Category Archives: recreation

Refuge for all — Activity celebrates variety in observing 75th anniversary

Photo courtesy of Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A dad and daughter enjoy the view of the Kenai Mountains from the shore of Skilak Lake during a hike in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A dad and daughter enjoy the view of the Kenai Mountains from the shore of Skilak Lake during a hike in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is preparing to turn 75 in December. That’s a momentous occasion, one that warrants a way to not only celebrate the anniversary, but all the wildlife and wild places that the 1.92-million acre preserve encompasses.

“We do a lot of special events and they’re great to do, but sometimes we miss the mark for what we’re trying to impart on people. So rather than us telling the public what is great about the refuge, we wanted to give people the means to explore the refuge and tell us what they think is great about it,” said Matt Conner, head of visitor services at the KNWR.

To that end, Conner and fellow refuge staff Leah Eskelin, Candace Ward and Michelle Ostrowski came up with a checklist of 75 things to see and do in the refuge.

“We tried to come up with ‘all-user’ activities, and things that were both consumptive and nonconsumptive. This list will also be a good starting point for people who haven’t spent much time in the refuge and found it daunting trying to figure out where to start. And for those who do use the refuge regularly, this will hopefully give them ideas for branching out,” Conner said.

Many of the items are season specific, such as skiing the trails around Refuge Headquarters, seeing the northern lights from Engineer Lake and ice fishing at Hidden Lake, so those interested in attempting all of the 75 may want to get cracking. For those who shoot for the minimum of 25 activities, there also are spring, summer and fall events, such as bear hunting at Mystery Creek, catching a Kenai River salmon or hiking Skyline Trail.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A hike up Skyline Trail is one of the activities included in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s 75th anniversary activity list. So is seeing a sunset on the refuge, such as this one above Skilak Lake, seen from Skyline Trail.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A hike up Skyline Trail is one of the activities included in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s 75th anniversary activity list. So is seeing a sunset on the refuge, such as this one above Skilak Lake, seen from Skyline Trail.

“We love the diversity of the refuge and wanted to collect that up and share it with the public in a meaningful way. There is diversity through the year and through the different habitats, so we tried to roll that into the list,” said Eskelin, a visitor services ranger.

Eskelin added that some of the activities on the checklist require prior planning, possibly even a boat, and getting deep into the backcountry.

“We understand that some of the things will be hard to do or get to, like seeing bears at Clear or Bear Creek on Tustumena Lake, but I know from personal experience that seeing them there is a very memorable moment,” Eskelin said.

Other items on the checklist were selected to take mere minutes and be things that almost anyone could do.

“We didn’t want to make them all hard, so we have backcountry and front-country fun. Things like, ‘See a sunrise or sunset from the refuge.’ That’s something that people working in Soldotna can almost walk to come and see, and taking one in from the refuge is a beautiful sight, not an experience to be taken lightly,” Eskelin said.

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View from Out West: Bored to run — Training off the road system is exercise in monotony

Photo courtesy of. Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a marathon in Antarctica in 2010.

Photo courtesy of. Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a marathon in Antarctica in 2010.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

I yearn for the diversity of a Tsalteshi-type trail system in Bristol Bay.

Here in Dillingham, active runners — and I will tentatively include myself in that category — surrender variety for redundancy. They run, ad nauseam and mostly alone, on a limited selection of paths, city streets and road shoulders. And cross-country skiers here have it even worse, with little history of the sport and no established trails, only open tundra and mountain passes bounded by private property along roads with few plowed turnouts.

Dillingham’s three main paved roads total 28 miles, plus three short segments of multiuse paths that parallel the pavement. There are also a few gravel roads, the longest being eight-mile Snake Lake Road, the only connection to four primitive hiking trails. A lack of regular maintenance makes these trails problematic for running, and throughout the winter they are difficult to reach because only the first half mile of Snake Lake Road is open to traffic. The rest is buried deep in snow.

Consequently, in order to log their requisite miles, local runners must repeatedly travel the same main roads, the same backroads, the same pothole-filled city streets and fractured sidewalks.

