Monthly Archives: September 2015

Falling fast — Where to go before colors blow away

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Fall colors are out in force along Skilak Lake Loop Road. Catch them while they last.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Fall colors are out in force along Skilak Lake Loop Road. Catch them while they last.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

From the burgundy of berry bushes to the gold hues of devil’s club and deciduous trees, the colors of fall are upon the Kenai Peninsula. But the peak has yet to be reached, leaving time for autumnal color seekers to take in the foliage before the winds of change whip them away.

“I think we’re coming up on peak weekend. Things are still vibrant green in some places, but there are some really nice splashes of color happening all over,” said Steve Ford, co-founder of the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club.

Ford covers a lot of ground across the peninsula, regardless of the season, and has whittled his hikes down to a short list of favorite trails for taking in fall colors, ranked from short and simple, medium length and grade, to longer and more arduous treks.

For those looking for something off the most beaten paths, Ford recommends the Grewingk Glacier Trail.

“It’s a good one. It’s a pretty trail with good views of the glacier and icebergs. It’s very picturesque at this time of year,” he said.

fall hikersLocated south of Homer, in the Halibut Cove area across Kachemak Bay, the Grewingk Glacier Trailhead is accessible by boat or water taxi. It’s a 3.2-mile hike with roughly 200 feet of elevation gain through alders to the cobbled shoreline of Grewingk Lake. The hike is easily doable in a half day, and there are connections to the much more arduous Saddle and Alpine Ridge trails.

While Grewingk is a good weekend adventure, for those aiming for something a little closer to the central peninsula, Ford recommends the Slaughter Gulch Trail, a 1.8-mile hike with more than 2,500 feet of elevation gain. It begins from an unmarked trailhead at the end of South Face Place, next to Wildman’s convenience store in Cooper Landing.

“It pays off really fast. Within 40 minutes things open up and you can see Kenai Lake, which contrasts nicely with the fall colors,” Ford said.

While popular with trail runners and hikers with strong thighs, the Slaughter Gulch trail is not for the faint of heart, or lungs. Much of the trail is steep and rocky, and sometimes slippery with little relief from the wind, but rewards hikers with some of the best views around, even before reaching the top.

For those, particularly with small children, who want something shorter but still with ample opportunity to enjoy the seasonal change, try the hikes along Skilak Lake Loop Road. Ford recommended several trails in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, including Bear Mountain (1.6-mile round trip), the Kenai Canyon Overlook and Hideout Trail (1.5 miles round trip), all accessible from Skilak Lake Loop Road.

“They’re good family hikes, not too difficult and all have panoramic views,” he said.

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New Kenai health clinic targets need — PCHS to add women’s, children’s providers

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Amy Pascucci plays with her daughter, Elena (in an ensemble picked out by dad, Dan Pascucci). The family has found it challenging to find consistent medical care throughout Amy’s pregnancy and Elena’s infancy.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Amy Pascucci plays with her daughter, Elena (in an ensemble picked out by dad, Dan Pascucci). The family has found it challenging to find consistent medical care throughout Amy’s pregnancy and Elena’s infancy.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Elena Pascucci is learning to stick out her tongue. It’s requiring lots of demonstration from mom and dad, Amy and Dan Pascucci, and giggles all around. She’s also started delivering vowel-laden cooing when she’s winding down to a nap.

“And another thing!” Dan said, personifying what Elena might be saying in her monologues.

“I think she’s singing,” Amy contends.

Those are pretty exciting milestones for the first-time parents. And they’re about to take Elena to the doctor for her four-month checkup, where her growth, reflexes and other milestones will be checked.

It’ll be to a different doctor than the one she saw since birth. Amy’s looking for a new doctor, as well. For that matter, the doctor who delivered Elena at Central Peninsula Hospital is not the one Amy saw during her pregnancy.

Amy Pascucci: “I remember when I first started looking for OBGYN care when I was in the beginning of our pregnancy. And that was tricky to find a doctor then, and I know that the doctor that I originally went to has left, and I know our midwife has retired, and so it seems, just in the time I’ve been here looking and aware, the pool has shrunk by at least two or three providers.”

