The Redoubt Reporter will resume publication Sept. 4.
Monthly Archives: August 2013
By Jenny Neyman
Kenai Peninsula College’s celebration Thursday marked a new development for the Kenai River Campus that was 30 years in the making, but one that harkens back much, much longer.
With the opening of its new dorm facility, KPC students will now be able to enrich their college experience by living where they learn. It’s the accomplishment of a goal set decades ago, in the early days of the then-Kenai Peninsula Community College.
“A big part of the student housing is to support students, and we all know that Alaska is in transition, and so many Native students move to urban areas in this state so that they can be supported in their educational endeavors. And what I really appreciate is now we have (92 rooms) for students — for all Alaskans, and especially those Alaska Native students that need to be supported — so that they have a chance to move forward and make an impact in their lives and in the state,” said Gloria O’Neill, on the University of Alaska Board of Regents, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday afternoon.
But it’s not the first time the campus site has seen residents. A thousand and more years ago, the area was home to a Dena’ina Native fishing village, where residents operated weirs at Slikok Creek to provide food for the winter, which they stored in cache pits. Dena’ina youth learned from their elders the skills needed to succeed in the industry of their day.
“The land we are standing on now is a very special place. Human lives were transformed on this site more than a thousand years ago,” said Gary Turner, KPC director.
Slikok Village was home to an estimated 75 people. What remains are imprints from houses and more than 100 cache pits dug into the ground to store the bounty from fishing and hunting. As the future dorm site — across Community College Drive from the campus proper — was surveyed, archaeologist Dick Reger found four cache pits that were previously undiscovered.
KPC anthropology professor Alan Boraas and students conducted a dig of the pits in 2010, documenting charcoal, fire-cracked rock, bits of birch bark and a chunk of birch plank that was estimated through radiocarbon dating to 1410 A.D., Turner said. One of the pits is outside the back door of the new dorm building, and another sits on a rise not far from the front door. Both will have interpretive signs in the future.
“So students will know who lived here before them, and to give them an appreciation and understanding of the rich cultural heritage of this special place. Where our students will live is where the Dena’ina lived,” Turner said.
By Joseph Robertia
When it comes to problems, there are often two responses — complaining or doing something to solve them. Blair Martin is the latter type, and decided that something had to be done with all the fish waste generated from the Kenai River personal-use dip-net fishery.
“It first came to my attention here at the resort,” he said, referring to the Diamond M Ranch Resort, operated by the Martin family, where tourists rent lodging or RV space during the summer fishing season. Being just a few miles from the Kenai River, many guests bring their catches back to the resort to fillet them there.
“I saw huge amounts of dip-net waste going into our Dumpsters,” he said.
In the tourism offseason, the Martins also are building Matti’s Farm, a nonprofit named in memory of their son, Matthias, who died in 2009. The goal of the organization is to get kids involved with the farming lifestyle, encourage and support sustainable agricultural practices and teach resource development skills. It occurred to Martin that finding a use for the fish waste, turning it into agricultural compost, would fit right in with the mission of Matti’s Farm.
“It was clean, natural and an asset to gardening, so it didn’t seem like something we should be wasting in the landfill,” he said.
The fish waste, being rich in nitrogen, served as a great base ingredient for compost. It need only be paired with a carbon-based ingredient, such as sawdust, fine wood chips, cardboard, hay or peat moss.
Martin wanted to do more than compost on a small scale, though. During and after the dip-net fishery, the Kenai beaches are lined with thousands of pounds of waste in the form of salmon heads, skinned carcasses, guts and eggs, as well as carcasses of by-catch, such as flounder and dogfish.
Martin and the other Matti’s Farm board members began exploring ideas for where to compost on a larger scale, and searching for a large volume source of carbon materials. They found both at the same location in Nikiski, where much of the lumber work was done for home construction by Hall Quality Builders.
“There were 3 acres of wood chips and sawdust of an indefinite depth, and with composting requiring a ratio of eight to one carbon to nitrogen, it made sense to bring the fish waste there,” Martin said.
