Thursday, August 7, 2008

Progress Days Rodeo pictures

The Soldotna Progress Days Rodeo on July 26 and 27 at the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds had its ups and downs for riders. Here are some photos from the event.

Steve Cook, white hat, is heeling in the Team-Roping event.

Kody Meyer, black helmet, is thrown in the junior bull-riding event.

Junior bull rider Stephen Kitson, in the purple sleeves, is followed by bull fighter Nate McNeil (in blue) and rodeo clown Dillon Jensen (in red).

Ciarra McKenzie, riding Cutie, competes in barrel racing.

Adam Mahoney gets hung up in the rope in the junior bull-riding event. The six individuals coming to his rescue are, left to right: bull fighter Josh Bartell, in yellow; bull fighter Nate McNeil, in blue shirt and black hat; Randy Jensen, in background, wearing a brown jacket; Scooter Hackett in the white hat; and Dan Mahoney, who is hatless.

Beth Fowler on the John Deere is "raking" the sand arena before the barrel-racing competition.

Justin Rainwater, black hat, is roping in the Double Muggin event.

Junior bull rider Tori Sipes, in red, keeps her seat while bull fighter Nate McNeil (in blue) and rodeo clown Dillon Jensen (in red) are ready to help if needed.

Becky Britton, in a plaid flannel shirt on a white horse, competes in breakaway roping.

Photos by Clark Fair, Redoubt Reporter.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Reds ran out but fishing still good 'n' plenty — Anglers may see silver lining to poor sockeye year

By Matt Tunseth
For the Redoubt Reporter

When he first moved to Kenai a year ago, Steve Cunningham went searching for a fishing hole he could call his own. He didn’t have to look far.

“I saw Cunningham Park, so I thought, ‘Hey, this looks like a good spot,’” Cunningham said while soaking eggs in the Kenai River in hope of hooking a silver salmon.

Cunningham is no relation to Martha Cunningham, who donated the land on which the small riverside park now sits. Still, he said he feels at home whenever he visits the park on Beaver Loop Road.

“It’s a lot more relaxing than combat fishing for reds,” he said.

Cunningham Park is one of the most popular spots for anglers seeking silver and pink salmon during the fall season. Free to the public, its muddy banks are a boon for fishermen who seek convenience and affordability – along with a good chance of landing a salmon or two.

The park is popular among locals and tourists, who can find success without having to hire a guide or rent a boat. Michigan angler Owen Sult said he’s spent four summers in Alaska, and each time he’s been a frequent visitor to the park.

“You can’t beat this,” he said while trying to fill out his limit of two silvers per day.

With one shiny coho on a stringer beside him, Sult was well on his way Monday. He said he hooked the fish on the preferred method of salmon roe held near the bottom with a heavy weight.

“I might have been here about an hour,” he said.

Anglers are finding success for silvers not just at Cunningham, but throughout the Kenai River. On Sunday, nets were up on boats throughout the river, signaling a fish on the line. Most boat-based angler efforts took place in the tidal areas below Eagle Rock. Anglers fishing with eggs were having the most success over the weekend, though silvers can also be picked up using a variety of plugs and spinners.

Humpy haven

Pink salmon have also hit the Kenai in waves over the past week, and anglers should have no trouble hooking into these smallest of the Pacific salmon. Any type of spinning lure typically works for pinks, as do eggs.

The fish aren’t typically sought by sport anglers, although they’re a great “starter” fish for young and novice fishermen. Cunningham Park is a good shore-based location to cast for pinks, as is the Warren Ames Bridge and from the public beach in Kenai. Pinks can be had from shore further up river, as well. But their meat tends to deteriorate quickly, meaning any caught upstream of the tidal area are likely to already be well on their way to spawning.

No more kings

July 31 was the final day of king salmon fishing, and any anglers accidentally hooking into one of the many kings still entering the river must release the fish without removing it from the water. More than 1,000 fish were counted passing the sonar counter at river mile 19 on Sunday, the final day of king salmon counting.

Reds restrictions increased

Sockeye salmon fishing on the Kenai continues to be slow, with two emergency orders now in place to restrict the Kenai River fishery. The first order, issued July 30, closed sockeye fishing downstream from river mile 19. The second order, issued Monday, cut retention of sockeye above mile 19 to just one fish per day in order to get more reds onto their spawning grounds. The order does not affect the fly fishing-only area at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers.

Fall trout season begins

Fishing for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden typically begins to heat up during August and September on the upper and middle Kenai, although water levels are reportedly high at this time. Once the water clears, anglers should find success using beads or flesh flies floated near the bottom beneath a floating indicator.

Anglers are reminded to always check fishing regulations before heading out on the water.

Gas prices driving you wild? Try recreation sites closer to home

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

In a state as rugged, picturesque and unsettled as Alaska, a wide range of recreation opportunities beckon just out the back door. But in a state as large as Alaska, that backyard can encompass hundreds of miles.

With gas prices pushing $5 a gallon on the central Kenai Peninsula, traversing that backyard is becoming increasingly expensive.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s very, very, very expensive,” said Drew “Obie” O’Brien, of Soldotna.

In years past O’Brien would make numerous trips to hike or take his boat out in the Skilak area or Kenai Lake.

“Normally I would come up here, oh, golly, eight, ten times during the summer,” he said.

Not this year, when it costs him $75 to fill the 16- to 17-gallon tank in his little truck.

“The cold, hard truth of the matter is, anybody you talk to will say they are cutting way back,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”

For those looking to cut back on summer recreational travel, but not cut it out completely, there are options in the near end of the central peninsula’s backyard.

The Kasilof area offers lakes and the Kasilof River for boating and fishing, as well as campgrounds.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge boasts several campsites, lakes and hiking trails within an hour’s drive from Soldotna. For those looking for a people-, rather than gas-powered, excursion, the Swan Lake Canoe Trails system just outside Sterling on Swanson River Road can accommodate trips lasting a day, week or longer.

If even Sterling is too far to drive for an outdoors activity, refuge headquarters on Ski Hill Road in Soldotna has trails, a lake and interpretive displays.

