Monthly Archives: May 2010

Birding basics: Go with what you know

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Rebecca Gilman, left, and Debra Dougherty look at gulls on the bluff above the Kenai River near the Kenai Senior Citizens Center on Saturday as part of a tour for the Kenai Birding Festival.

Redoubt Reporter

At first flush, beginning birding seems both bird-brain easy and overwhelmingly challenging for the exact same reason — birds are everywhere.

Spring on the Kenai Peninsula is accompanied by the constant fluttering heartbeat of avian life — flitting, wheeling, swooping, diving, flushing, roosting — and the sweet to cacophonic soundtrack it provides. Being outside and not seeing and hearing birds would be as improbable as floating the Swanson River on a calm, July day without becoming anemic from the mosquitoes.

But that’s also the challenge — there are just so dang many birds, how do you tell them apart? There are 274 bird species on the Kenai Peninsula alone, with 18 different gulls, for crying out loud.

Not only do birders need to learn to differentiate species visually, but their songs should also be learned. Was that a whoop-whoop-whooooo, or a monotone huuuumm-trill-chirp, or a click-whirr-wheeze, or a wop ba-ba lu-mop, a wop bam boom?

Then there are the names to keep track of — semipalmated plover, greater scaup, sooty shearwater. Not the most helpful references. Does a Bonaparte’s gull have something to do with its black head, like Napoleon’s iconic cap, or are they just short and lousy at holding France against attackers? What about a red-necked grebe? Do they sport actual red necks, or have an affinity for broken-down pickups and dating their cousins?

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Trumpeter swans glide along Engineer Lake on Saturday. Kenai birders had much to look at over the weekend.

Woah there. Bring it in for a landing, would be Ken Tarbox’s advice. The retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, and one of the organizers of the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail Guide, led a beginning birding tour as part of the weekend Kenai Birding Festival on Friday. The goal of the outing was two-fold, to instill newcomers with the fascination and excitement birding can bring, and to get them started without leaving them overwhelmed.

Before you go

When heading into the field — whether the backcountry or the backyard, preparing and packing the proper gear is key, Tarbox said. First, get a good pair of binoculars rated for decent vision in low light, and focus them for your eyes, adjusting only one lens at a time. A spotting scope with higher magnification is also good to bring along.

“When you’re buying scopes and binoculars, buy the next-highest grade than you can afford, because you’re making an investment for life,” Tarbox said as he packed a $300, straight-lens scope and a $2,000 angled-lens model. “I bought this 10 years ago and it’ll outlast me.”

Next, pack reference materials. That way, birders don’t have to know everything, they just have to know how to look it all up.

Bring a good birding book — Tarbox had the “Sibley Guide to Birds” — and a bird checklist, such as the “Flying Wild” pamphlet put out by the Kenai Watershed Forum, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Keen Eye Birders. If you’re car birding, bring a CD of birdsongs of Alaska to help identify what you’re hearing. If you plan to leave the car behind, bring an MP3 player with birdsongs downloaded.

“You’ll hear the birds calling and sometimes it’s much better to find birds by listening to them and say, ‘Oh, it’s over there.’ Then go for it and you already know what it is,” he said.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Gilman looks through an angle-lens spotting scope at the Moose River while birding guide Ken Tarbox talks about bird behaviors.

Whenever possible, bring an experienced birder with you. Tarbox had Kenai attorney and avid birder Kristine Schmidt along for the tour Friday. She knows more bird songs than he does, Tarbox said, and more sets of eyes means more chance for spotting and identifying birds and settling the inevitable resultant debates — “It’s a scoter. No, it’s a bufflehead. No, scoter. No, bufflehead. …”

If an experienced birder is heading into the field, pack a novice. What’s the use of all that birding knowledge if it’s not shared with others? On Friday’s trip, staff from the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center — Rebecca Gilman, Debra Dougherty and Cathy VanCauwenbergh — were along for the ride in order to see firsthand the birding spots and species they routinely recommend for visitors.

“We’re just trying see all these sights that we’re telling visitors to go experience,” Gilman said.

“It’s much easier to communicate something once you’ve seen it, so I’m really appreciative that we’ve gotten to do it.” Continue reading

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Delayed traffic memory — Road construction projects to avoid hassles of last year

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

For Kasilof residents this spring, all roads north lead to construction.

Kalifornsky Beach Road and the Sterling Highway, the only two routes between Kasilof and Kenai, Soldotna and points north, are both under construction.

As a result of the current one-lane restrictions and reduced speed zones on both roads drivers have already been experiencing construction-related delays ranging from five to 20 minutes. And K-Beach will soon close for two weeks, but project engineers are optimistic about the future traffic flow.

“I think we’re seeing the worst delays of the project. It should get better from here,” said Jonathan Tague, Sterling Highway project engineer with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. “We’re trying to minimize the impact to motorists as best we can.”

On the 16.7-mile federally funded Sterling Highway project, the top layer paving work —2 more inches of asphalt across the top — began May 12 and is near completion. The project, being done by Alaska Road Builders Inc., involved pre-leveling and paving last year from August to October.