There are only so many options of pediatricians and obstetricians on the central Kenai Peninsula, and of those, several have left recently or are leaving — either retiring or moving elsewhere. Of those available, Amy and Dan’s choices were further constricted by their insurance carrier.

They found a doctor they liked, but when the time came — early and in a bit of an emergency — their doctor was out of town, and there was only one other on call. Everything went well, mom and baby were fine and they say they got excellent care at the hospital. But still, the lack of options and the lack of continuity of care worsened an already difficult situation.

“We ended up having to go with a doctor who we wouldn’t have necessarily chosen and we didn’t know at all and who was advising us to make really important decisions on the spur of the moment and in an already stressful time,” Amy Pascucci said. “We felt very limited as far as our options, and kind of pressured because of the time limitations, but also just because there wasn’t anybody else around. We couldn’t even ask for a real second opinion unless we went to Anchorage. That definitely was stressful.”

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Kenai OKs plan for south beach road — City to purchase 7 lots for $1.6 million

Imagery from Kenai Peninsula Borough parcel viewer. The city of Kenai will purchase the highlighted seven lots in order to build a new access road to the south beach of the Kenai River.

Imagery from Kenai Peninsula Borough parcel viewer. The city of Kenai will purchase the highlighted seven lots in order to build a new access road to the south beach of the Kenai River.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

It was not their ideal solution, but members of the Kenai City Council did pass a solution at its Sept. 16 meeting to address the thorny problem of providing better access to the south beach of the mouth of the Kenai River during the July dip-net fishery.

“We have to think outside the box a little bit. This is a little different than normal but I believe it can work, I believe it’s the right solution with the options that were given us and I don’t think we need to delay any further,” said Council Member Tim Navarre, who voted in favor of the city purchasing seven lots off Drag Net Court for the purpose of constructing a beach access road.

The city only needs four of the lots for the road project, but negotiations with ARK Properties LLC resulted in only one deal — all seven or none. The lots include one with a mansion and various outbuildings with a borough assessed value listed at over $1.4 million.

Not liking that option, the city investigated skirting those lots to put in a road, but that placed the path through sensitive wetlands, which was another nonstarter.

So it was back to the purchase option. The city obtained a $1.9 million grant from the state for improved access and upgrade work for the dip-net fishery. The road project is covered under that pot of money, including the $1.6 million purchase price for the seven lots.

But there are a few strings attached. The city intends to sell the lots it doesn’t need for the access road. The state doesn’t want the city using grant money to buy the land then turn around and sell it at a profit, since the purchase price of the lots is below the assessed value.

As City Manager Rick Koch explained, if there is any profit from the sale of the extra lots, the city will be required to return it to the state, where it will go back into the grant and be available for the city to use for other dip-net access and improvement work.

“It’s the same grant money that’s been replenished. And we are able to use it for the same purpose that the grant was extended to the city in the first place.” Koch said.

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Moose hunting for a humbling experience — It’s easy to think hunting’s easy with no firsthand knowledge to the contrary

Photo courtesy of Chris Hanna. Jenny Neyman and the moose she shot this hunting season. No, really. She is more shocked than anyone.

Photo courtesy of Chris Hanna. Jenny Neyman and the moose she shot this hunting season. No, really. She is more shocked than anyone.

Trails & Trails — By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

I am no hunter.

Before this month, that fact was hedged with an ellipsis of untapped potential. “I am no hunter … because I’ve never tried it, but if I ever do, Home Depot had better stock extra chest freezers!

Now when I say that I am no hunter, it is with the certainty of having actually shot something — a real, (previously) live, bull moose.

I went into this figuring I had at least some of the necessary ingredients that could possibly coalesce into a competent hunter, kind of like a determined fridge cleaning can result in a decent soup concoction when calling for pizza isn’t an option.

First off, I wanted to do it. It’s good for us humans to remind our civilized brains that, despite our autostarts, we’re still animals. I think we should all occasionally face some of the messier aspects of life, yet I’m one of those people without much firsthand knowledge of from where food comes.