With a composting site secured, Martin turned his attention to where and how to collect the fish waste for the project. The more people he talked to about the project, the more people were in favor of supporting it, he said.
He worked with Kenai city officials and members of the Respect Our Kenai organization — a youth-sponsored volunteer group devoted to keeping the beaches clean during the dip-net fishery — to get a Dumpster put on the north beach of the river, at the Spruce Street access point, which is a major hub for traffic to and from the dip-net fishery.
“Unfortunately, the Dumpster brought in basically zero carcasses,” Martin said.
By Joseph Robertia
Chris Fallon remembers the day back in 1996 well. He was wading into the waters of becoming a local restaurateur, but he didn’t have a building, his supplies were minimal, and his location was far from the minor metropolises of Kenai or Soldotna. He was attempting to sell East Coast-style hoagie sandwiches out of a bus in Kasilof.
“There wasn’t a lot in the bus. Me, a small refrigerator, a manual meat slicer and the bread came from a bakery back then,” Fallon said.
There was a lot of room to fail, and it wasn’t always easy, but he didn’t give up.
“There were times in that first year when I made $30 a day — gross, not profit. The profit on $30 a day was like a couple of bucks,” Fallon said.
From this humble beginning, Fallon and partner Kathy Musick have been able to grow the successful food franchise known as Jersey Subs, where they make their own bread daily, have an expanded menu offering more than 20 different subs, and serve thousands of sandwiches annually.
There are three locations to the business, the year-round Kenai and Soldotna restaurants, and Fallon still opens the bus at the end of Cohoe Loop Road in Kasilof during the summer to sell sandwiches to fishermen and other folks frequenting the Kasilof River area.
While there are still slow days, the Kasilof bus sometimes grosses as much as $1,500 on a good day. As sales have grown over the years, Fallon has reinvested that profit back into the business, and has gotten to the point where he’s decided to abandon the old bus and build a real restaurant at the Kasilof location.
Anyone who has gone camping in remote Alaska knows it’s not for the ill-prepared or the faint of heart. Weather changes are extreme. The geography can have you slogging through bogs and cresting rocky ridges all in one day. And you are absolutely not at the top of the food chain.
Now imagine doing that with two small children.
That’s the story found in Erin McKittrick’s most recent book, “Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home and Family on the Edge of Alaska,” which recounts the family’s exploration of the Arctic as well as setting up a home in Seldovia.
Many in the area may have heard of McKittrick, her husband, Hig Higman, and their two small children Katmai, 4, and Lituya, 2, who started an epic journey around the Cook Inlet earlier this year on foot and in pack rafts in an effort to better understand the many features of what they called the “Heart of Alaska.”
Prior to having children, the couple also traveled from the Pacific Northwest up to the Aleutian Chain, which is the topic of McKittrick’s first book, “A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles by Boot, Raft and Ski.”
The family is now about to launch a different sort of journey, touring the state with their book, starting with an event in Seldovia followed by Homer on Sept. 26, when they will present at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. From there, they will travel throughout Southcentral Alaska, up to Fairbanks, Southeast Alaska and down to the Pacific Northwest in early winter. The book, available through Mountaineers Books, can be preordered by Sept. 15 at a cost of $14.95 for delivery in late September.
McKittrick said she wrote the book for Alaskans who love Alaska. While it certainly is about the experience of adventuring with children, it is not a how-to guide on camping with children, she said. Instead, the couple aims to include readers in their adventures, which is as much an exploration into the amazing features of the state as it is the nuts and bolts of dealing with diapers on the trail.
“It’s still more or less an adventure book,” said McKittrick, who originally hails from Seattle. “It’s the kind of book for people who like to read about Alaska.”
The book includes a section on the couple’s setting up of their home and life in Seldovia after finishing their trip to the Aleutians, where they found out they were pregnant. After having Katmai, the couple spent a year laying down roots in Higman’s hometown of Seldovia before venturing out on a trek along the Chukchi Sea for 300 miles at toddler speed while McKittrick was midway through a pregnancy with their second child.