As in 2009, construction work is conducted in roughly three-mile sections from Soldotna south to Cohoe Loop Road. The work takes two to three days per lane, and the highway is reduced to one lane during construction hours, with a pilot car guiding traffic through the construction area.

Last season the Sterling Highway construction project did not take a hiatus during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and as scores of motorists were headed south for fishing at one of the southern peninsula rivers’ weekend king salmon openers, clamming or other recreation, traffic backed up for hours in both directions. Tague said that scenario will not play out this year.

“We’ve made a big window around holidays and high-volume weekends, so there won’t be any equipment on the roads during those times,” he said. “We’re also hoping to have the majority of mainline paving done by Memorial weekend.”

Work is currently being done Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. After the holiday weekend, Tague said construction would switch to evening hours, with work done from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Construction is expected to be completed by June 11.

This is good news to motorists and businesses in Kasilof and farther south.

“We’re putting in a store and a concession stand, so we’re hoping people will come despite any inconvenience,” said Jeff Floyd, manager at Crooked Creek RV Park, off Cohoe Loop Road.

Floyd said his busy season hasn’t started yet, and he’s hoping the worst of the construction delays will be done when tourism hits its peak.

“A lot of our reservations are from the Anchorage area, and they’ll be coming in on the Sterling Highway,” he said. “It may slow them down a bit, but they’ll still get here.”

Joe Browning, owner of the Kasilof Riverview Tesoro at Mile 109.5 of the Sterling Highway, said the construction this season is affecting his business far less than last year’s work on the bridge over the Kasilof River.

“Last year business started off good, then their work started and they corked me off for a month and a half. I lost a lost a lot of money,” he said. “This year, I think they’re doing a good job. They’re moving right along, and hopefully they’ll be done by Memorial weekend because that’s the big kickoff for all the business down here.”

“After the Sterling Highway project goes to a night shift, the Coal Creek project (at Mile 4 of K-Beach Road) will really gear up,” said Gary Walklin, Coal Creek project engineer with DOT. “We didn’t want to have a simultaneous impact with major restrictions on both roads.”

Construction on the Coal Creek project, being done by GMC Contracting Inc., began April 28 and is expected to run through June 16, with the bulk of the work occurring at the beginning of next month. During that time, K-Beach Road from Ariels Lane to Ole Timers Lane will be completely closed from June 2 through June 15.

“It’s a very labor-intensive project with a narrow, high embankment,” Walklin said.

As a result, there is no right-of-way to create a temporary road around the project area. “A closure was the best option. The further we ran it into summer, the more of an impact it would have on the fishing and tourism industries,” he said.

While still open, motorists can expect one-lane traffic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but residents of the area say they haven’t yet seen much delay.

“So far I haven’t had any problems at all,” said Kevin Hayes, who lives off Ole Timers Lane. “When I go to work at 7 a.m. the longest I’ve had to wait is about 30 seconds, and coming home in the afternoon it was probably a two-minute wait, tops.”

The purpose of the project is to replace the existing 9-foot hanging culvert beneath the road with an 18-foot diameter, 190-foot-long pipe in an effort to enhance fish passage through Coal Creek.

Rehabilitation of the adjacent creek bed and bank will also be completed, said Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum. Ruffner said he has high hopes for the outcome of the project.

“In terms of hydrology, Coal Creek is very similar to Slikok Creek, where after the culvert was replaced we saw a significant difference in fish moving back and forth. It was almost immediate, according to studies done with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game,” Ruffner said. “So, it should provide better passage for the juvenile fish, including king, coho and pink salmon, and Dolly Varden and steelhead trout.”

A few other roads projects are planned so far for this summer, including a paving project in the Johnson Lake, Crooked Creek and Tustumena roads areas, and installation of a bike-path extension along K-Beach Road from Bridge Access Road.

Weekly updates on roads projects can be found at, or for more information, contact DOT at 262-2870.

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Almanac: Soft on the rules — Fun is priority in annual Cooper Landing Softball Tournament

By Clark Fair

Photo courtesy of Mayme Ohnemus. A Moose Pass player comes in to score in a recent Cooper Landing Community Softball Tournament, which has been going on since 1995.

Redoubt Reporter

The hard-luck story of the Float-N-Fish team in the Cooper Landing Community Softball Tournament went almost all the way back to the tourney’s inaugural season in 1995, but it ended decisively last June 7 when Float-N-Fish defeated Mountain Madness 6-5 in the championship game.

Float-N-Fish had defeated Moose Pass, Alaska Wildland Adventures, Princess Lodge and Mountain Madness in quick succession to open the double-elimination slo-pitch tournament. Then, atop the winner’s bracket, Float-N-Fish had to await the survivor of the loser’s bracket, which turned out to be Mountain Madness.

Formerly a Forest Service-based team from the Moose Pass/Crown Point area, Mountain Madness then defeated Float-N-Fish 7-4 to force a decisive final game.