Still, some athletes here do more than just survive on what they’ve got. They thrive.

Andrew Berkoski, 46, traveled in 2010 to Antarctica to compete in a marathon. A few months later he ran in an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert in China. To prepare for these two wildly different events, he trained exclusively in Dillingham, a community with no running culture and no indoor exercise infrastructure.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert in China in 2010, following a marathon in Antarctica a few months earlier. He trained for both by logging miles on the few running routes in Dillingham.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert in China in 2010, following a marathon in Antarctica a few months earlier. He trained for both by logging miles on the few running routes in Dillingham.

Berkoski, who lives about 13 miles outside the city, ran to work at the Dillingham City School District several days a week, throughout the year, in order to maintain his training. To prepare for the desert, he sometimes trained inside his family’s tiny sauna, jogging in place and performing situps and pushups in 140-degree heat.

Every other day during the winter, regardless of the weather, Berkoski ran to the school, leaving his house at 4 a.m., headlamp alight and work clothes in a knapsack, in order to beat the traffic on the shoulderless and mostly unlighted Aleknagik Lake Road. On nonrunning days, he rode his bicycle to work and back, then went for a short run (five to six miles) to keep his mileage up. On Saturdays, he logged roughly the equivalent of a marathon on foot.

He trained this way for at least two years in preparation for Antarctica.

Dillingham’s Cindy Tuckwood, who was preparing for a triathlon in Wisconsin in July and the Lost Lake Trail Run (near Seward) in August, trained by running and biking along a road construction zone at 5 a.m. every day, hiking and climbing mountains with her three young daughters, and, once the winter ice had melted, donning a wetsuit and swimming three times a week in a lake 20 miles from her home.

Even now, Tuckwood’s alarm wakes her at 4:30 every morning. A few minutes later, she clips a leash onto her dog’s collar and is out the door, in the dark except in summer. A veritable exercise machine, the 46-year-old substitute teacher logs each week about 50 miles on foot, several hours on her bicycle and six days of P90X workouts, in addition to the summer swims.

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Long rein — Saddling up for endurance horse ride

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Jayne Hempstead, of Cantwell, and Katie King, of Nikiski, ride together during the inaugural Midnight Sun Challenge endurance ride, an equine distance event which took place in Nikiski on Saturday.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Jayne Hempstead, of Cantwell, and Katie King, of Nikiski, ride together during the inaugural Midnight Sun Challenge endurance ride, an equine distance event which took place in Nikiski on Saturday.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

“Endurance sport” plus “animals” in Alaska usually means dog mushing. And that’s true for Iditarod veteran Jane Adkins. But for the past five years, it’s also meant horse riding.

While there is no shortage of rodeo events for horse enthusiasts around the state, Adkins has instead spent her mushing “offseason” participating in endurance-themed equestrian challenges that hold a similar appeal as covering 1,000 miles by dog team.

“I’m drawn to endurance, I think, because I’m not fast. I’m slow, but I can complete things,” she said.

But she’s not a huge fan of having to travel long distances to participate in long-distance races. So she organized the Midnight Sun Challenge endurance ride in Nikiski on Saturday.

Seeing others participate in competitive trail-riding events around the state, such as the Challenge of the North in Fairbanks and the Bald Mountain Butt Buster in the Wasilla area, Adkins decided to provide an opportunity to saddle up on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Midnight Sun Challenge covered 30 miles in a series of loops through the woods off of the Escape Route Road, and there was a 12-mile event for those not quite trained up to the full distance. There was a maximum time limit of six hours to finish, which Adkins said should be more than enough time for teams trotting at an average speed of 5 miles per hour.

“The horses had to be in good condition, but this being our first year, we wanted to keep things small, simple and low key so we could evaluate everything along the way. We tried to make it easy on the riders and horses, so it’s mostly flat trail and we’ve done what we could to avoid mud,” she said.