Growing up in the Bush, milk was powdered, condensed or too expensive, and produce came in cans or was so wilted or woody that it was VINO — vegetable in name only. More people than not hunted or fished — my dad, brother, cousins, uncles, neighbors, etc., — but I was never invited to tag along, and by the time the fish or game got to me it had long since been removed of any evidence of life. No blood, bones, organs, fur or scales to be seen. The only meat covering I knew of was Shake ‘N Bake.

As for skills, I like to hike, camp and stomp around in the woods. I like to think I’m observant (at least enough to notice a 1,200-pound animal, surely?). I can haul a pack (through the power of profanity). And I can stay awake for long periods of time. That’s probably not relevant, but I once put leftover devilled eggs in a turkey stew and it was excellent, so who knows? I’ll use what I’ve got.

Granted, I was missing some key components. I didn’t own a rifle, and the few times I’ve shot one took about as much setup time as designing the International Space Station. My butchering experience was limited to being extremely annoyed when I’ve accidentally bought bone-in chicken breasts. I’ve never actually killed anything beyond mosquitoes, a few fish and houseplants.

Perhaps most egregious, I own only one article of camo — a thrift store GI Joe-looking shirt I bought for the sole purpose of playing Risk. (I might never have hunted so much as a spruce hen, but give me South America and I will dominate the world.)

Still, with the misguided optimism of the woefully uninformed, I figured, “I could do that.”

No, it turns out, I could not. At least, not without an amount of help that rendered my presence superfluous, if not obstructionist. It’s a pretty low bar when your highest achievement is not completely ruining things for other people. By day three, my sole focus devolved to a Dr. Seussian attempt at just staying upright:

Do not fall slogging through the swamp, do not fall wherever you tromp.

Do not fall climbing in the boat, do not fall as you will not float.

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Plugged In: More megapixels not always worth more money

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

The megapixel wars have resumed, with Canon leading the attack, followed by Sony, Nikon and Pentax. Does any of this make the slightest difference to most users? As a practical matter, no. Here’s why:

Nikon and Sony first “broke” the megapixel truce, shipping Nikon’s large D800/D810 digital SLR series and Sony’s compact A7R mirrorless cameras, both built around Sony’s excellent, 36-megapixel sensor. Canon responded with its 50-megapixel 5DSr model, basically a standard 5D Mark III body with a higher-resolution sensor.

Canon further upped the ante by announcing ongoing development of a 120-megapixel dSLR for normal use, and a 250-megapixel model for surveillance and scientific use.

That’s a quarter-billion megapixels. Only a few months ago, Canon’s top-end professional cameras used sensors containing about 22 megapixels. Canon insisted, truthfully, that this was more than adequate for nearly all professional and amateur needs.

More recently, Sony’s newest A7R Mark II mirrorless camera includes what Sony describes as an optimally sized, 42-megapixel sensor. Pentax’s recently announced full-frame model will likely also use this new Sony 42-megapixel sensor, recently described by DXO as having the best all-around characteristics of any digital imaging device. I expect that Nikon’s next-generation D8XX cameras will likely use this sensor, or a variant of it.

A very high-resolution sensor has one potential advantage, assuming nearly perfect lenses and favorable situations. While one can reduce, when desired, the level of detail and sharpness of a very high-resolution image through later post-processing, the opposite is not true.

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Picture of artistry — Subtle shapes show what it takes in quality photography

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

The Redoubt Reporter’s dual 2015 photography contests parallel the two major, occasionally divergent, strands in current photography — documentation and art. These photo contests are the result of a collaboration between the Redoubt Reporter, Soldotna’s new ARTSpace fine arts group, the city of Soldotna, Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, Soldotna Rotary Club and Kenai Peninsula College.

We welcomed entries from nonprofessional photographers and awarded cash prizes for first, second and third place in both photo contests, and also for a single image entry in the Fine Art category.
During the first century of its existence as a practical technology, photography concentrated almost solely upon documenting people, places and events, preserving that information for history. Any artistic merit was largely a secondary byproduct of documentation. Slowly, in the 1930s and 1940s, and then more rapidly, photography became a fine art in its own right, appreciated for its ability to provide a much broader, more democratic opportunity for everyone to express themselves personally and artistically.

