Refuge for free time, helping hands — Visitors center hosts volunteer orientation event

Redoubt Reporter file photo. Visitors check out a map at the grand opening of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center earlier this year. Now that the busy summer season has passed, refuge staff are taking time to get new volunteers involved in various capacities.

Redoubt Reporter file photos. Visitors check out a map at the grand opening of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center earlier this year. Now that the busy summer season has passed, refuge staff are taking time to get new volunteers involved in various capacities.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

An event Friday at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center had all the hallmarks of a dating service.

There were introductions, telling stories, sharing laughter, giving a sense of priorities and areas of importance, discovering common interests and exchanging scheduling information, all to see if there was enough basis for a continued relationship.

“What we like to do is pair people with what sounds good to them, what kind of experience they want and just kind of get to know them and figure out where they’re going to fit,” said Matt Conner, chief of visitor services at the refuge.

Everyone involved seemed to be hitting it off and there was definitely mutual attraction. Not between refuge staff and the prospective volunteers who came to the orientation event to find out more about opportunities to help out at the refuge, but between everyone involved and the refuge itself.

“We love trail hiking, four-wheeling, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, camping — anything that gets us outside and involved with wildlife and being able to enjoy that. And being out here next to the conservation, it’s really important to learn how it affects the natural resources and learning all these types of things, and protecting it for future kids, basically,” said Lisa Luna, who attended the event with her husband, Eric.

They’re new to the area, having come to work at the Kenai River Raven Lodge down Ski Hill Road from refuge headquarters. They want to get better integrated into their new community, and they’ve got the time to do it in the lodge’s winter offseason.

“We were new to the community so we wanted to get involved as much as we can, meet people, and also, getting involved in the community with other events. Because it is a small town, there’s not too much going on. You can’t be outdoors every day,” Eric said.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Fall’s the time to cultivate love of garlic

Photo courtesy of USDA. Garlic is more diverse than just the kind available at most grocery stores in Alaska. Hardneck garlic is actually better suited to growing in cold climates.

Photo courtesy of USDA. Garlic is more diverse than just the kind available at most grocery stores in Alaska. Hardneck garlic is actually better suited to growing in cold climates.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

With the exception of those planting bulbs of tulips, daffodils or other perennials, fall is a time when many gardeners are putting their planting beds to bed for the season. But on Saturday, green thumbs learned about one more option to nestle in the soil before winter snow arrives.

“Garlic takes time, so you plant in fall to get 6 inches of root growth before the ground freezes,” said Lori Jenkins, of Homer, who taught a garlic-planting workshop hosted by the Central Peninsula Garden Club.

Marion Nelson, club president, said that the workshop was organized in response to requests from the community.

“Garlic has always been a topic of interest. Years ago we had one in January, when it was 20 below, and the room was jam-packed, so there is definitely interest,” she said.

Fall is when garlic growers need to sow their crops, so this time of year is fitting to educate anyone who might never have tried to grow garlic— or tried and failed, as many of the two dozen or so participants admitted to having happen.

Hearing horror stories about garlic is nothing new for Jenkins. She has been a 30-year grower of garlic, considered a vegetable by some, herb by others and even medicine by a few. She and her husband, Wayne, and son Obadiah, founded the Alaska Garlic Project, the goal of which is to raise gourmet varieties of seed garlic to provide locally grown garlic starts to others around the state.

Jenkins has 12 varieties of garlic growing and attempts to cultivate them in various conditions, including indoors in a 72-foot high tunnel, as well as outdoors in raised beds.

“It’s really not difficult to grow, but it does take attention,” she said.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under gardening

Director search starts anew — Kenai Watershed Forum focusing on local, Alaska candidates

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The search continues for a new executive director for the Kenai Watershed Forum. Robert Ruffner, who has led the organization since its formation in 1997, announced in January his plans to move on to other pursuits by the end of the fiscal year. But after a nationwide candidate search, the watershed forum’s board of directors came up empty.

“We cast a big net and got a lot of applicants in, narrowed that down to two finalists, and brought them both up here. We decided on one, offered that individual the job but then things fell through with that so that put us in a position where we needed to re-evaluate what we were doing,” said board member Matt Pyhala.