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Caught in limbo — Dog owners regrouping after Board of Game turns down trapping restriction

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

After the Alaska Board of Game last month rejected proposals to limit trapping in recreational areas from Cooper Landing to Seward, Ken Green, of Cooper Landing, is feeling caught in a bit of a Catch 22 in his efforts to prevent dogs from being caught in game traps.

“The thing is we’re just going to have to live with it. That’s all there is. You have to live with what the Board of Game decrees, basically,” Green said.

Green, of the Committee for Safe Public Lands and Trails, submitted a proposal that would prohibit trapping within 250 feet of private land, public trails, trail heads, associated parking lots, roads and campgrounds, and in certain special areas, including frequently used beaches along Kenai Lake. A similar proposal was submitted for the Seward to Moose Pass area.

In doing so, Green thought he was following the appropriate procedure when one would like to see a regulatory change regarding hunting or trapping — take it to the authority on those regulations. Board members, however, in their March 18 unanimous denial of the trapping ban proposals, stated that the matter should have been resolved at the local level.

“The enforceability of this would be extremely difficult. It would be a full-time job, we’d need a Cooper Landing trooper just to check these places for trap lines because there’s a lot of tails down there, and this would encompass an awful lot of area,” said Board of Game Member Bob Mumford, of Anchorage.

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Looking sharp — Rusty Blades tourney brings out the best

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Matt Dura, No. 12, on the Kenai Rusty Blades team, drafts a member of the Mystery Alaska team, of Anchorage, during the Tier 1 Rusty Blades annual hockey tournament last weekend at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The Kenai Rusty Blades team won the championship game Sunday.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Matt Dura, No. 12, on the Kenai Rusty Blades team, drafts a member of the Mystery Alaska team, of Anchorage, during the Tier 1 Rusty Blades annual hockey tournament last weekend at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The Kenai Rusty Blades team won the championship game Sunday.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Paul Walker could see puffs of his own breath in the cold air, proof of how hard he had just been skating, and the blood tricking from his left brow was equal evidence that even recreational-league hockey is not without risk.

“A puck to the face is a good wake-up call,” he joked.

Despite the injury, he said he was still having a great time at the adult-league Tier 1 Rusty Blades annual hockey tournament, held this weekend at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Though Walker didn’t even know the tournament existed 24 hours earlier.

“Last night was the first I heard of it,” he said Saturday, day two of the three-day tourney.

Up from Connecticut for work, Walker was asked to play after a member of the Mystery Alaska team, from Anchorage, was unable to take to the ice. Walker jumped at the chance to experience how hockey is played in a state with a lot more natural ice.

“There’s not quite as much finesse as back home. The guys here are a little stronger and faster,” he said.

The rink was much larger than he was used to playing on in the Lower 48.

“This is big ice here, which we don’t have a lot of back east. You can really stretch out and get in some longer passes,” he said.

Trevor Baldwin, Rusty Blades commissioner, said that the purpose of the event is meeting people from other areas and exchanging with them on and off the ice.

“This is a league for guys who love and have an appreciation for hockey. There’s no trophy at the end. It’s just about having fun and socializing with other teams from other areas,” he said. Continue reading

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View from Out West: Caught up in ice fishing — Preparation big part of looking for fun on the lake

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair, Clark Fair with a haul of trout caught on an ice-fishing trip with his dad in 1964.

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair, Clark Fair with a haul of trout caught on an ice-fishing trip with his dad in 1964.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

When I was very young, my father was so eager to share with me his love for ice fishing that he was willing to make me miserable in order to help me enjoy the experience.

Actually, Dad didn’t intend to make me miserable, but he was prepared to let me suffer a bit if it meant he could fish a little longer.

That description makes him sound somewhat mean-spirited, and he was not. My suffering usually stemmed from the following facts:

1) I was rarely dressed adequately for the conditions, especially when exposed to those conditions for several hours. Red rubber boots, even those lined with lamb’s wool, and tiny mittens enclosed in plastic shells hold up poorly to the cold emanating from the surfaces of frozen lakes and the frigid air of winter.

2) Telling my father that I could no longer feel my hands and feet was tantamount to whining.

3) Because whining meant that I was not tough enough, and because whining interfered with fishing, whining was not appreciated.