In some ways, the artistic potential of digital photography is unique and distinctive, providing a more spontaneous, true-to-life depiction of our daily lives and the world around us. What’s required is not so much the equipment used, but the ability to quickly discern and capture strong images and the ability to later curate a large mass of images, selecting and post-processing only the best.

Fine Art Contest

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Harvesting knowledge — Schools cultivate learning opportunities with gardening projects

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kindergartener Jaxson Bush is assisted by sixth-grader Emilie Hinz while digging up potatoes from a garden at Tustumena Elementary School on Friday. The garden was planted to give kids hands-on learning experiences with science and math, as well as teaching them about the origins of the food they eat.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kindergartener Jaxson Bush is assisted by sixth-grader Emilie Hinz while digging up potatoes from a garden at Tustumena Elementary School on Friday. The garden was planted to give kids hands-on learning experiences with science and math, as well as teaching them about the origins of the food they eat.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Outside his classroom at Tustumena Elementary, sixth-grader Sam Booker dropped to his knees and began to claw at the soft, rich earth. His glasses slid to the end of his nose and dirt got under his nails, caked to his hands and stained the sleeves of his fleece jacket.

He was digging with the zeal of someone doing a task they want to do, rather than are told to do, but this was no recess game. It was part of a science lesson, learning in the most hands-on way possible. As the blond-haired boy plucked a small, round, red spud from the ground, a smile grew across his freckled face.

“I got one,” he shouted. Almost simultaneously, kids around him echoed similar sentiments as they, too, pulled up potatoes — reds, purples and Yukon golds in various lumpy shapes and sizes.

“It’s hard to imagine that, three years ago, there was no fence, no garden, nothing,” said sixth-grade teacher Shonia Werner.

The potato patch is in a 60-by-40-foot area adjacent to the school.

The kids planted it at the end of last school year, as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat program. The aim was to make school grounds more hospitable to wildlife while simultaneously providing a place for children to learn about and connect with nature.

Now in its second full year, the program is operating at Kaleidoscope School of Art and Sciences in Kenai, Sterling Elementary and Tustumena Elementary.

Part of the Tustumena habitat plot was planted with 200 felt-leaf willows, a hearty variety that’s often used for stream-bank restoration projects. Dan Funk, Schoolyard Habitat coordinator with the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District, did the bulk of the willow planting, hoping the school could eventually sell clippings as a fundraiser, while the kids could learn about science, nature and ecology in the interim.

Wanting to ripen the area for learning opportunities while the willows matured, instructors at the school also decided to plant a small garden, primarily made up of potato varieties due to their ability to thrive with minimal care during the summer break. It was clear from questions asked by this batch of sixth-graders this fall that they were in need of some food-chain knowledge.

“Are those the potatoes?” said one boy, pointing to the willow trees when the class first got outside. But by the end of the day, every student, from the sixth-graders down to the kindergarteners, knew what a potato plant looked like, that potatoes grew underground rather than on a bush like fruit, and a little about the annual cycle of planting, growing and harvesting.

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View from Out West: Presidential credentials — Photographer, community look to make the most of historic visit

Photo by Clark Fair President Barack. Obama discusses the importance of the Bristol Bay salmon harvest and subsistence lifestyles of remote Alaska during an appearance at Kanakanak Beach in Dillingham on Sept. 2.

Photo by Clark Fair
President Barack. Obama discusses the importance of the Bristol Bay salmon harvest and subsistence lifestyles of remote Alaska during an appearance at Kanakanak Beach in Dillingham on Sept. 2.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Jay Hammond was the fourth governor of Alaska, serving from 1974 until 1982. Many Alaskans consider him the father of the Alaska Permanent Fund. Even after he left office, his was easily one of the most popular, influential and important voices in Alaska history.

When I was about 12 years old, I vomited in the back seat of Hammond’s Bush plane.

Until recently, that embarrassment was my greatest brush with celebrity, with an individual famous enough to require no further explanation.

There have been a few other brushes over the years. About the same time as the puking incident, Denali winter climber Art Davidson, author of “Minus 148,” spent the night at my parents’ home. When I attended the University of Montana and was training as a journalist, I photographed Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker on the popular television sitcom “All in the Family”) and consumer advocate and presidential candidate Ralph Nader. As a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion, I photographed musher George Attla and Steve McAlpine, Alaska’s two-time lieutenant governor.