The title, and the traveling trophy that goes with it, marked the first time Float-N-Fish had won more than a single game in the tournament, and it was emblematic of the way that the wealth (i.e., victories and titles) has been spread around in this event, which takes place in the decidedly rural environs of the upper Kenai River valley.

Since the 10-day, 10-team tournament began on the field adjacent to the Cooper Landing Community Hall, no team has won more than two titles.

Float-N-Fish, on the other hand, had struggled to win at all until 2009.

The first incarnation of Float-N-Fish began in 1996, when the original owner of Cooper Landing Floating & Fishing, Howard Mulanax, first sponsored a team. The Float-N-Fish team played until 2002, when Mulanax retired from guiding and allowed the team to fold with an all-time mark of five wins and 14 losses, which included two winless tournament appearances.

For “entertainment” during the 1997 tournament, Darwin “Pete” Peterson glided onto the softball field during a game. Peterson and his brother, Andy, had launched themselves off Cecil Rhode Mountain across the Kenai River. Andy landed at the nearby Cooper Landing rifle range.

Two of Mulanax’s former players, Heather and John Pearson, took over the guiding business in 2005, renamed it Kenai River Float-N-Fish, and re-started the team — with similar results, at first: three straight winless tourney appearances before a single win in 2008 and the stunning championship run in 2009.

Heather Pearson credited continuity, proper beer consumption and the team’s motivational player/coach, Deanna Hoy, for the sudden success.

“We really had been practicing a lot, and it just finally started coming together for us. Once you start playing with the same people for long enough, you just kind of jell together, and we just sort of became the well-oiled machine that we had been trying to be.

“We also got our beer-and-softball ratio dialed in a little bit better. There were years when we maybe had too much beer, and there were years when we didn’t have any beer, and neither of those strategies worked well for us as a team. So we had a few before the game, you know, to loosen ourselves up, and then we did fine.” Continue reading

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Kayak the Kenai — Low water, high temps make for fun float trip

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Sarah Riley, of Kenai, paddles across tranquil Skilak Lake on Saturday, taking in the snow-swept mountains to the east. The kayaking trip, attended by 19 people, was part of an outdoor excursion planned by the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club.

Redoubt Reporter

The deep, blue water of Skilak Lake was nearly as still as if it were still iced up, but the surface’s mirrorlike reflection of the few wispy cloud formations overhead was a telltale sign winter was over.

So, too, were the ripples that trailed behind two thick-necked loons, whose crisp, black-and-white plumage was a stark contrast to their almost entirely blue surrounding. The larger-bodied male swimming in front of his female partner briefly dove underwater before slicing back to the surface with a wriggling fish in his bill.

As he gulped down the meal, just a few yards away onshore lake-goers of a different sort were arriving. Vehicles were beginning to pull into the parking lot of the lake’s lower boat launch off of Skilak Lake Road. The loons moved away, but not before yodeling a low, “hooo-we-ooo” to the newcomers.

Saturday was a rare, sunny and calm day on Skilak Lake, and the 19 people who showed up to kayak from Skilak down the Kenai River 12 miles to Bing’s Landing knew it the minute they hit the water that morning.

“What a day!” said Todd Stone, a member of the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club, the group that organized the excursion. “When you plan these things, you hope you hit it this well.”

The outdoor club puts this kayak trip on its schedule every season, but the wind and weather can occasionally turn Skilak Lake into a dangerous chop of boat-flipping rollers, according to Steve Ford.

“We’ve been here before when it’s blowing,” he said. “We’ve had to wait until eight at night before it died down enough to put in.” Continue reading

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Common Ground: Got your goat — Tough lessons sometimes have sweet endings

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

Every person who thinks he or she has a fair grasp of the truth of things must one day be proven wrong. My day to be proven wrong came on my first mountain bear hunt.

It was the spring of 2008 and my hunting buddy had spotted a big boar on a grassy knoll. He handed me the binoculars. Yup, it was a big ol’ black bear. “Let’s go!” I said.

He looked at me as if I had just said, “Let’s jump over the moon.”

“That bear is a mile away,” he said.

I pointed to the mountain, “We’ll run up that hill, skirt the bench and drop down on him,” I suggested. This is the point in the story where it’s important to note the difference between a good guide and the person who has showed me everything I know about hunting and fishing. A good guide will take care to explain why something is not a great idea. My hunting partner has a streak of, “Let’s wait and see who’s right about that.” Looking up the grassy mountainside, I envisioned myself as a miniature Julie Andrews. I would be swinging my arms with breath to belt, “The hills are alive with the sound of music!”

“Let’s go,” he said.

I followed him as he made a zig across the first incline. I followed as he made a zag. This is how the miners made their way up mountains, I thought casually. Not so hard without provisions.

The next few zigs and zags came and went. Two errors became evident to me — this was not a hill and I was not going to run up it. Still, the vertical fields of wild geranium and the smell of mountain air were enough to take my breath away. Something was taking my breath away. I began to wonder when it would be an appropriate time to call for a break. My pack and rifle were too heavy for me to swing my arms inanely whilst professing that the hills are alive … .

