Category Archives: Kasilof

Cooking up health — Workshop highlights better living through whole foods

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Ionia elder Eliza Eller provides instruction during a cooking class that was part of Healing Our Future, a workshop to exchange ideas revolving around diet and health.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Ionia elder Eliza Eller provides instruction during a cooking class that was part of Healing Our Future, a workshop to exchange ideas revolving around diet and health.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Obesity, diabetes and digestive issues are few of the numerous maladies that can result from dietary habits, and in Alaska, perhaps no cultural group is more susceptible than Natives.

“Now in the grocery stores, there are potato chips, Coca-Cola, alcohol. It’s not at all like the foods from the world they’ve come from,” said Barry Creighton, who serves on the board of directors for Alaska Mental Health and Peninsula Community Health Services.

Creighton also is an elder member of Ionia, a Kasilof community where members live by a different structure and sense of time than mainstream Americans, with a macrobiotic diet being a cornerstone of their approach. Ionia partnered with the Alaska Sobriety Movement to offer a Healing Our Future three-day workshop over the weekend to exchange ideas relating to diet as a cornerstone of health.

“A lot of what we do has resonance with the Native world,” Creighton said, explaining a little about the Ionia lifestyle. Members begin their day by sitting in a circle, with all ages talking to each other, sometimes for more than two hours.

“No subject is too mundane,” Creighton said. After 30 years of these daily, group-therapy-type meetings and sustained participation with the Alaska behavioral health system, Ionians have developed ways to address numerous forms of mental health illness as a community, he said.

“This is what Natives have been doing for 6,000 years — the village, taking care of the family, taking care of the individual,” he said.

Ionians also operate on a different perception of time. There are no clocks in Ionia, and members don’t feel compelled to adhere to strict schedules.

“I’ll talk to someone for 24 hours if they need it,” Creighton said.

Diet also sets Ionians apart from the convenience-focused approach of eating fast food, highly refined and processed ingredients, and egregious amounts of sugar and salt.

“For some people, it’d be easier to change their religion than change how they eat,” Creighton said.

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Trusty Tusty trails — Volunteer effort expands learning beyond school’s classrooms, walls

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

There are the reading, writing and arithmetic standards that all students everywhere should learn. And then there is regional knowledge, inherent to a specific place or climate. In Alaska, that often means outdoor abilities. Those skills might not make it into any official curriculum, but some schools find ways to expand lessons to include those of the life variety.

At Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof, learning takes place in the classroom during the school day, and beyond. In this case, surrounding the school, both before and after school hours, all winter long, thanks to resurrected ski trails that have been developed around the school.

Dave Michael, a fourth-grade teacher at Tustumena, was also a member of the U.S. Olympic cross-country ski team in 1980. He saw a need for ski trails available for school and community use that don’t require a drive to Soldotna or Kenai.

“Using all the potential loops, I will groom about 2.5 kilometers of very easy, gently rolling ski trail. I will attempt to keep both a classic track as well as a skate surface groomed on a weekly basis or as it is needed. It is definitely intended for community use on the broader scale,” he said.

The trails were defunct pathways though the forest behind the school.

“The first set of trails was established here probably close to 30 years ago when Al Besh was the building administrator. As I understand it, Al was able to get the Army Corps. of Engineers to bring in a small bulldozer and cut a trail that extended outward behind the school in a left-hand loop, which was about one to 1.5 kilometers in length,” Michael said.

The trails were actively used for a time, but as can be the case with things involving work to keep up, maintenance waxed and waned with time.

“After some time, the interest and use of that trail seems to have died out. With lack of use and yearly maintenance, some of the trails became overgrown and some sections became inaccessible due to the development of adjacent roads, neighborhoods and homes,” Michael said.

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Merc still central to community — New owners have long history of store management

Redoubt Reporter file photos. Travis and Junie Steinbeck are the new owners of the Kasilof Mercantile.

Redoubt Reporter file photos. Travis and Junie Steinbeck are the new owners of the Kasilof Mercantile.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Since the 1960s the Kasilof Mercantile has met the needs of those in the area, whether it’s the fishermen- and tourist-swelled crowds of summer visitors and itinerants, or, as it is now, going into winter where traffic is down to just those who live year-round in the community. A new owner plans to continue that tradition, but has a few changes in mind.

“It officially changed hands in July,” said Travis Steinbeck, who, along with his wife, Junie, took over the business at Mile 109 of the Sterling Highway.