On Saturday, Gary and Nancy Ohren and their grandson, Eli, of Silverton, Ore., took advantage of the wilderness paths at refuge headquarters not more than five minutes off the beaten path of the Sterling Highway.

“It seems like it’s pretty well maintained,” Gary Ohren said of the trails system. “We like stopping at places like this. Usually there’s a hike or something to do. It’s nice to get out and get some exercise, especially when you’re in the car for a while.”

Across the highway from Ski Hill Road is Skyview High School with the Tsalteshi Trails system, a series of interconnected loops crisscrossing the woods on a ridge overlooking Soldotna. The trails are good for hiking or mountain biking in the summer.

Twenty-five miles north of Kenai is Captain Cook State Park, with camping, fishing and hiking opportunities.

For those wanting to take a more substantial excursion without draining their tank or wallet, there are good options within an hour drive from Kenai and Soldotna.

Jordan Jenkes, a University of Alaska Anchorage student formally from the central peninsula, was climbing Skyline Trail at mile 61 of the Sterling Highway on Sunday with Barb Mossakowski, also a UAA student.

“It’s only like 45 minutes from Kenai,” he said. “It’s definitely a great day hike. I’ve been coming here for years.”

The roughly mile-long trail shoots up above treeline to offer views of the surrounding Mystery Hills, Sterling Flats and Kenai Mountain Range.

“It’s a good place to go get some elevation and it’s really close to home. You can just get out and up there and keep going,” Jenkes said.

Jenkes sings their trail’s praises as a wintertime mountaineering destination, as well, but Mossakowski recommends sticking to summer.

“I like it better now in this kind of weather,” she said. “You can make it as hard or easy as you want to make it.”

A few miles up the highway is the far end of Skilak Lake Road. The dirt road offers access to several day hikes, lakes, campgrounds, picnic areas and scenic overlooks. This variety in activity and terrain make the area worth revisiting, especially since it’s a closer, and therefore cheaper, alternative than recreation spots farther up the road.

O’Brien was at the Hidden Lake Campground off Skilak Lake Road on Sunday, cooking hot dogs with Amsl Apflaur from Anchorage. Earlier that afternoon he’d ferried a group of hikers across the lake.

The Skilak area is one of his favorite spots.

“Oh, it’s beautiful, it’s just gorgeous,” he said. “I’ve been coming out here for years and the facilities here are just gorgeous. Over the years they’ve really developed it.”

Since he’s cutting back on drives to the mountains, O’Brien said he’s been doing activities in town, like riding his bike and walking.

He’s not the only one with that idea.

“Last night I rode my bike to Safeway. There were 15 to 20 bikes there. There’s usually about three. I had a hard time finding a place to park,” he said.

Apflaur said riding a motorcycle is a way to cut down on fuel costs, but even that isn’t as cheap as it used to be.

“It’s a sad comment when it costs you a chunk of change to fill up your motorbike,” she said. “… Now you have to start carrying some real money with you.”

Ideas for conserving fuel, and cash, this summer
  • Explore areas close to home.
  • Carpool. Find a group of people with similar interests and try to plan trips that multiple people can go on, then split the gas bill.
  • Camp. When taking a trip somewhere that requires a longer drive, stay a day or two. That reduces out-and-back travel, as well as makes you feel like you’ve gotten more recreational bang for your buck.
  • Maintain your car. Changing filters, keeping tires properly inflated and other routine maintenance can improve gas mileage.
  • Row a boat, rather than drive one. If you usually motor to your fishing holes, try getting there with oars for a change, or fish from the shore to mix things up.

Don't go fishing for bears

By Dave Atcherson
For the Redoubt Reporter

Bears in Alaska. They’re a fact of life, especially for fishermen. How we deal with them, how we live and play in their presence, is a topic that often generates a great deal of speculation and debate.

What steps should fishermen take to avoid confrontation? Is carrying pepper spray always a good idea? What about firearms, and which are best?

While bears are most active during evening hours, trouble can occur any time and it’s important for anglers in Alaska to first and foremost be bear aware. That means being constantly in touch with where you are and what you’re doing.

Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician, who among other duties teaches bear safety for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, preaches this during his classes. He maintains that too often people get in trouble because they lose contact with their surroundings, becoming totally engrossed in their fishing, for instance. The other problem, he says, is complacency or a cavalier attitude, believing that “it couldn’t happen to me,” or that knowing all the “rules” for being in bear country means they will be all right.

While it is extremely important to be mindful of these rules, Lewis emphasizes they are only guidelines and never a guarantee. After years of dealing with nuisance bears and investigating attacks, he says the one thing he’s learned for certain is that these animals, just like people, are individuals and it’s impossible to know how each one is going to behave in a given situation.

“You simply don’t know if a particular animal is agitated already,” he said. “Has it been provoked by other bears in the area, or have other fishermen been getting too close?”

It’s always best, Lewis advises, to err on the side of caution. That means avoiding areas where there’s even a chance of trouble and not fishing in the middle of the night.

This may create a dilemma for die-hard anglers, most of whom are guilty of fishing at off hours in order to beat the crowds. Nevertheless, with the ongoing loss of bear habitat and a steady increase in the number of bears and anglers, it’s an issue we may all need to take into serious consideration in the future.

Bear safety and close encounters:

It’s always best to avoid an encounter and give bears the opportunity to avoid you. Make plenty of noise while hiking. If possible, travel in a group. Clap your hands, sing, do anything that will make your presence known.

When an unwanted encounter occurs, it’s important to remain calm, and never run. It’s natural for bears to give chase and impossible to outrun one. First, identify yourself, let the bear know you’re human and talk in a normal voice. If the bear continues approaching, become more defensive — raise your voice and wave your arms. Make yourself as large as possible. If you’re in a group, have the members stand together and shout. Usually, this is all it takes to avoid a confrontation. When the time comes to retreat, back away slowly, move off the trail, and always leave the animal an escape route.