Then came the shale. Hiking boots are not made that can adequately navigate mountain slate that’s been waiting a hundred years like a loose tooth waiting to be pulled. As the author of this idea, I had to see it through, at least to phase II, which required skirting the tree line. I looked through the binoculars and found the bear to be moving away from our general direction.

He was walking on shale and jaunting upward with ease. But I didn’t give up yet. We followed the bear across three valleys and lost him in a grove of trees. My sides ached, a blister was developing on my right heel, my socks had fallen into my arches, my gun had gained 20 pounds. My hunting partner seemed unfazed. He almost seemed smug.

“Maybe,” I said, “it’s not as easy as I thought.”

Some days you get the bar and some days the bar has a mile head start and you’re just a girl with too many musicals running through your brain and not enough common sense about footwear.

It was another case of a great day without success, as defined by trophies won or lost. That day, and days like it, stand out to me as my greatest experiences in the field. When I finally get something right, it is better because of all the times I got it wrong. The hours spent are an investment into the total worth of the outcome.

This year I went out on a boat with friends for the dual purpose of testing the boat and scouting for bear. My eyes were sore from glassing and the crew was disappointed when we were “pulled over” by Alaska State Parks officials who only checked our life vests when days of preparation would have proved we’d done a hundred other things right. The Parks boat sped away from us, and then came to a sudden stop.

We all glanced up at the mountainside their boat faced. White dots lined the cliffs. About 20 Dall sheep dappled the rocks. I looked through the binoculars and took pictures with the zoom on my camera. It’s not the greatest camera, but it can zoom 15x, and I’ve learned how to adjust the dial to “Auto.”

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. A Dall lamb peeks out from under its mother on a mountainside above the Kenai River.

At the end of the day, without seeing a bear, I was glad to have at least gotten outside. I uploaded my photos to my computer and found something I hadn’t seen. Dall lambs are born in May or early June. Near the time for lambing, the ewes seek a protected spot that is safe to birth their lambs. The rugged cliffs we’d seen that day were a birthing area, and peaking out between the legs of his momma was a little guy with the face of a disgruntled cotton ball.

Every person who thinks he or she has a fair grasp of the truth of things must one day be proven wrong. And it was brought to my attention recently in the form of a friendly reminder: “Has it ever occurred to you that you’re only right 90 percent of the time?”

At first I flinched at the proposition. It’s my position to stay above 90. But the 10 percent of the time I’m wrong, it’s the best kind of wrong — the kind that brings about a world of surprise and greater understanding. And, if I thought about it, 90 percent was probably generous.

Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. She can be reached at

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Winging It: Patience nets results as bird migrations progress

By Sean Ulman, for the Redoubt Reporter

Week 5. Days blend despite our efforts to diversify our looping schedule. We switch off waking early and sleeping in, nap before night sessions.

Weather shifts and eventful bird sightings have become useful ways to tell time. For instance, the big winds ended more than a week ago. This is the sixth straight day of sun. We saw six whimbrels five days ago. Three nights have passed between two earthquakes.

Having two study plots provides a built-in scenery swap. We rarely visit both in a day. Lately the clocks reads, “We haven’t been on plot one in three days.”

The shorebird numbers seem low this spring, but the birds that are here, like us, prefer plot two, so that’s where we go.

To access plot two, we immediately cross two slough trenches, walking or ferrying across on a pack raft, depending on the tide. This mud cake, cracked and powdered with salt, has baked and hardened, so it’s pleasurable walking, akin to the give of a rubber runners’ track. While gauging the day’s growth of glasswort and goose tongue starburst buds, I track coyote tracks and compare gull and crane trident prints. So far we’ve found 17 mew gull nests and one northern pintail clutch of seven eggs in a down-lined bowl. I found the first nest but I should report the score is: Grad student (my wife, Sadie) 16, technician (me) 1.

Pairs of matched ducks and courting dowitchers flush out of pond compartments separated by spike rush as we approach one of plot two’s two large, permanent ponds. Plot one has none and all but a couple of its ephemeral pools have drained.

The reedy grunts of pectoral sandpipers have been replaced by the similar gruff calls of red-necked phalaropes. The former have moved on to their arctic breeding grounds, while the phalaropes are settling in here, courting around like rubber duckies and preparing to nest. This development, as well as the drop-off in all other shorebird numbers, indicate the spring migration has come and gone. Among the array of bathing ducks and gulls on a pond, we’ve counted as many as 82 red-necked phalaropes.

All three of our drop nets are set up here. I am new to hunting, as well as scientific fieldwork, but trapping appears to have more in common with the former. Sound strategy can serve as insurance for poor luck. After observing birds foraging and betting where we think they will forage in the near future (areas that will remain wet), we erect a net. Tensioned to four metal fence posts, the 5-by-11-meter rectangle stretches 1 meter off and parallel to the ground. We run an anchor line 50 yards back, set it in a cleat and wait. And watch.