The couple returned to the wild in fall of 2011 to spend two months living on the surface of North America’s largest glacier — Malaspina Glacier — with both children. They also traveled along the Arctic near Kivalina where the Red Dog Mine sits.
While Higman and McKittrick enjoy a good adventure, their walks in the wild also have another side. Ground Truth Trekking, a nonprofit founded in 2007, is their umbrella under which they seek to educate and engage the public on Alaska’s natural resource issues. Describing what they do, Higman and McKittrick say mostly they listen and document what is happening for those less adventurous or lucky enough to travel to remote melting glaciers or along the rapidly eroding coastline of Alaska. They ask people questions about what they see as the future of Alaska.
Editor’s note: This is part two of a story about the history of clamming on the Kenai Peninsula. Last week’s story looked at the early record of clamming in the area, dating back to Capt. Cook’s exploration of the inlet. This week looks at clamming harvest through the years.
By Brent Johnson
For the Redoubt Reporter
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Clam Gulch is a local name reported about 1911. So it seems that clams must have been important to the area at least 100 years ago. Those clams probably had few visitors until after the Sterling Highway was built past Clam Gulch, in 1949.
Interesting clam news comes to us from the pages of a pioneer’s diary. Pete Jensen was a fox farmer turned set-netter who built next to the Kasilof River in about 1920. His June 7, 1953, entry states, “Harry here with mail and some clams.”
The neighbor with the clams was Harry Gerberg, who homesteaded next to Jensen in 1937.
A July 26, 1956, entry says, “ARC (Alaska Road Commission) working on road to the beach at Clam Gulch.” While that roadwork might have been for commercial fishing purposes, it must have also provided better access to the clam beach.
On Feb. 19, 1957, Jensen reports, “Clear, +6 (degrees F). Fine warm day. Down Clam Gulch digging clams.” Holy buckets! Clams wouldn’t be the only critters with an “icicle” in that weather.
It seems that the bottom fell out of the clam beds in 1957. On March 18, 1957, Jensen writes, “Partly cloudy +34. … At Clam Gulch digging clams. Archie along. Lots of diggers, not many clams.”
His companion was 1946 Cohoe homesteader Archie Ramsell. On July 2, 1958, Jensen writes, “At Clam Gulch digging clams. No clams.”
By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter
Compact mirrorless-system cameras tend to sell better in Japan and other tech-savvy parts of East Asia compared to consumer sales in the United States. It’s obscure why.
Compact-system cameras (CSC) often have a richer feature set and produce images whose quality is as good or better than the bulky entry-level and intermediate-grade digital SLR cameras still favored by American consumers. Initially, I thought that lower U.S. CSC sales might be due to a higher purchase price, but many good CSCs are less expensive than even the lowest-cost digital SLR. They’re smaller and lighter, as well.
My sense is that the reason dSLR cameras still outsell CSC cameras is a conservative mindset among American consumers that resists a move away from the large, black, dSLR cameras still equated with “quality” photography. At the same time, many professional photographers are openly using CSCs for their most critical commercial work. Although I’ll write this week mostly about the new high-end Olympus E-P5, much of this article is applicable to Olympus’ less-expensive current E-PM2 entry-level and E-PL5 intermediate-level models. The image quality of these less-expensive models is virtually identical but they don’t have the E-P5’s advanced magnetic image stabilization hardware and ability to take up to nine frames per second.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been using both the Olympus E-P5, the company’s top-end “Pen” rangefinder-styled CSC, and their slightly larger dSLR-styled OM-D (EM-5), along with a mix of prime and zoom lenses. Mostly due to the E-P5’s somewhat smaller size, I’ve found that I’m more likely to pick up and use the E-P5, carried in a small camera bag that includes a few small but high-quality Micro Four-Thirds prime lenses, like Sigma’s 30-mm f/2.8 DN and Olympus’ 17-mm f/1.8 and 45-mm f/1.8 optics.
Used with the smaller sensor found in Micro 4/3 cameras, those three lenses are optically equivalent to the classic Leica rangefinder kit of 35-mm wide-angle, normal lens, and 90-mm short telephoto/portrait lens. As the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”