When an attack occurs, experts say there are two choices — play dead or fight back — depending on whether the bear is behaving defensively or seeking food. In most cases, brown bears that attack are reacting defensively, often defending a carcass or protecting their young. If this is the case, and the bear is a grizzly, play dead. Lie on your stomach and cup your hands behind your neck. Usually, the bear will end its attack once it perceives the threat over. It’s important, however, to remain in this position for as long as possible after the bear breaks off its attack, as movement often causes the bear to return. If it’s a black bear, or any bear trying to break into a tent or cabin, fight back.

What about carrying a weapon? The experts agree: If you are not proficient in the use of a firearm and not fully prepared to use it, don’t even consider bringing one; it only increases the chance of injuring yourself or someone else. For those comfortable carrying a gun, choose the right weapon. Many tote large-caliber pistols because of their convenient size, but experts say they are not the best choice. A hunting rifle, a .338 or .375 caliber, is standard, although a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with rifled slugs probably offers the best protection at close range.

For those uncomfortable packing heat or who like the addition of a nonlethal defense, pepper spray is often the answer, and has been proven to be an effective last line of defense against bear attacks. Many experts, such Dr. Stephen Stringham, author of the book, “Bear Viewing in Alaska: Expert Techniques for a Great Adventure,” believe that, especially for fishermen, it may be the best line of defense.

“That’s because it’s a rare fisherman who can tolerate the inconvenience of shouldering a rifle or shotgun while casting or reeling. But carrying pepper spray is as easy as carrying a cell phone, and you’ll have it with you at all times,” he says.

While easy to carry, the only drawback to these sprays is if they are discharged upwind, they can disable the user. It’s important to know how to use the spray and take the appropriate precautions.

Knowing the rules and carrying a firearm or pepper spray should never preclude simple common sense. Avoid crowding bears and allow them plenty of “personal” space. Plan ahead, stay calm and make noise.

Alaska is home to a vast array of wildlife. These animals should neither be feared nor taken for granted, and we should exalt in the fact that we are still able to share this land with them. We should respect what they represent and enjoy their presence, but always in a safe and unthreatening manner.

Bear safety tips for fishermen
  • Bears are attracted to splashing fish. If you have a fish on and a bear approaches, cut your line immediately — even if it’s a 30-inch rainbow. Then, slowly back out of the water, move to an open area, preferably with other people.
  • If possible, fish in groups or have a lookout.
  • Fish in an open area where you can see bears and they can see you.
  • Try to avoid “tunnel vision.” Make it a habit to take a break from fishing and look around every few minutes.
  • Try to avoid odors by storing fish in a bear-proof container and sealed plastic bags.
  • Bears are attracted to carcasses, so fillet your fish at home, if possible. If you fillet the fish on site, cut leftover carcasses into small pieces before depositing in the river.
For more information:
  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game Web site,

Dave Atcheson is the author of “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula” and an instructor of the Kenai Fishing Academy.

Job well done: Homesteaders had to work for water

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Dolly Farnsworth was at least 10 feet deep in a 4-by-4-foot hole when company arrived. Her husband, Jack, said, “I’ll go out and talk to them. I don’t want them to see you down there.” He ambled out to greet the visitor, careful not to acknowledge that his wife was standing at the bottom of the well she was digging, short-handled miner’s pick in hand and a small shovel and galvanized bucket at her feet.

In those days, it was considered unmanly to allow a woman to do such work, but some men recruited their wives because the women tended to be slimmer, Dolly said. A smaller digger could mean a smaller hole, which meant less material to be removed. Dolly also said she had difficulty hoisting the heavy bucket, so it made more sense for her to be in the hole.

Jack tried to keep Dolly’s presence a secret from the company — a B&C Auto representative from Anchorage — because he was worried about the ribbing he would get, she said.
But this was 1950, and frame houses like the one the Farnsworths were building were uncommon in Soldotna’s pioneering days — log homes being the standard accommodations. Jack could keep his visitor outside for only 10 or 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Dolly cooled her heels in the hole, leaning against the cribbed sides of the well, which had been carved bucket by bucket through tough gravel. Eventually, Dolly looked up to see two faces peering down, and Jack’s secret was out.

“He was very embarrassed,” Dolly said.

That was the end of the digging days for Dolly, now 86 and still living on the original Farnsworth homestead. With help from another man, the Farnsworths hit good water at 32 feet, and with a hand pump they were able to supply their basic water needs. When power came to the area, an electric pump was installed and kept the family in good water until they hooked up to city services in the 1970s.

Dee Stock tells a similar water-seeking tale. Like the Farnsworths, she and her husband, Bill, were digging their well indoors while they were completing their home. About 8 to 10 feet down, she was using a shovel and a crowbar to pound away at the exposed strata below her when Bill announced, “I think someone’s at the door.” He disappeared from the portal of light above her and walked to the other end of the house to check the identity of the company.

At that time, Bill was the foreman for the local Alaska Road Commission office, and at his door were “two of the Anchorage bigwigs,” Pete Bagoy and Ben Peterson.

“They brought some beers,” said Dee, now 90 and living in Utah, “and they sat and visited for two to three hours drinking and talking.”

Meanwhile, “I was cold and damp and getting madder all the time,” she said. “I yelled and screamed and hollered, and they didn’t even hear me.”

At one point, she said, she began to plot revenge.

“I was plotting anything I could think of.”

When the company finally departed, Bill returned to the top of the well.

“He was sorry,” Dee said, “and he just apologized and apologized. We had a few words.”

In the end, the well was complete at about 20 feet, but Dee did not return to the hole. “I helped,” she said, “but I didn’t get down in that well again.” Bill hired someone else to finish the job.

On the north side of Soldotna Creek, a third woman also dug for water. Marge Mullen, now 88, was excavating with a sawed-off clam shovel and an old coffee can and sending up buckets of till to her husband, Frank. Unlike Dee Stock and Dolly Farnsworth, however, Marge eventually completed all of the digging herself — down the narrow, cribbed shaft to a depth of 25 feet.

“I couldn’t do this all day, every day, because I had a family to take care of, you know,” she said. “Meanwhile, I had Soldotna Creek to get water from.”

For two or three years, the Mullens hauled buckets of water directly from the creek, while most early Soldotna residents drew their water year-round from a community spring on the south side of the creek, at the end of an ARC road in what is now Soldotna Creek Park.