I prefer hunting from a stand or blind to stalking because I can concentrate on silently listening and almost blend into the terrain. Wildlife carries on as if I’m not there.

Foraging arctic terns splash in nearby puddles. A savannah sparrow flits by and perches so close that I don’t need binoculars to see its yellow lores. Dowitchers fly in and out of ditches, pitching calls that sound like “Star Wars” lasers.

When any bird wanders near the net — or, “we have a customer” — adrenaline begins to drip. So you can imagine the thrill we experienced about a week ago when, first arriving at our net, we saw a pair of Pacific golden plovers sitting pretty at the front, right post. This species is this season’s only life bird for both of us. Dreaming about having such a dapper, black-and-white shorebird with a gold-dappled cape in hand, we forgot to take a photo. Not in my hand, I might add. When releasing the one bird I practiced holding — a 27-gram least sandpiper — I flinched.

Our patience, while dug in minding the net, has paid off with three rapturous raptor viewings. A northern goshawk, banking sharply to clamp to a stump. On an overcast day that resembled late evening this time of year we watched a short-eared owl hunt and perch to dine at 3 p.m. A peregrine falcon worked the same area. For close to five minutes we watched it flap laps before finally arrowing down to display the cruising speed for which it is notorious, flushing all the birds within a mile radius.

From the trapping site we also sighted 60 lapland longspurs undulating above fresh foliage, twice as large as the biggest shorebird time step we’ve seen.

Last Tuesday the Kenai Wildlife Refuge delivered a re-supply. The key item was the water filter. We no longer have to boil water, a time-consuming, sweat-inducing task that wasted wood. And the treated taste is no treat. This is no hand-pump purifier. We pour water into a bucket, leave the cabin for a day or go to sleep and presto! We basically have a Culligan Man in the cabin. It’s incredible. Conversing with a refuge pilot was a welcome departure from our repetitious routine. Continue reading

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Crowning achievement — Soldotna woman named Alaska TOPS Queen for 200-pound weight loss

By AdriAnna Newberry

Photos courtesy of Jackie Mouser. Jackie Mouser, of Soldotna, lost more than 200 pounds through diet and exercise, from 357 pounds to 150 pounds. She was named the TOPS 2009 Alaska State Queen for her weight loss.

For the Redoubt Reporter

Some queens are born to the position. Others win it through battles and wars. For Jackie Mouser, of Soldotna, her enemy was herself. In a battle for health and happiness Mouser conquered her old habits and freed herself from excess weight of over 200 pounds.

It had been a vacillating battle all her life.

Mouser spent her childhood in Anchorage and moved to Soldotna when she was 10 years old.

“My earliest memories of dieting began in junior high. By the time I started my freshman year I was on a popular vitamin diet, skied, swam and hiked. I was always busy and was a slender 135 when I graduated,” she said.

Over the next 29 years, Mouser stayed in Alaska and, for a time, worked alternating shifts on the North Slope. The food there was abundant and always available, as her increasing weight could attest. She later got a job as a fast-food restaurant manager and added more pounds. In a third strike, her doctor discovered Mouser had a medical condition that complicated her weight gain.

She met her husband, Roger, when she weighed 225 pounds, and gained another 25 in the year before their marriage. After the wedding she gained another 100 pounds and wore size 5X. Her medical condition prevented them from having children, so the Mousers turned to adoption. One week before they were to receive a child the adoption fell through and Mouser fell into a deep depression.

“Thinking that my weight had something to do with it I applied for gastric bypass surgery and was turned down. It seemed my sense of failure was being compounded daily,” she said.

Mouser now weighed over 357 pounds.

She decided she’d had enough. It was time to turn the tide. She started seeing a dietician and slowly lost 30 pounds. The dietician recommended a support group and Mouser remembered that her friends, Don and Peggy Edwards, were members of such a group and had lost a lot of weight. In September 2007, Mouser joined the weight-management support group Taking Off Pounds Sensibly, choosing her friends’ chapter AK No. 164 of Soldotna.

The Edwards got right to work. They told Mouser she had to start exercising. They run Edwards’ Boot Camp for their TOPS chapter, and told Mouser that if she missed a single day she would have to make up the workout.

Considering her soreness after the first day, there was no way Mouser wanted to do double sets. She went faithfully to exercise class six days a week.

“Boot bamp was torture,” said Lauri Bourdo-Winter, a fellow member of the chapter and exercise class. The same class that helped Mouser lose more than 100 pounds helped Winter lose around 30 pounds.

“I was her incentive. I was the Best Loser at the time and she was out to beat me,” Winter said. “… I liked her immediately. She’s just awesome. She’s the awesomest person I’ve ever met. She set her mind to lose weight and didn’t give up. She fought.”

Three months after joining TOPS Mouser had lost 48 pounds. To the added thrill of her many friends at the chapter, her weight loss earned her Division I First Place at the annual TOPS State Recognition Days in April 2008.