It was the peak of the fishing season, a time when many tourists, guides and local anglers and commercial fishermen swing by for a bite to eat, a cool drink or for fishing tackle after spending the day on the Kasilof River. Steinbeck said this meant he and his staff had to hit the ground running.

“It was busy, and I had to learn a few new things, but I know a lot about managing little grocery stores, and we kept our head above water, so I’m really looking forward to next season,” he said.

Steinbeck, son of 1971 Kenai Mayor John Steinbeck, has been in the area for a long time. He’s spent that time in the grocery-related business, setting up or stocking small stores from Kasilof to Homer and a few across the inlet, as well as working at a large supermarket in Kenai.

“I spent 30 years at IGA Country Foods, running the retail side of it. I took them from $200 a day to $30,000 a day, but I felt like I had done all I could there. I wanted a new challenge. So my wife and I started looking at this place when we heard it was for sale. We had to work on a price with them for two to three months, but we finally got it,” he said.

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Almanac: Memories rise in sweet visit — Betty Crocker’s niece explores family’s long-ago roots in Kasilof

By Brent Johnson
For the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Shirley Crocker. Gay Crocker Pados, of Australia, visited her Kasilof roots recently.

Photo courtesy of Shirley Crocker. Gay Crocker Pados, of Australia, visited her Kasilof roots recently.

Betty Crocker’s niece was in for a sweet treat herself during a visit to Kasilof on Sept. 9. Gay Crocker Pados, 57, of Australia, is the daughter of Betty Crocker’s twin brother, Bill. Though Betty and Bill were born in Kasilof in 1935, the last time one of them had been here is about 15 years ago, when Betty came back for a couple years.
Betty, it must be told, is not connected to the brand of baking mixes sharing her name. But her life was genuine, whereas the name brand was created from scratch in 1921 — the name “Betty” sounding cheery and all-American, while Crocker was the last name of a director of the Washburn Crosby Company, which originally developed the brand.
For Kasilof, the Crocker story starts in the fall of 1924. That’s when 19-year-old Ardith “Slim” Crocker arrived. He was from Everett, Washington, but his parents, George Milton Crocker and Katrina Kryger Crocker, divorced about 1917, when Slim was 12. For some reason Slim went to Tustumena Lake and appears there on snowshoes in the Andrew Berg diary entry of Jan. 17, 1925. Berg, a big-game guide whose diary has been crafted into a book, called him, “The slim biscuit shooter.” Such a refined name indicates the men had met earlier. Slim himself wrote in his memorabilia that he stayed at Kasilof the winter of 1924-25.
Slim returned in the fall of 1927 and spent the ensuing winter working for Archie and Enid McLane. Archie was a farmer who often cut poles for fish traps during the winter. In 1928, Slim began building his house beside the Kasilof River, at the site where a little cabin stood. It was the original cabin of Pete Jensen and Pete Madson, who had worked for surveyors setting section corners and quarter corners in areas between Homer and Kenai from 1917 to 1920. Jensen and Madson settled in Kasilof to fox farm. Also in 1928, Slim went to work for the Alaska Guides Association as a big-game guide.

Photo from the Betty Crocker collection. Jessie Parsons stands in the doorway of “Miss Mac’s Lunch Room” in 1915, which was the start of Parsons Hotel in Anchorage.

Photo from the Betty Crocker collection. Jessie Parsons stands in the doorway of “Miss Mac’s Lunch Room” in 1915, which was the start of Parsons Hotel in Anchorage.

For the foundation of his house, Slim used pipe that turn-of-the-century gold miners had left by Indian Creek on Tustumena Lake. For three winters, 1928 through 1930, Archie McLane used a horse-drawn bobsled to bring logs to Slim’s home site. Then Abe Erickson, a Kasilof fox farmer and set-netter, built the house. He had the help of a couple local men in that endeavor. The 1930 census found Slim in Kasilof and listed his occupation as “trapper.”
In activities as a guide, Slim often stayed at the Parsons Hotel in Anchorage and flew with Frank Dorbandt, a famous Alaska pioneer aviator. Fred and Jessie Parsons began their hotel in 1915. Jessie was from Australia, and in 1931 she sent for her niece, 18-year-old Alice May Duncombe. Alice rode over on the Ventura and landed at San Francisco before continuing to Anchorage. She met Slim at the hotel and married him Dec. 28, 1931.