The few residents who owned vehicles could drive to the spring, while others had to tote it by hand or on their backs. Everyone conserved in some way: outhouses, infrequent bathing, communal laundry days.

Marge said the work on the well was “kind of forbidding when I first started out, but then I got braver on the whole thing, knowing the final results would be a great help for me.”

The view up the shaft could be daunting. “I could see the sky and treetops,” she said. “But it was a great day when I got out of there and saw a little bit of liquid in the bottom, and it was on the sand layer. So that was pretty exciting, and then to go back the next time and find that it had filled up a little bit further.”

By the mid-1950s, well drillers, such as Kenny Carver and Jess Shelman, were appearing in the area, and the era of hand-dug wells quickly faded. Frank and Betty Kraxberger arrived in the early ’60s, and have been finding water for local folks ever since.

The Mullens eventually replaced their hand-dug well with a drilled one. Now, from her home along the Kenai River, Marge draws her water from a well 157 feet deep. And she doesn’t need a coffee can or clam shovel to do it.

Arts and events calendar week of Aug. 6-13

  • Triumvirate Theatre will perform “Fish On!” a humorous and informational look at fishing on the central Kenai Peninsula at 7 p.m. every day through Saturday at the theater in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Tickets are $10 general admission or $8 for students and seniors at the door.
  • Kaladi Brothers in Soldotna has fiber art by Connie Goltz on display through August.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has art by Laura Faeo and Regina McAbee on display through August.
  • The Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai has fiber arts by Kenai Peninsula College students on display through August.

First Thursday Art Events
  • Artist reception for fiber artist Connie Goltz at Kaladi Brothers in Soldotna from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
  • Artist reception for photographer Bill Heath at Art Works in Soldotna from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Artist reception for Laura Faeo and Regina McAbee at the Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Live acoustic music and a fiber arts display from Kenai Peninsula College students at the Funky Monkey coffee shop in the C Plaza in Kenai from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Bluegrass jam at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna at 6:30 p.m.
  • Open mic at Veronica’s in Kenai from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

  • Jeanne Dunhan and Kent Peterson will perform a free concert at noon at Kaladi Brothers in Soldotna as part of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s Summer Music Festival.
  • Local dance company Peninsula Artists in Motion will perform a short concert at 7 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, call 283-1991.

  • Mi’shell Reid and Tammy Vollom-Matturro will perform a free concert at noon at Charlotte’s in Kenai as part of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s Summer Music Festival.
  • The Central Peninsula Writers Group will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the Kenai library conference room. Writers can bring copies of their work to share. Call 283-4378.
  • Triumvirate Theatre will perform “Fish On!” at 1 and 2:30 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

  • The Jan and Tonics Woodwind Ensemble will perform a free concert at noon at The Crossing in Soldotna as part of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s Summer Music Festival.
  • Triumvirate Theatre will stage “The Star Spangled Girl” by Neil Simon at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, and next weekend on Aug. 15 and 16 at the theater in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Tickets are $10 in advance from the bookstore or at the door. Call 953-7262.
  • The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra will perform a gala concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School with a preconcert lecture starting at 6:45 p.m. The orchestra will perform works by Strauss, Susato, Tchaikovsky, Elgar and Munger. Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for seniors and $10 for youth and Raven Club members at the door or in advance from Charlotte’s and River City Books. Call 235-7579.

  • The Totem Tracers Genealogical Society offers ancestor research help at the Kenai Library from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday in the conference room. Call 283-4378.
  • Alaska’s Hobo Jim will perform at 3 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Call 283-1991.
  • Triumvirate Theatre performs “The Star Spangled Girl.” at 7 p.m. (See Friday entry)
  • Local band Uglyfish with Ian Uponen and Casualties to the Cause from Homer will perform at Saturday night at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai.

  • Dan Pascucci will perform an all-ages show of interactive songs about science and nature at 1 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Call 283-1991.

  • Pat Reese of Robin’s Place Fabrics will share the work of local quilters and fiber artists at 1 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Call 283-1991.

Aug. 13
  • The Totem Tracers Genealogical Society will hold its monthly meeting, beginning with a work session, at 6 p.m. at the Kenai Community Library. Call 283-4378.
  • Martha Merry will give a presentation on what it was like to homestead on the Kenai at 1 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Call 283-1991.

  • The Riverside in Soldotna has live DJ music every Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m.

Live music
  • BJ’s in Soldotna has acoustic country, folk and bar songs by Hobo Jim at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
  • The Crossing in Soldotna has acoustic music by the Mabrey Brothers from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has bluegrass music by Them Other Shuckers from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays.
  • Hooligan’s Saloon has acoustic music by Travis B. and Sean at 10 p.m. Thursday and rock covers by 9-Spine at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • Kenai Joe’s in Kenai has acoustic music by Grady at 8 p.m. Friday.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has acoustic classic rock by the Free Beer Band at 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
  • Moosequitos in Sterling has acoustic music by Adam and Sonny at 10 p.m. today, top 40s music by Danger Pig at 10 p.m. Friday and country rock by Devil’s Boots at 10 p.m. Saturday.
  • Mugz Coffee Lounge in Soldotna has acoustic music by Kelsey and Derrick from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday and acoustic music by Katie Evans and Vicki Tinker from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday.
  • Mykel’s in Soldotna has acoustic music by Dave Unruh from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • The Place in Nikiski had bluegrass music by Them Other Shuckers at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
  • The Rainbow Bar in Kenai has rock covers by The Mabrey Brothers Band at 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has open mic music at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, acoustic folk and blues by Chris Pepper, Sarah Superman and friends at 6:30 p.m. Friday and acoustic folk and country music by Scott Merry at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

  • 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays at the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
  • 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays at the 409 in Kenai.
  • 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.
  • 8:30 p.m. Friday at the J-Bar-B in Kasilof
  • 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Maverick in Soldotna.

  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has “Guitar Hero” at 9 p.m. Thursdays.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has pool night at 9 p.m. Fridays.