A cool catch on the Kenai Peninsula.

A cool catch on the Kenai Peninsula.

So beneath my flimsy coverings, my dainty digits iced up.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy ice fishing. I did, and I still do. But benumbed, grossly whitened fingers and toes hampered my ability to fully revel in the experience. Consequently, I began each adventure with enthusiasm but often concluded it in despair.

Dad was typically apologetic after we had finished trudging to the car from Scout Lake or one of the many lakes along Swanson River Road. When he had removed my boots and mittens and saw what appeared to be Raynaud’s phenomenon, he’d at first say something like, “Why didn’t you tell me it was this bad?” — as if I had been purposely concealing the extent of my misery. But then he’d set about comforting me, rubbing my ghastly extremities, cranking up the heat in the car and

The red of those boots does not indicate heat for Clark Fair on an ice-fishing trip to Scout Lake in 1964. But cold doesn’t freeze out a good time.

The red of those boots does not indicate heat for Clark Fair on an ice-fishing trip to Scout Lake in 1964. But cold doesn’t freeze out a good time.

jamming fresh wool socks over my feet and hands for insulation as I thawed. If I looked pitiful enough, he might even dig out a snack for me from his fishing pack.

But I must admit that, despite the cold, Dad did instill in me a love for ice fishing — not quite the same intensity of his own mania, but a love nevertheless. And I did eventually toughen up, and mature enough to learn to dress myself more warmly.

The oldest photo I have of my father and me ice fishing comes from March 1962, the month I turned 4. Dad is pounding at the lake surface with a long-handled ice-chipper. It must be fairly warm because, although his feet are covered with bunny boots, he has removed his thick jacket and is wearing only thin gloves as he hammers away. I, on the other hand, am wearing red mittens, a thick jacket and baggy insulated pants, and my red rubber boots are sheathed with what appear to be the felt liners from a pair of Sorels. I do not yet look miserable, so I must surmise that we had only recently arrived.

Over the years, I have some fond memories of ice fishing, particularly with my father and brother. I have also enjoyed introducing my children to the activity, watching the sheer joy on their faces as they jerked gymnastic trout through a hole the circumference of a coffee can. The last time I ice-fished with them, we drove all the way out to Paddle Lake, where on a sunny March afternoon both kids caught bigger fish than I did, and there was not a hint of whining to be heard.

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Common Ground: Inner potato — Spud tendencies take root

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham This pike marks the end of the ice-fishing derby for Christine Cunningham, and the beginning of a day of potato growing.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham
This lake trout marks the end of the ice-fishing derby for Christine Cunningham, and the beginning of a day of potato-tendency  farming.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

My eyes were puffy, my lips were chapped and my skin was wind-burned. The past month had been a fishing gauntlet, whether it was for the ice-fishing derby or just for fun. All that was left was for me to catch a pike, and when it hit my lure, I yanked up the little crocodile without so much as a fight. It was 8 a.m., and the next thing I knew I had entered my catch in the derby and was at home with plenty of day to spare.

It all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to think it through. I could have kept fishing, for instance. I could have taken fish photos. I could have smelled a proverbial rose. Instead, no sooner was my fish out of the water, my camp chair was folded, my shanty collapsed and all my gear, tackle and fishing partner were thrown into the sled. I charged across the lake as if it were my morning drive to work. I don’t know how I arrived at home, but somewhere along the way, I’d picked up a latte and a muffin.

My behavior reminded me of a grocery store clerk I met once. He had a ribbon on his apron that showed he was the fastest grocery checker in the store. He told me that he was trying to beat his personal best record. My groceries flew across the scanner faster than I’d ever seen them scanned before. Often, he was so fast that the scanner did not pick up the bar code. My cart-full of groceries was scanned in under a minute, only cost $27.98 and dripped egg yolks.

My focus on quantity wasn’t as intentional as his and, in my case, someone else would likely win the award, but once my mind locked onto catching five species of fish and I’d already caught four, the last fish had to be caught. Little else mattered.

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