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair. When Clark Fair was studying journalism at the University of Montana (1977-1982), he practiced his photography skills at an appearance of UM alum Carroll O'Connor, who portrayed Archie Bunker in the television sitcom “All in the Family.”

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair. When Clark Fair was studying journalism at the University of Montana (1977-1982), he practiced his photography skills at an appearance of UM alum Carroll O’Connor, who portrayed Archie Bunker in the television sitcom “All in the Family.”

No knock against any of those folks, but they pale in comparison to my experience in Dillingham on Sept. 2, 2015, the day the president of the United States flew into town.

Back when my stomach was churning in Jay Hammond’s plane, I could never have envisioned the opportunity to photograph the president. Back then, my main concerns were comic books, playing outdoors and eating as much as possible.

Maybe the “as much as possible” tendency was part of the problem.

It was circa 1970. Hammond was a member of the Alaska Legislature and an active Bush pilot. My father arranged for me and my namesake, Clark Snell, to fly with Hammond to a remote lake across Cook Inlet for a day of fishing.

We were perhaps halfway to our destination when my breakfast began to alert me to the fact that it was dissatisfied with its current location and wished to be aired out in the back seat of the floatplane. I notified the pilot of my nausea, and he informed me that a saucepan under my seat could serve as an emergency receptacle.

I searched for and found said receptacle, and very promptly used it. When I asked Hammond what to do with the saucepan now that I had finished using it, he suggested sliding it, still upright, back under the seat until we landed. I followed his directions and began to feel better.

Lots of kids get motion sickness, and if that had been the end of my embarrassment, perhaps the long passage of years since might have erased, or at least significantly blurred, that memory. However, I also slipped on the rocks at the lake’s edge and soaked myself from the waist down. I can’t even remember now whether I caught any fish.

I’d like to say that I was so worldly at my young age that I recognized Hammond, sensed something special in him and hoped that one day his beliefs and ideas would have a profound impact on Alaska. But the truth is I didn’t even know his name until a few years later when he was elected governor.

Not so with the president.

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Lot lines to discern — Before Kenai could grow, Uncle Sam needed to be in the know

Image courtesy of Shana Loshbaugh. The original townsite map of what is now known as Old Town Kenai was created by surveyor Elliott Pearson, starting in 1951 and revised in 1954. The village of Kenai developed before modern-day subdivision standards came to Alaska. Note that the spit of land seen bottom left has now largely eroded with the crumbling bluff above the mouth of the Kenai River.

Image courtesy of Shana Loshbaugh. The original townsite map of what is now known as Old Town Kenai was created by surveyor Elliott Pearson, starting in 1951 and revised in 1954. The village of Kenai developed before modern-day subdivision standards came to Alaska. Note that the spit of land seen bottom left has now largely eroded with the crumbling bluff above the mouth of the Kenai River.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Joanna Hollier moved to Kenai long before it gained its “Village with a Past, City with a Future” motto. Before it was even a city, when the village’s past was the present. When Old Town Kenai was just Kenai.

“I came here in August of ’46, and there was no roads. I mean, no getting around with cars and what not. So we were more or less out there in old town, or Kenai — it was just called Kenai at that time — was downtown at that time,” she said.

Hollier came to town to work with the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the precursor to the Federal Aviation Administration, and has lived here through the town’s most dramatic period of change, as described by historian Shana Loshbaugh at a meeting of the Kenai Historical Society on Sunday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

“Back in the early part of the 20th century, Kenai was basically an offroad Native village, like so many in Alaska still are,” Loshbaugh said. “It had a lot of Russian influence, the big industry in the area was the canneries. But really very different from what we have today. There were a lot of changes that started about 1940 to 1960, which is really when Kenai morphed from the village to city. As of the time of the beginning of World War II, you can see Kenai was pretty isolated, didn’t have a good port, no roads. The 20th century, however, was slowly coming to Kenai.”

Hollier worked for one of the biggest agents of change in Kenai — aviation. In 1926, the first plane came to Kenai, and the first “airstrip” was established in 1937.