Humor is primary goal in playtime politics — Romantic comedy lightens up election season

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

McCain vs. Obama. Liberal vs. conservative. A ukulele vs. a mop. Throw in a love triangle – or quadrangle, if you count the Marine – and you’ve got a Neil Simon play that could lighten up any election season.

Triumvirate Theatre’s production of Simon’s “Star Spangled Girl” fits the bill for relevant, yet light, summer entertainment.

“It’s so topical with the election, everybody’s clued in to this whole political scene. So it’s really fun with that,” said director Carla Jenness.

But don’t take “political” to mean “C-SPAN.”

“I didn’t think anybody wanted to sit in a big, heavy drama in the summer,” Jenness said, so a sharp Simon comedy was the perfect fit.

The play stars JR Cox, Justin Smith and Tatiana Butler, all Triumvirate veterans and graduates of Nikiski High School’s drama, debate and forensics program.

Cox and Smith play Andy and Norman, the struggling staffers of the ultra liberal protest magazine Fallout. Norman is a brilliant, if overly excitable, writing talent. Andy handles sales, business management and everything else required to scrape together enough money for the next issue — from answering the phone as a globetrotting array of ethnic restaurateurs to throw off a bill collector, to accompanying their daredevil elderly landlady on hazardous dates to delay their rent payments.

Butler plays Sophie, a conservative country girl new to the city who makes Norman swoon with her perfect earlobes and strong-smelling shampoo. When it becomes clear Sophie’s romantic inclinations and political views lie elsewhere, it puts Norman and Andy’s friendship, and the future of the magazine, at risk.

Jenness made a few updates to the script, like adding references to the current presidential race between John McCain and Barak Obama. But she didn’t have to do much to make it relevant, even though it was set four decades ago.

“The themes are basically the same. The divisions with people’s ideologies like they had in the ’60s, when this was written, we have today,” she said.

Simon’s quirky dialogue and physical humor also hold up well in a modern setting.

“That funny Neil Simon wordplay and slapstick, it isn’t really dated at all,” Jenness said. “We really didn’t have to change a whole lot to make it work.”

The play moves through three acts at a fast clip, with quick wit and fast-paced physical gags driving the momentum. That kind of humor can be challenging for actors, but the cast has the benefit of having acted together for years.

“We’ve done a lot of silly physical comedy with these guys before,” Jenness said. “All three have such good comic timing.

“And Neil Simon, that dialog of his, you just find something funny in it every time you see it.”
“Star Spangled Girl” will be performed at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, and next week Aug. 15 and 16 at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Tickets are $10 at the door or in advance at the Triumvirate Bookstore.

No. 1 with a mullet — Karaoke competition wraps on classic note

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Cheers erupted from the crowd at the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road when Cody Kniceley was declared the winner of the bar’s karaoke finals July 26, but the audience wasn’t nearly as excited as Kniceley’s buddies will be when they hear about the $500 worth of gas cards he got as the prize.

“I don’t have a car so this will make my friends happy. When I need a ride and they go, ‘Do you have gas money?’ I can say, ‘Yeah, I do.’”

Kniceley’s rendition of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” got him top marks from the contest’s judges, members of local band Wishbone Creek. He edged out Nick “Hansen” Conner, who performed “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World for second place. Lynette Creighton nabbed third with “Underneath Your Clothes” by Shakira. Second place was $250 in gas cards, and third was $150 in gas cards.

Kniceley may end up putting his winnings to use smoothing over a faux pas in his acceptance speech. After thanking the crowd, he told them to watch for performances of the new band he had formed the night before.

“It’s called the Magic Mullet Band,” Kniceley informed the crowd, before being quickly and loudly corrected by one of his new bandmates: “It’s Bullet. The Magic Bullet Band.”

Lori Mason, who runs karaoke at the Duck, said the judges rated performers on singing voice, presentation, song choice and audience appeal.

“We have a lot of talent on the peninsula, we really do,” Mason said.

Song choice was the most variable of the elements, with everything from Kniceley’s classic ballad to contemporary pop favorites and even The Man in Black making an appearance.
Kniceley, of Kenai, chose his winning song with presentation and crowd appeal in mind.

“I like the retro style,” he said. “I feel you’ve got to project yourself. I like to give an element of who you are.”

It wasn’t difficult for performers to drum up audience appeal, as the bar was crammed with karaoke enthusiasts. Outside in the parking lot it was difficult to tell where the vehicles of Duck patrons ended and the neighboring Orca Theatre’s movie crowd began.

Mason said the karaoke contest regularly drew at least 10 performers every night of the seven weeks of competition. The top two each week moved on to the final round July 26.

“Number one, it’s fun going out and singing. Number two, people like competition. And everybody loves the Duck,” Mason said.

Kniceley said he’s a karaoke regular in order to keep up his musical chops. He plays harmonica and drums in addition to singing.

“I go out at least once every week just to keep the vocals going to stay in practice,” he said.

He’ll now put that practice to use in his new band – whatever it’s called.

“Can we change it to mullet instead of bullet?” he asked.

Riding on tradition — Fowler family doesn't hold their horses on summer competition


Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Competitors at the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds are accustomed to it by now: the surname “Fowler” showing up at or near the top of the standings for barrel racing and pole-bending. Such was the case during the recent Soldotna Progress Days Rodeo on July 26 and 27, in which members of the Fowler clan captured two of the top three spots in each of their events.

It was a typical conclusion for the Fowlers, of Soldotna, who dedicate their summers to rodeo and keep their participation a family affair.

The Fowlers’ immediate family is father, Glenn, who once rode bulls until a serious neck injury restricted him to trail riding; mother, Beth, who has been a member of the Soldotna Equestrian Association for 31 years, since she was 13; daughters, Chelsey, 25, and Mellissa, 23; and son, Jacob, 18.

Their local extended rodeo family includes Jacob’s aunt, Garnet Sarks, and her two sons, and Chelsey’s two daughters. Among them all, there are nine horses, six of which belong to the Fowlers.

The Fowler stock are “all-around horses,” Jacob said. “They do anything. I mean, they jump, they team-pen, barrel race, trail ride. My mom’s philosophy is, ‘It’s not a good horse unless it can do it all.’”