Mouser continued exer-cising and added hiking, biking and wallyball games. With the added exercising and watching what she ate, Mouser had lost 99.25 pounds by the end of 2008. In May 2009 she celebrated one full year of successfully keeping off more than 100 pounds.

Her friends and supporters were not finished with her, though. In the summer of 2009 the Edwards had her running five-kilometer races and participating in a marathon. Her doctor was so impressed with Mouser’s success at losing weight that her weight goal was lowered before she reached the original goal. She never did have the gastric bypass surgery. Continue reading


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Honored chorus — High schoolers to sing in Washington, D.C.

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Greg Daniels. Kenai Central High School Choir students, from left, Dante Diaz, Natalie Kurzendoerfer, Kyle Dougherty, Faren Calix and Cole Chase-Cochrane, will travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in a national honor choir in June.

Redoubt Reporter

If Renee Henderson, choir director at Kenai Central High School, had any doubts about Kyle Dougherty’s lung capacity when she submitted his audition recording for national honor choir, he amply dispelled them by his reaction when she told him he had been chosen to participate.

“You could hear him probably for — I’m serious — at least a block and a half,” Henderson said.

Dougherty, who just finished his sophomore year, and four other KCHS choir students will travel to Washington, D.C., on June 23 to participate in the Music Educators National Conference’s Music Education Week from June 24 to 28, including performances by a mixed choir, orchestra, concert band and jazz band made up of musicians and singers selected out of student auditions from around the country. The choir’s program includes “Until I Found The Lord,” by the honor choir’s director, Andre Thomas of Florida State University, who was in Kenai in October 2007 to conduct borough honor choir.

While KCHS routinely sends participants to the All-State and All-Northwest honor music festivals, only one other student in KCHS history, Synneva Hagen-Lillevik, has participated in a national honor choir. Henderson had two of her current students, Natalie Kurzendoerfer and Cole Chase-Cochrane, seniors next year, asked to send audition recordings to national honor choir, and she chose to enter three others whom she thought had a shot at it — Dougherty; Dante Diaz, a senior next year; and Faren Calix, a junior next year, without telling them she was doing so.

Given how challenging the audition process is for national honor choir — “like shooting a bird in the dark,” as Dougherty put it — acceptance came as a surprise to all five singers and Henderson.

“I didn’t want to open it because I knew it would say none of them made it,” Henderson said of an e-mail she got from MENC. “And I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got to look at it sometime, might as well look now.’”

It was doubly a shock to the three who didn’t even know they had been entered. Dougherty, though, shouldn’t have been quite so surprised, since he had been planning on attending since middle school.

“He came in as an eighth-grader, I’d never seem him before,” Henderson said. “He came in with (Rosemary Bird, Kenai Middle School choir teacher) and he said to me, ‘I plan on making national honor choir when I’m in high school.’ And I said, ‘Well, that would be nice. I only know one other person in the history of Kenai Central to do that.’ It was a strange introduction to a student, which is why I remembered it.” Continue reading

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Interesting art hanging around at area galleries

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

"Survival" by Victoria Ann Worral

One can find plenty of enjoyable pieces of art around town this month. There’s Connie Goltz’s whimsical Australian dot paintings, shown along with the first forays into exhibiting work by her husband, Jay Gould, and new painstaking drawings from Emily Steele-Grossman at Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk. There’s also an epic oil painting by Richard Borango in the Artists Without Borders gallery in the 4-D Interiors building.

At the Artists Without Borders exhibit this month I found a number of pieces to charm me. “It’s All About Me” and “Violins,” by Donna Schwanke, are both mixed media and acrylic paintings that are dynamic and appealing. Pam Mersch’s “Rosy (Short for Rotisserie) and His Girls” is another mixed-media assemblage with a fun combination of shapes and textures. Ann Mercer has a lovely watercolor of Pigot Bay in Prince William Sound, and Victoria Ann Worral’s watercolor rendering is as intriguing as it is playful. It is called “Survival” and seems to depict something about plant or species migration and evolution in a kind of old-world, mystical style.

There is a photograph at Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk that tells a story about Connie Goltz and Jay Gould being in White Cliffs, New South Wales, Australia. A storm had come up just after the only pub in this tiny town had begun its social hour, and they watched the color of the world turn to amber and then a deep red. A documentary diptych photograph shows the extreme condition through the windows, but also is an eerie and wonderful image in its own right. The range of values is surprising in these shots, considering the world had completely appeared to be bathed in liquid plasma. The compositions and high contrast of the shots give them credence even without the backstory.

"Violins" by Donna Schwanke

Alaskana photography is on display at the Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway. Elaine Howell, of Sterling, is trained in photography, getting her degree from the New York Institute of Photography in 1985, and working in the field since then. Personally, I tend to prefer when something more inventive shows up on the funky walls of our area coffee digs, but her landscape and flower images are all easy on the eyes.