The search is beginning anew, this time focusing closer to home, on the Kenai Peninsula and within Alaska, Pyhala said. In the meantime, Ruffner is still serving as executive director, and the watershed forum’s work is continuing as usual.

“The Kenai Watershed Forum is going forward, the future looks great, it’s business as usual,” Pyhala said.

He outlined the highlights of a busy summer season, including the 25th anniversary of the Kenai River Festival and the 21st season of the Stream Watch program.

“This year there were over 180 volunteers, (over) 1,500 hours sharing information with people using the river, about proper use and protecting the watershed and being stewards,” Pyhala said.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Kenai Watershed Forum

Man’s best friend to the end

Photo courtesy of Joseph Robertia. Cyder doing what he loved best — running through the snow.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Robertia. Cyder doing what he loved best — running through the snow.

By Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter

I lost a friend recently. Fall is when I miss him the most. We saw each other daily in the summer, but interactions were always more brief than I would have liked. We spent more time together as the cottonwood leaves began to dapple in gold, the fireweed’s cottony-white puffs were carried on the winds of change and the lead-gray sky washed us both in cold rain.

It’s never easy to bid farewell to those close to us, particularly after sharing so many years and surviving some pretty harrowing experiences together. You’d never know about those difficult times from him, though. He was the quiet, stoic type, especially about his athletic feats and acts of heroism.

He had rust-colored hair, glacial-blue eyes and a build like a brick outhouse, but he never used his size or muscle to intimidate others. A true gentle giant, he preferred to use his physical talents for chipping in as part of the team, helping others less able-bodied than himself.

The love of the outdoors is where we bonded, probably because that’s where we both were most at peace with the world. Journeying together by dog sled, we traveled hundreds to thousands of miles a year through the backcountry. Even as the winter weather arrived and the landscape became draped in a thick white cloak, his enthusiasm never seemed to fade. His spirit always howled, “Let’s head out to where we belong.”

No matter how cold or tired I felt, no matter how steep the mountains we climbed, no matter how dark the night seemed when we camped out miles from civilization, he never complained. We both were in our element.

Continue reading


Filed under mushing, pets

Drinking on the Last Frontier: Expansion a’brewin’ — New craft breweries opening all over Alaska

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Construction progresses at the new home of Kenai River Brewing Co. in Soldotna.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Construction progresses at the new home of Kenai River Brewing Co. in Soldotna.

By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

There has been a lot of excitement in the beer scene in Alaska over the last month. New breweries have been popping up and opening around the state like mushrooms after a good rain. I thought I’d use this month’s column to let you know about the breweries that have opened and the ones that are likely to be opening soon.

Icy Straits Brewing opened Aug. 15 in Hoonah in Southeast. In such an isolated location, it’s a small operation, with owners Todd Thingvall and Dan Kane hoping to produce 500 barrels a year, distributed strictly locally. The brewery and taproom are in a renovated, 100-year-old house built on pilings over the water.

The Gakona Brewing and Supply Co. received its final license from the state Sept. 15, and is currently fermenting its first two beers. Owner Ed Miner has been working for years to get approval to operate his half-barrel nanobrewery, and now he will finally be able to produce craft beers in Gakona. Initially, his brews will only be available at the Trapper’s Den Tavern in the historic Gakona Lodge. The tavern is open year-round, so if you are passing through Gakona, stop and have a beer. The first two offerings will be Berry Wheat Ale, made with raspberries, blueberries and black berries, and Killer Rabbit IPA.

Most recently, Odd Man Rush Brewing opened at 10930 Mausel St. in Eagle River on Sept. 25. Brian Swanson and his business partners, Reid McDonald and Ross Johnson, grew up playing hockey in Eagle River, so they decided to open a hockey-themed craft brewery. The brewery boasts the original scoreboard from the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center, the Eagle River sports complex that was recently remodeled, and its walls are made out of reclaimed wood from the Mac and old hockey sticks. There’s even the front end of a Zamboni and a sign from the historic Regal Eagle Brewing, the first brewpub in Alaska that operated out of the North Slope Restaurant in Eagle River from 1995 to 2003.

That’s three new craft breweries open for business in the last six weeks, bringing the total in the state to 27.

