By Joseph Robertia
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.
“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.