At Art Works, Laurie Marta’s photo diptych, “Double Inversion,” and her batik, “Life’s Vortex,” are among some of the other images around town that might just rock your art-viewing boat. Marta’s husband, Wade Wahrenbochm, has photography on display, as well, including the intriguing “Spring Promise,” “Misty Breeze” and “Essence.”

Now’s the time to take a turn viewing these local shows before the calendar turns to June.

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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Schooling for a bigger library

Photo courtesy of Kenai Middle School

Leadership students from Kenai Middle School present a check for $500 to Dr. Donna Peterson to support the expansion of the Kenai Community Library.  The students held a dance and bake sale to raise the money to buy a fireplace tile. People pictured from left to right are Keir Johnson, Nate Mole, Justin Wisnewski, Whitni Stockton, Falon McGahan, Katy Knackstedt, Tyler Yamada presenting check to Dr. Peterson, Vlad Glushkov, Nathan Zorbas, Arianna Gabriel, Nolan Scarlett, Tori Pennison and Jonathan Pedginski

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Deploying new technology, strategically

By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Optimizing your technology investment involves more than simply choosing the best hardware and software then available.

When, and how, you implement any new technology probably has a greater positive or negative benefit than the specific products that you actually deploy. That’s true for any new technology investment, including digital photography and computer technology.

During the early stages of any technological advance, a bewildering amount of new hardware and software comes on the market quickly. Usually, such technology is immature and the hardware and software may not work as well as advertised.

Immature technology is typically buggy, not very fast and often quite expensive. Remember Compaq’s early 40-pound, $4,000 luggable computers that had no hard disk, or Kodak’s 2002 $8,000 pro-grade dSLR cameras that no one bought? No one else remembers them, either, and yet Kodak literally invented digital photography and Compaq used to be one of the biggest names in personal computing, not HP’s cheap house brand.

Buying at the leading edge usually does not confer any significant long-term advantage unless you’re an early adopter who has the commitment, financial resources and technical knowledge to stay current by adopting newer technology as it matures. If you spent $8,000 back in 2002 for a disappointing camera, then there’s a good chance that you soured on buying any more dSLR cameras for a while, even if you did have money left over.

Unless a person or organization has the ability and commitment to remain in the technological forefront, and has the resources to do so, then there may be a net negative result from adopting the first wave of new technologies before they mature into some broadly compatible standards. Instead, it’s probably optimum to catch the second wave of any new technology rather than the bleeding edge and upgrade every two to three years.

Over time, most electronically based technologies improve until only minor improvements remain: quality, price, performance, functional design and reliability have reached generally acceptable levels and there’s little benefit to upgrading regularly. Have you noticed that most new computers are not perceptibly faster than top-end models offered two years ago?

When technological maturity is reached, users gradually become comfortable with whatever technology is familiar to them, and it’s all too common for stagnation to gradually set in. When that occurs, problems often slowly accumulate as those initial bursts of innovation settle into routine, and routine then leads to personal and organizational complacency and smugness. As Proverbs 16:18 reminds us, “A haughty spirit goes before a fall.” Ask GM, Toyota or, if you’re a history buff, the Japanese Navy on June 6, 1942. Continue reading

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Militia leader on the ballot — Ray Southwell challenges Mike Chenault for District 34

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The Alaskan Independence Party offers a banner for candidates and voters with divergent views from the more mainstream platforms of Republicans and Democrats, and has fielded a candidate for House District 34 that certainly fits that bill.

Ray Southwell, of Nikiski, co-founder of the Michigan Militia and Alaska Citizens Militia, speaks out vehemently against current governmental policies and is having his wages confiscated by the Internal Revenue Service for failure to file tax returns for the last 19 years. He has filed to challenge current Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, of Nikiski.

Southwell focuses on issues of nationwide and worldwide scale, as well as on the local, borough level, yet has chosen the Alaska Legislature as the level of government from which he’d like to effect change.

“I think that there’s so many economic issues facing the nation and I want to challenge the current economic model as a nation because it has led us down a path of destruction,” Southwell said in explanation of why he chose to run for elected office. “On the national level, I think it’s too late. I’ve been quoted as saying both Democrats and Republicans have sold us out, and that’s at a federal level. I think at the state level, currently, most of these legislators are ignorant of the economic model that the federal government has really followed that has led us to this economic collapse that we’re going through.”

Southwell rails against the role of corporations and their power in today’s economy.

“I think that the current economic model is based on, ‘The corporation can’t do anything wrong.’ When you go back and look at our original Constitution and economic plan, there were always checks and balances, and for quite some time the economic mode is, ‘What’s good for corporations is what’s good for America,’” Southwell said. “It’s failed, it’s wrong, that’s why we’re disintegrating right now economically, globally, because of that behavior.”

Southwell has several examples of how this laissez-faire, free-market capitalist attitude has played out, including the repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act in 1999 that deregulated the banking industry and led to the nation’s financial collapse, he said.

The corporate structure that’s developed is one that prizes profits more than safety or compliance with regulations, Southwell said, which leads to incidents like the deadly mining explosion West Virginia in April, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, BP’s oil spills on the North Slope and the current Gulf of Mexico spill, he said.