That number does not look to be accurate for long. Two breweries in the Mat-Su area are working hard to open soon — Bearpaw River Brewing in Wasilla and Bleeding Heart Brewery in Palmer. In Anchorage, Quake Brewing is looking to open on Tudor Road, while Cynosure Brewing on Potter Drive just took delivery of its brewhouse. Girdwood Brewing is coming to its namesake town, and Baleen Brewing will bring local beer back to Ketchikan. There are likely others out there on the drawing board that I just haven’t heard about yet. As I said, breweries and brewpubs are springing up like mushrooms all across our great state.

Here on the Kenai Peninsula, I’m not aware of any new breweries opening, but that doesn’t mean that exciting things aren’t happening. All you have to do is drive behind the new Walgreens in Soldotna to see what I mean. The foundation and floor are going in for the new home of Kenai River Brewing Co. The building is going to house an expanded brewery and a much larger taproom. With an opening scheduled for May, we should all be able to be enjoying beers from Kenai River on the covered patio next summer.

It truly is an exciting time for craft brewing in Alaska.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under beer, business, Drinking on the Last Frontier

Almanac: McKinley: Bad name evoking bad decisions

Photo courtesy of William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States.

Photo courtesy of William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States.

By Brent Johnson, for the Redoubt Reporter

The name “McKinley” is out in Alaska. That’s appropriate for two reasons. First, the mountain’s Koyukon Athabascan name was always better because it meant “the high one.” Second, President McKinley’s reputation in Alaska is low. Here’s why:

There once was a crook named Alexander Mackenzie, who was a Republican national committeeman from North Dakota. In 1883, McKenzie succeeded in getting the capitol of Dakota Territory moved from Yankton to Bismark, where he owned property.

McKenzie had an ear for money and learned of the gold strike in Nome. And he heard that foreigners (often called “the three lucky Swedes”) had filed first and got the best claims. McKenzie thought he could use an irritant against immigrants to steal their good fortune.

Turns out that two of the foreigners were already naturalized citizens, and also that the mining laws allowed for foreigners to participate. So McKenzie tried to change the laws to gain an opportunity to seize the mother lode based on race. When that effort failed, he simply took the law into his own hands.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Almanac, history

Plugged In: Data security — how much choice in the matter?

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

There’s no doubt that smartphones, Wi-Fi connections and other mobile technologies are convenient and productive, but those benefits are accompanied by significantly increased risks.

In a continuing legal education session that I and others presented last week to Canadian lawyers about mobile security, there was a broad sense that personal privacy risks have become much more serious as mobile computing becomes the norm. Periodically over the next few months, we’ll discuss some measures you can take to reduce those risks.

Recently, information tech-nology professionals rated mobile technologies, particularly smartphones, as by far the most serious privacy and security risk. Not only does mobile computing come with all of the usual risks of office-centric computing, but also with quite a number of additional risks unique to the mobile experience.

Protecting our privacy is often more difficult with mobile devices. Now that the vast majority of all data is maintained electronically, the potential for mischief and the unwitting compromise of everything from banking and credit card data to private communications has become very high. That risk is greatly exacerbated by the move to social media and mobile computing.

To the long-standing general problems of computer security, we now face concerns unique to mobile and cloud computing use, further increasing vulnerability. Governmental agencies, banks, online retailers and cloud computing vendors are all being hacked with regularity, but usually not comprehending the nature and scope of the breach for months after the initial attack. A friend from my MIT days, a retired career military officer, casually mentioned in a recent email that there’s a general expectation that national communications would be intentionally disrupted during some crisis or other sometime during the next 10 years. Even without such apocalyptic, yet plausible, scenarios, the public Internet as we know it is exceptionally vulnerable to state-sponsored, criminal and hacker disruption and penetration.

There’s little or no feasible action you can take to avoid mobile and “cloud” security problems beyond avoiding the threat or loss of a mobile device and using heavy encryption. Storing your data somewhere out in the Internet “cloud,” whether with Google, Facebook or a business-oriented vendor, further reduces your privacy. Despite assurances, the publicly known record is not comforting, and we only know about those major breaches that have been recognized and reported in the media.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Plugged in