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Not far from spar — Kasilof man gets living-room seat to moose show

Photo courtesy of Leon Mensch. Two bull moose spar in a yard in Kasilof on Sunday, with blood-stained antlers from having their velvet recently sloughed off.

Photo courtesy of Leon Mensch. Two bull moose spar in a yard in Kasilof on Sunday, with blood-stained antlers from having their velvet recently sloughed off.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Living in Alaska, residents get fairly used to living a little closer to nature than their Lower-48 counterparts. With that comes seeing more wildlife. But even with that expectation, Leon Mensch, of Kasilof, woke up to a spectacle Sunday morning that still made his jaw drop.

“Not too many places you can have a morning like that,” he said.

A moose in his yard doesn’t garner much attention. A bull with a nice-sized rack warrants more than just a glance. Two bulls with racks is downright noteworthy, and those bulls smashing their racks into each other calls for undivided, mouth-hanging-open attention.

The spectacle started slowly. Mensch, a dog musher, had just gone inside after feeding his huskies. Having a yard full of dogs is usually a good alarm of anything unusual, like an animal wandering through. But Mensch said that his dogs must not have seen the moose arrive that day, because they were quiet.

“When I came back in I looked out the window and first saw just one. I went to grab my camera and when I got back to the window both of them were there, sparring in what will (next year) be our garden,” he said.

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Dipping into big crowds — Kasilof fishery seeing highest rate of growth

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. The personal-use dip-net fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof River is looking more and more like the crowded Kenai River, with crowds of fishermen descending to the beach and shoreline to attempt to pack their coolers with fish.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. The personal-use dip-net fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof River is looking more and more like the crowded Kenai River, with crowds of fishermen descending to the beach and shoreline to attempt to pack their coolers with fish.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Personal-use dip netting for salmon is a rite of summer for an increasing number of Alaskans, who ply the waves of Fish Creek, the Kenai River or Kasilof River. According to data collected from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, more personal-use permits — 35,211 — were issued last year than any year since the fisheries began in 1996. And of the these three fisheries utilized for dip netting, none is growing as fast as the Kasilof River.

“There is a heightened interest in the dip-net fishery,” said Robert Begich, area management biologist for Fish and Game’s Division of Sport Fish in Soldotna.

According to Fish and Game data, in 1996 only 14,575 permits were issued for personal-use fishing, of which household days fished at the Kasilof River dip-net fishery totaled 1,300. By contrast, the Kenai River experienced 10,503 household days fished that year.

Jumping ahead to 2013, of the 35,211 permits issued, records reveal an eight-fold increase in household days fished at the Kasilof, with 8,556 days fished. The Kenai River, which still draws more people overall, has only had a three-fold increase during this same time period, with 33,193 household days recorded in 2013.

And unlike the Kasilof, which has experienced a steady increase in days fished since 1996, 2013 was the first year the Kenai River had less days fished according to permits records, dropping from an all-time high of 34,374 household days recorded in 2012.

Salmon harvests for this time period also correlate to the increase in days fished, as the Kasilof dip-net harvest swelled from 11,701 salmon caught in 1996 to 88,233 in 2013, while the Kenai harvest increased from 107,627 to 354,727 for the same time period.

Of course, the population of Alaska is increasing, and as more people become residents, more people are allowed to take part in the dip-net fisheries, but Begich said that the rate of increase in the Kasilof fishery is not necessarily related to a growing population.

“We haven’t seen that much of an increase in license sales,” he said.

So what is drawing more people to the mouth of the Kasilof? It depends on who you ask.

“We’ve fished in all three. We fished Fish Creek and the Kenai last year, so decided to try the Kasilof this year, and this is definitely going to be our spot,” said Pedro Bencid, of Anchorage, who swatted away flies while filleting his full bag limit Saturday afternoon at his camp at the mouth of the Kasilof.

Bencid said that while the Kasilof is crowded, and may be growing more so each year, it’s still less overall people than at the Kenai River mouth.

“The Kenai was just way too packed, and also you can’t drive and live right on the beach like you can here,” he said.

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Jersey bus hits breaks — Longtime eatery serves up more-modern restaurant

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. The bus at the Kasilof location of Jersey Subs is how the business began, but this week the bus will be removed as a larger more modern restaurant has been built to take its place.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. The bus at the Kasilof location of Jersey Subs is how the business began, but this week the bus will be removed as a larger more modern restaurant has been built to take its place.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

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.

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