“And basically little planes could land on the road just over here on Overland Drive,” Loshbaugh said.

The village got airmail service in 1930, though by the end of the ’30s mail service stopped because the community was seen as too small, and residents had to go to Kasilof for their mail.

But World War II was brewing, and the federal government saw Alaska as an integral part.

“Now, the war is when the changes really started happening in this area,” Loshbaugh said. “When the United States was not part of the war effort there were a lot of national leaders who really had a premonition that the U.S. was going to get dragged into it and there were also people who recognized the strategic importance of Alaska so they started sending federal resources to Alaska and ramping up for a potential war effort in this area.”

In March 1941, the military reserved a huge chunk of land — two to three square miles — just outside the Kenai village site, from the bluff adjacent to where the Kenai Senior Citizens Center is now, out into the wetlands north of town. In December, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the U.S. officially joined the fight. In 1942, the CAA built a 5,000-foot airstrip in Kenai, which has turned into the airport we have today. It didn’t end up having much role in the war effort, but had a huge role in transforming Kenai.

“It was the war that brought this airfield to Kenai and it was set up to be a major airport that they could use in an emergency situation,” Loshbaugh said. “So that’s basically what Kenai got out of World War II was the airstrip. And when the Air Force and the military wound down and the war ended the airstrip stayed, and by 1945 the descriptions show that the Civil Aeronautics Administration that ran it was one of the major employers in the Village of Kenai.”

Road access was the next big change for the then-little community. In 1946, surveying for the Sterling Highway began, and the road was dedicated in 1950, with the Kenai Spur Highway completed not long after.

“At that point the population of Kenai in the official census in 1950 was 321. That’s less than 10 more than had been 10 years before, so Kenai was still a little bitty place at that point, but things were on the move. Next thing they get electricity,” Loshbaugh said.

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Common Ground: Duck disdressed — Don’t let bird brains use long johns against you

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Two widgeon with one shot is a far sight better than the view from a lawn chair.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Two widgeon with one shot is a far sight better than the view from a lawn chair.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

The weather was the worst I’d ever seen it — blue skies and warm enough to get a fall tan. That might be good for the complexion, but not for duck hunting. Even worse than the magnificent weather was the fact that the flats were dry. There weren’t any ponds, and ducks like ponds.

I was on a three-day hunt at a remote duck shack where I was supposed to be wet, cold, miserable and so exhausted by the end of the day that a cracker with butter on it would taste like a New York steak. Instead, I was hanging out on a lawn chair by a tidal slough in my long johns with the overly optimistic hope for a shot at passing ducks.

“This kind of sucks,” I said to my hunting partner. It had been two hours of walking and then two hours of sitting with nary a duck in shooting range.

“Yep,” my hunting partner said.

“I’m going to walk up to the shack and get another snack,” I said. The last time I’d left for a snack, ducks had flown by. It was a phenomenon. Or, if it wasn’t a phenomenon, I had to reconcile myself to the fact that the ducks were waiting around the bend laughing at me.

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Youth rowing makes a splash — Mackey Challenge builds teen skills

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Teams Four Oars and Rocky Rowers race in the Mackey Challenge youth rowing event put on by the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association in Soldotna on Aug. 22.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Teams Four Oars and Rocky Rowers race in the Mackey Challenge youth rowing event put on by the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association in Soldotna on Aug. 22.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Considering the logistical challenges to getting all her ducks in a row for the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association to hold its first-ever youth event Aug. 22, Coach Nancy Saylor said that, all in all, the event went swimmingly.

“It’s gone pretty well like we planned it. I like to plan and then just let it go and see what happens and it usually works out pretty well,” Saylor said.

Saylor said she’s wanted to do a youth event for years. The Soldotna team currently only has a few youth members — more are always welcome — and it’s nice to give them a chance to participate with their peers. In rowing, it isn’t always feasible to field a whole team to travel to a race event, especially in Alaska where the season is short and participation isn’t huge. So rowers go as individuals and form teams with whoever else is looking to fill a boat.

“You get together with a group of people, you might not know everybody there but you can find ways to work together. So, to me, that’s what today is all about. I’m just really excited to have the kids here, they’re just a kick in the pants. Sometimes they’re just so funny, some of the things they do, and they’re willing to learn and try new things, so I really enjoy that part of it,” she said.