As members of the SEA, the Fowlers participate in weekend rodeos, roping night on Tuesdays, National Barrel Horse Association night on Wednesdays, and team-penning night on Thursdays. And, of course, they work together to feed and care for their animals.

The SEA, the most active rodeo organization in the state, according to Beth, specializes in bringing families together. Eighty-one families belong to the association, comprising about 180 individual competitors.

Jacob, who graduated from Skyview High School this spring, said that after each hectic school year — Beth is the attendance secretary at Skyview, while Glenn halts his dirt-hauling business to plow snow — the whole family zeroes in on another rodeo season.

“During the summertime we’re all together every single day,” said Jacob, who works summers for his father. “In the school year, I might see my dad, you know, 10 minutes before everybody’s going to bed because he’s getting in so late from plowing. Barely see the girls because they’re working, and they never see me because I go to school all day and work till nine o’clock at night. I get home and they’re going to bed.”

During the rodeo season, the Fowlers blend into a unit. Even their riding styles and expressions are strikingly similar.

Leading his 11-year-old Appaloosa mare, Reo, through the pole-bending event last week, Jacob, like the other Fowlers, was a study in concentration: eyes set straight ahead under the brim of his black felt Stetson, his lips slightly pursed but otherwise impassive.

The result of this concentration was a first-place finish in the event, plus a third-place finish in barrel racing. He finished two slots ahead of his mother, Beth, in poles, and one slot behind his sister, Mellissa, in barrels.

Despite the fact that all the Fowlers compete in the same events, Jacob said the competition among them is mild.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” he said. “We all talk about it before we go on a run, and, like, the plan’s always one, two and three. I’d rather my sister beat me than anybody else.”

Like his sisters, Jacob has been competing since he was knee-high to a roping horse. Since he has been involved in barrel racing, he has qualified nine times for the NBHA World Finals in Augusta, Ga., but he hasn’t gone because of the costs and the inability to take his own horses such a great distance. He said he could rent a horse for the occasion, but he has no desire to do so.

“Our family kinda feels like that’s not the horse that got you there, so it’s not that fair for you to be there, either,” he said. “Your horse got you there, so you should wait till you can take yours down.”

Beth has qualified for the World Finals 10 times, and Mellissa and Chelsey have each qualified 11 times.

Although he won’t be making the trip to Georgia, later this fall Jacob will be traveling south for college at Arkansas State, in Jonesboro, where he plans to pursue a law degree. While there, he’ll test the college rodeo scene and decide before his sophomore year whether to drive his own horses down to compete.

“They don’t usually let freshmen compete right away because they get too far behind on their grades, they say. They’ll let ’em come in and practice, but they don’t let ’em compete until sophomore year,” he said.

When the ASU school year ends, Jacob plans to return to Soldotna to work again with his father and, of course, enjoy another season of local rodeo with the rest of his family.

Progress Days Peninsula Cowboy Round-Up Series Family Rodeo No. 4
Presented by Soldotna Equestrian Association

0-10 Barrels
1. Dalton McWhorter; 2. Luke Sarks; 3. McKenzie Schjoll.

0-10 Poles
1. Dalton McWhorter; 2. Luke Sarks ; 3. McKenzie Schjoll.

Calf Riding
1. Hunter Tate; 2. Luke Sarks, Brock Sarky, Ty;er Schjoll (three-way tie).

11-16 Barrels
1. n/a; 2. n/a; 3. n/a.

11-16 Poles
1. n/a; 2. n/a; 3. Alexis Sorrels.

Junior bulls
1. Bill Ashwell; 2. Jesse Kitson.

17 and up barrels
1. Tera Schnable; 2. Mellissa Fowler; 3. Jake Fowler.

17 and up poles
1. Jake Fowler; 2. Katie Schollenberg; 3. Beth Fowler.

Breakaway roping
1. Jan Feller.

Team roping
1. Stephen Primera and Justin Rainwater; 2. Charlie Willis and Steve Cook; 3. Stephen Primera and Mike Blore.

Ribbon roping
1. Justin Rainwater and Corey Wilkinson; 2. Jan Feller and Evan Bitterich; 3. Scooter and Chelsey Hackett.

Double mugging
1. Scooter Hackett and Justin Rainwater.

Bull riding
1. Kenny Hackett; 2. Matt Cleaves; 3. Lance Rowe.

Versatility in store — Street vending lets owners stock dreams

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

In Soldotna, brightly colored wisps of fabric flutter in the breeze kicked up by the traffic whizzing by. Along the highway in Kenai, a cloud of sawdust creates a visual accompaniment to the sound of a chainsaw as it roughs out the shape of a wooden bear. Along Kalifornsky Beach Road between the two cities, handbags and other handiwork dangle from racks, providing a splash of color to an otherwise dusty parking lot.

To drivers passing by this summer, it’s dresses, woodcarvings and purses for sale. To Georgia Paulk, Derrick Stanton and Laone Benton, the merchandise is much more than just that — it’s their livelihood, and their lifestyle.

Saleing down
the highway

The reasons for becoming a street vendor can be as varied as the merchandise one chooses to sell. It can start as a way to supplement income, support creative impulses or test the economic waters before committing to a full-blown, full-time retail store.

Georgia Paulk wanted find a way to support her wanderlust. After being born and raised on the central Kenai Peninsula and raising her four kids here, she wanted to see more of the world.
“You want to get out of the house, you want to be outside, you want to travel,” she said. “I figured out a way to get from point A to point B and keep going.”

She’s been a waitress, a bartender, worked in retail and sales. At 53 years old, she decided to work for herself.

“I never had any money but I wanted to go everywhere, so you find a way to do what you want to do,” she said.

Her ticket down the highway was women’s clothing. She sells an eclectic, exotic mix of dresses, skirts and tops made by friends with a family factory in India. She also peddles tie-dye fabrics, Hawaiian prints and other specialty designs.

“It’s something I know about, something I like. I couldn’t think of anything else somebody else wasn’t already doing,” she said.