“The economic model says that the corporation has two objectives — one is to pay the biggest dividend that can be established, and also for growth. So what happens with these large corporations is that economic model of growth and expansion and dividends is what the driving faction is. So you end up with a corporation that will ignore the rules and pay the fines because it’s cheaper to pay the fines than to go by the rules,” Southwell said.

A position in the Alaska Legislature wouldn’t give Southwell say on national issues, but he said he could apply his views to state issues. One of the platforms of the Alaskan Independence Party is that the Alaska statehood vote should be taken again, this time with all options on the table — remain a territory, become a separate and independent nation, accept commonwealth status or become a state. Southwell said he agrees with the AIP’s view that Alaska is a colony, rather than a full-fledged state with rights on par with the original 13 colonies. He’d like to see Alaska demand its authority and follow the nullification movement, whereby Alaska simply does not follow federal government dictates that it does not feel it should be subject to. If that had happened in the 1970s, Southwell said, when the state Legislature passed incentives for double hulls on oil tankers coming to and leaving Alaska, which was tossed out in 1978 in federal court, it might have prevented the Exxon Valdez spill.

“I wonder what would have happened or how many lives would have been economically saved if those had been double-hulled. Now (the federal government) is going to require it by 2015 — 40 years after the Alaska state Legislature took a stand and tried to do what’s right,” he said.

Southwell said he doesn’t believe the state Legislature is doing what’s right in most cases these days. He cites continuing negotiations over construction of a natural gas line from the North Slope as an example. Southwell favors an all-Alaska route with a liquefied natural gas plant in Valdez, as favored by 62 percent of voters in 2002 and as supported by the Alaska Port Authority, established in 1999.

“What happened to that vision of that pipeline? What happened with Alaska jobs? What did the people want and what did the borough want and what did the cities want? Why aren’t these politicians listening to the people?” Southwell said.

He said he believes a portion of the Alaska Permanent Fund could be invested to develop an in-state gas line infrastructure, rather than investing it wherever fund managers think the biggest dollar signs may be found — be they in Greece, Exxon or other investments of dubious moral standing, he said.

“You have to look at the corporate mind-set. They’re going to put our money into whatever corporations make the most money,” he said. “Why aren’t we taking that money, a percentage of it, and investing it in Alaska? We have got the mind-set of we only care about that permanent fund interest on stock markets and ventures outside of Alaska. Isn’t it time we do it ourselves? We look to corporations, we look to stock markets, we look to Washington. We need to look to Alaskans. We’re billionaires. We need to start acting like billionaires and investing in our own home.”

Southwell said he has concerns about the state’s too-lax relationship with resource extraction companies, such as the Pebble Mine Partnership, and is concerned that legislation like Senate Bill 309, which encourages expanded oil and gas exploration and development, doesn’t do enough to enforce safety.

“It’s more the big picture of the corporate xxmind-set. We’re at a pivotal time in history that if we as a state don’t step up to the plate and start looking at things differently, we’re going down with the rest of the country and the globe, or at least a large percentage of the globe. We cannot sustain $1.5 trillion worth of deficit spending,” Southwell said. “My hope is that Alaskans will rally and start talking about an economic system that is sustainable regardless of what happens in the rest of the country, and that is infrastructure and that is checks and balances on corporations.”

Southwell addresses a few specific pieces of legislation, such as being in support of House Bill 50, which would limit overtime for nurses — he’s an emergency room nurse at Central Peninsula Hospital. He also voices concern over the possible sale of CPH to a private entity, which would remove local control over health care management in the area, he said.

But overall, Southwell said he isn’t running with a list of specific bills he’d like to address or propose. He’s more out to bring attention to his causes.

“There’s multiple issues that need to be addressed. I think the biggest thing is we need have to start having a dialogue of what’s an economic plan for success for Alaska? I think that if I have a true platform or true opportunity to discuss it at the state level, I can stir the pot up and get this discussion and get people having dialogue, because it’s logical. So I don’t have to generate a bill. You know what happens when you have dialogue is people who are smarter than me come along and say, ‘I understand what you’re saying, and can’t we do this and can’t we do that?’”

Southwell said this is a crucial time to make Alaska economically sound, given the economic climate of the rest of the country and world. He said he doesn’t support secession from the U.S., but said he thinks Alaska will be standing on its own soon enough, by the state’s choosing or not.

“I would prefer staying in the union as a state with equal footing to those original 13 states,” he said. “I personally don’t support secession … but what I do recognize today is that with the economic disintegration going on, Alaska is going to be thrown into independence. Just like when the Soviet Union disintegrated, all of a sudden there were all these independent states that were thrown into their independence.”

He said he would not use a seat in the Legislature to push for support of the militia movement. It’s not necessary, he said, because the rights and existence of the militia are “self-evident,” he said.

“The people are armed and the people will stand up for and protect their communities. I don’t have to preach that, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that. (James) Madison acknowledged that, our founders acknowledged that,” he said. Continue reading


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