropology professors from Kenai Peninsula College, Dr. Alan Boraas with the Kenai River Campus in Soldotna and Dr. Catherine Knott of the Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer, were tasked with qualifying the unquantifiable elements of the potential effects to Native villages of the Nushagak and Kvichak river watersheds, should the salmon and clean water they rely on be compromised.

The nature of their findings is clear — salmon are inextricably important to the history, culture, spirituality and sustainability of the villages. But how to weight those findings in the overarching reckoning to be made about large-scale mining in the region, however, is less clear.

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What a lark — Birders flock to peninsula to see rare Eurasian visitor

By Joseph Robertia

Photo courtesy of Laura Burke. A sky lark was seen at Deep Creek State Recreation Area on Oct. 19.

Redoubt Reporter

It was a lark, in both name and the fact that it showed up on the Kenai Peninsula, or mainland Alaska at all. At least that’s what avid birders said, who flocked to Deep Creek to see the rare avian visitor late last month.

“People were driving 500 to 600 miles and pulling all-nighters to get here and see this bird, that’s how special it was,” said Toby Burke, a wildlife technician with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The bird is a small, cryptically colored ground-dweller formerly known as a Eurasian sky lark, but now, since the forming of the European Union, just known as a sky lark. They can be found from Europe to Asia in their home range. Sightings in Alaska are rare.

“This is the first record of one on mainland Alaska. Typically when they’re spotted in Alaska they’re seen in the Western Aleutians, the Pribilofs or occasionally St. Lawrence Island, but not here. It’s an anomaly. So the Anchorage birding community, people from Seward, even Fairbanks, started coming down because, usually to see this bird you’d have to go to the Bering Sea and spend a lot of money,” Burke said.

According to fellow refuge technician Todd Eskelin, it was Steve Waltz, a birder from Anchorage who makes frequent bird-watching trips to the peninsula, who first spotted the lark.

“Most people headed down that way stop at Ninilchik or Anchor Point, but not usually Deep Creek, so it’s really cool he did. He took photos and described it, and posted to the Alaska Birding list serve,” he said.

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