Her mobile store, Gurlz Stuff, was born on a trip to the Lower 48 earlier this year. She spent September through June traveling from Northern California to Utah, Arizona, Oregon and Washington before heading back to the Kenai Peninsula. With her truck, she tows a trailer that houses her living quarters in the front and dress shop in the back. She’ll stop along busy highways, at fairs and bazaars, in front of coffee shops or “anywhere the girls are,” she said.

On the central peninsula, she’s set up along the highway in Kenai and Soldotna and at various community fairs. On July 29, she erected her metal frame shop in front of Hey Good Lookin’ Salon in Soldotna, close enough to the Kenai Spur Highway that her decked-out mannequins hopped to life in the wake of vehicles buzzing past.

“The traffic’s going pretty fast past the front door today,” she said, as skirts swirled around her. “Geez, I could have gotten in that boat.”

She sells for a few days or weeks until she makes enough money to pack up for her next destination.

“I make enough to make a living and get to the next spot. I’m living paycheck to paycheck, just like everybody else. But you’re outside with bare feet and short sleeves,” Paulk said.

Since she’s been back in Alaska this summer, short sleeves and bare feet have been a rare occurrence.

“Wind and rain, those are huge challenges,” she said. “But you just break out the plastic, bring out the rain gear and go for it. I have a tent so I set up in bad weather all the time. This summer you have to set up in the rain or you don’t set up.”

Being constantly on the road presents other challenges. There’s the inevitable flat tires and repairs that come from putting thousands of miles on a vehicle. In Arizona her tent was hit by a tornado, which taught her the value of investing in indestructible infrastructure.
And being so mobile presents challenges for restocking dwindling supplies.

“Out of 10 addresses, two might work out. I’ll call up and say, ‘I need white skirts. I’m in Utah. Send me a couple of boxes,’” she said.

Rising gas prices have cramped Paulk’s style, but not curtailed it.

“You just have to stay a day or two longer in a spot. Just like everybody, you have to figure out a way to make the budget stretch,” she said.

For now Paulk plans to stay in Alaska, mostly on the peninsula, until winter comes. Then she’ll head down the Interstate Highway 5 corridor, if she feels like it.

If not, the ultimate benefit of being her own boss is she can set her own schedule.

“I just wanna go everywhere. When it gets too cold I’ll take the ferry south. … Or I might be out here over a burn barrel selling fuzzy blankets.”

Carving out
a living

Derrick Stanton grew up loving art and shop class and wanting to work for Disney.

“I just loved drawing and art and creating things,” he said.

After high school he got into carpentry. He also tried commercial fishing with his father-in-law when he and his wife, Becky, moved to North Kenai from Oregon four years ago.

Although he was only in his early 20s, Stanton didn’t relish the idea of forcing himself back into the workforce.

“Most jobs there’s always a cap,” he said. “Usually you can only go so far and there’s usually not much opportunity to create stuff and do what you want to do.”

What Stanton wanted to do — or thought he could make a living doing, at least — was make and sell log furniture.

“I thought it would be a good fit in Alaska,” he said.

Turns out it was, and it wasn’t.

“Everybody wants it but no one wants to pay for it,” he said.
Luckily he had a hobby that turned out to be more lucrative for his business, Derrick Stanton Log Works. A chainsaw carver had invited Stanton to watch him work for a week and taught him the basic cuts for making bears.

“He handed me a brand-new chainsaw and said, ‘Here, get after it,’” Stanton said.

Three years ago Stanton, now 24, heard from a friend that the new owners of the Kenai Spur Lodge along the highway in Kenai wanted something other than junk cars to take up residence in their parking lot. So he set up a stand to make and sell his carvings.

Unlike log furniture, it didn’t take long to get sales rolling. The first summer he had to scramble to keep up with demand. Then winter hit, sales dried up and he realized there’s more to vending than just the “carve it and they will come” mentality.

“It was biz 101 — OK, you have to market,” he said. “… I learned a lot of things the hard way that first year.”

He does some mall vending during the winter and sells in the parking lot of Trustworthy Hardware in Soldotna. In the summer, he also sells one day a week at the Diamond M Ranch on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

He’s brought on two assistants, Hans Iverson and Jacob Bisset, and is constantly making improvements to his operation and his inventory.

“I thought my bears looked a little better, but now I look at it and go, ‘I sold that to someone?’ I made a lot of what I called expensive firewood for a while. I just kept on fixing my mistakes,” he said.

His bears vary in size from table toppers to furniture-sized, each with a different look and expression. He has a basic pattern for the fish he carves, but all his pieces are roughed out with a chainsaw and grinded by hand, so they all end up unique.

“People say to me, ‘I’ve driven by for three years and haven’t had time to stop, but now I’m here and I really like what you’ve got,’” he said.

Stanton shares the common foe of all outdoor vendors — the weather. And since there’s no door to lock at the end of the day, he also has to deal with setting up and tearing down all his equipment and carvings. But he’s at the point where the business is enough to support he and his wife, their two kids and the one on the way. It’s full-time work, but time has a different meaning now that it’s work he enjoys.

“I set out to do log furniture but ended up getting the desire of my heart,” he said. “Every other job I’ve ever had I counted the clock all day. But out here you go, ‘What, it’s the end of the day?’”

Controlling the purse strings

Laone Benton’s Kenai River Purse Company gives her a chance to indulge her creative side and try out a business idea before jumping in too deep.

Benton would like to open a store — with actual walls and a roof — to sell her wares, but isn’t sure she’s ready to make that leap.

“First, I have to see what the market is to see what sells and what doesn’t sell before looking at a storefront. Ultimately, I want to have one, but it’s scary,” she said.

So for the past three years, she’s sold out of tents or amid open-air displays at fairs, festivals, community markets and by the side of K-Beach Road.

Unlike her friend Paulk, traveling between Homer, Anchorage and the central peninsula to vend is enough mobility for her.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I don’t think I’d like to do that,’” she said of Paulk’s traveling trailer lifestyle. “I like my house. I like going home at the end of the night. “

Years ago Benton made and sold porcelain dolls and was able to make some money at it. After raising five kids and working 17 years at Louie’s Restaurant in Kenai, she decided to get back into vending.