To further that goal of working together, Saylor mixed the eight Anchorage and four Soldotna teens up into three teams — the Rocky Rowers, Four Oars and Chocolate Milk. Yes, they picked their own names.

“Chocolate milk because we have chocolate milk here,” Saylor explained. “And one of the Anchorage teens was very impressed with that because there’s never chocolate milk at regattas so she was very excited, and so their team name is Chocolate Milk.”

The teams cycled through a series of stations. There was a safety relay, where they were timed in putting on a hat, glasses, whistle and lifejacket. They also rigged a bare boat to be ready for the water.

Alaska Midnight Sun volunteer Laurie Winslow helps team Chocolate Milk carry its boat to the water on Mackey Lake. Cooper Plumhoff, a senior in Anchorage, brought special footwear for the lake’s water launches.

Alaska Midnight Sun volunteer Laurie Winslow helps team Chocolate Milk carry its boat to the water on Mackey Lake. Cooper Plumhoff, a senior in Anchorage, brought special footwear for the lake’s water launches.

“Some of the kids here from Anchorage had never rigged anything before so a part of what I wanted to do here today is that everybody learn something and they all work together as a team,” Saylor said.

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Crown jewel of king salmon sonar — Advancements make for best ever year counting kings in the Kenai

Image courtesy of Jim Miller, Alaska. Department of Fish and Game A screen shot of the ARIS sonar interface shows fish images picked up by sonar in the Kenai River and counted by technicians to track the king salmon escapement in the river.

Image courtesy of Jim Miller, Alaska. Department of Fish and Game
A screen shot of the ARIS sonar interface shows fish images picked up by sonar in the Kenai River and counted by technicians to track the king salmon escapement in the river.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The black computer screen lit up with blueish flashes moving across the window. It looked like a maternity ultrasound, but the images weren’t depicting the developing limbs of a baby. Clear as day — or clear as night with a high-powered flashlight — the display showed fish swimming by.

“When we went from split beam to DIDSON it was like turning a flashlight on underwater because you could ‘see’ so much more. You could make out what was going on so it was more than just these funny squiggly lines,” said Jim Miller, Kenai chinook sonar project biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The difference in the king salmon sonar program in the Kenai River 10 years ago to today isn’t quite “I-was-blind-but-now-I-see” biblically dramatic, but the advancement is revelatory.

When Miller started in Alaska’s salmon-counting sonar program in 1992 on the Nushagak River, Bendix sonar was the technology of the day. The interface spat out data on a paper tape and displayed the echoes bounced off the fish on a tiny oscilloscope screen.

“You could see the blips on the oscilloscope as the fish went by and that’s all you had — a blip on an oscilloscope and a tickertape,” Miller said.

On the Kenai, king counting used to be done with split-beam sonar. The echoes from the low-frequency sound waves appeared on a computer screen as a series of dots in patterns called fish traces. Technicians would count the fish traces to determine the number of fish passing by, and use the pattern of echoes to determine whether it was a larger fish — a king salmon — or something smaller, such as a sockeye.

“And then split beam, you had an echogram where you could see squiggles of fish going through. They were just squiggles, but you get the ‘S’ shape to them so they look like a fish swimming through,” Miller said.

While S-shaped squiggles were an improvement, split-beam left a lot to be desired. It was difficult to differentiate kings from other fish, and to tell fish apart when swimming next to each other.

The sonar location, too, was a challenge. At River Mile 8.6, it was close enough to the river mouth that water levels were tidally influenced. At higher water fish could swim behind the transducers and be missed. It was assumed that kings stuck to the deeper water midriver while sockeye preferred to hug the shore, but biologists eventually realized that wasn’t always the case at that site, with water levels and currents being variable.

Plus, the site was continually plagued by debris.

“On the outgoing tide was the possibility of damaging your gear because of the big trees. At the end of last season we actually had a huge tree come down and hook onto this sonar and pull it downstream about a half mile and snap the cable. The only reason we were able to retrieve it is because the guy on shift saw it going down and so he jumped in the boat and followed it,” Miller said.

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