She taught herself to sew purses, and when she saw how popular they were she branched out into selling manufactured bags and organizing purse parties, along the same idea as Tupperware parties.

“I look online and see what’s in, what’s popular,” she said. “I come in with new products all the time. It changes, what’s in and what’s not.”

This summer, the warm gloves, cozy socks and baby hats she makes have been top sellers.

“People come in and they’re cold so they buy all this warm stuff,” she said. “But it’s hard to keep up with it. Either I’m sewing or on the Internet. It’s a full-time job.”

Her husband owns his own business, DeWayne’s Electric, so she doesn’t have sole breadwinning responsibility. That’s been a good thing this summer, while she and her husband are building a new house and moving into it, the weather has been lousy and she’s come down with bronchitis.

She and a friend would still like to have their own retail rental space, but those plans are on hold as people hold onto their purses, and what’s in them.

“We’re scared. We’re just waiting to see how the economy goes. People are definitely holding onto their money,” she said.

In the meantime, she’s holding onto the positives of vending.

“It’s nice because all the vendors you work with are very nice,” she said. “It’s a very happy environment because you get to know everybody. Unless the wind is blowing 90 miles an hour.”

Column: Business leap should have better safety plan than parachute pants

I have a vision.

Not the kind you may think – about going into business for myself, starting a newspaper and pursuing the noble (I believe it is, anyway) endeavor of providing community journalism. I have that vision, too, at least I did when I decided to give up a good job and the financial security it provided to commit myself to this objective.

Lately it’s been another kind of vision, brought on by the panic that sets in when I realize I don’t have an actual job anymore.

No health care, no retirement plan, no free access to bulk coffee or someone to deice the walkway from the parking lot to the door. No guaranteed vacation time, no defined power structure so I know who to take marching orders from and – more importantly – which secretary keeps them marching. No pool of people who may eventually call the cops if I get attacked by wild dogs over the weekend and don’t show up as expected for a few days.

That’s when the vision hits me. Actually it’s more like a waking nightmare, accompanied (and probably caused) by an acute shortness of breath when I think about the fact that I also no longer have a steady paycheck.

The vision is of me at some indeterminate point in the future. I’m flat broke and living in my car, which has somehow become a Volkswagen Rabbit with sheet plastic for the driver’s side window and a giant Kentucky-shaped rust spot eating through the fender. I have forgotten how to brush my hair and don’t seem to notice it’s become home to a crop of dandelion fluff and the occasional tree swallow. I’m Dumpster-diving at McDonald’s for old fries and limp iceberg lettuce to survive on, all the while wearing MC Hammer-era parachute pants and a multicolored woven poncho.

I don’t know why this is the worst-case scenario my brain has conjured up. I don’t drive a Rabbit, I don’t even know where the Dumpster at McDonalds is, and no matter how desperate my financial situation becomes I can’t imagine it keeping me from running a comb through my hair, at least once a week or so.

I don’t own parachute pants or a poncho, and I don’t know why they seem so much more horrifying than, say, stirrup pants and a Cosby sweater. But they are. To my currently fragile, prone-to-exaggeration brain, they most definitely are.

I’ve never been one of those throw-caution-to-the-wind, leap-before-you-look, fly-without-a-safety-net kind of people. I’ve never hitchhiked across the street, much less the country; never backpacked through Europe; never moved somewhere for any reason other than college or employment. I’ve never even been without at least a summer job since I was 13 years old.

And now look at me: unemployed. Or, rather, self-employed, but at the moment it feels like the same thing.

Who’s going to make sure the parking lot is plowed, file sales tax returns, get the office heating system fixed when it makes funny noises or allow me to remain blissfully unaware of “FICA?”

No one.

Cue the panic attack.

There’s a flip side, too. I get to pursue a dream and do the kind of work I love to do. I get to try to build something from scratch to the standards I think are important. And when I need to stay home from work (if I am ever able to do so again), I don’t have to try to conjure up a sick voice.

The trick is leveraging the flip side against the flipping out.

It’s not easy to do. I’m more excited about this project than I’ve been about anything in my life, and also more terrified.

But the beauty of envisioning a worst-case scenario is it rarely comes to that. Even if I’ve completely miscalculated the potential community interest in local news and this paper meets a reception of crickets and blowing tumbleweeds (someone… anyone … please???), it could always be worse.

I may go broke. I may have to find another “real” job to support my commitment to this dream one. I may end up living in my car and obtaining produce from the trash rather than the shelf.

But as God, Edward R. Murrow and anyone else is my witness, I will not wear parachute pants.

That is one vision no one needs to see.

Jenny Neyman is the editor, publisher, reporter, receptionist, janitor, etc., of The Redoubt Reporter. She can be reached at

Editorial — Your issues are our issues


To us and you.

That may sound a little pretentious, to be welcoming ourselves to the community. But that’s not how it’s meant; we’re just passing along the sentiments we’ve received so far.

Everywhere our staff has gone in the central Kenai Peninsula in our efforts to spread the word about our new newspaper, we’ve been greeted with that message: Welcome, we’re glad you’re here.

We are, too. To show it, we come bearing gifts: 100% locally owned, locally written, local central Kenai Peninsula news.

Community newspapers fulfill a vital function in our society. They help us understand where we’ve been and decide where we’re going, provide a way to connect with each other, allow us to share in and show off our accomplishments, and shine a light on the things we aren’t so proud of so we don’t stop working toward making our community better.

It’s an important function, and we are honored to be allowed to help fulfill it on the central peninsula.

Small “community” papers get a bad rap in the journalism industry. We’re supposedly the little guys, the B team, the second string to the metro dailies.

It’s an unfair characterization. No matter how small, community papers still serve the same role for their readers as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal do for theirs. We help people better know their community.

In a way, community newspapers do that even better than the big guys, because we’re often the only ones focusing solely on local information, be it honor rolls or house fires. That’s the stuff you won’t find on Google or MSNBC.

That’s the stuff we’d like to provide for you. That, and whatever else may be on your minds. We’re open to suggestions.

Have story ideas? Tell us about them. Want to see something in the paper? Suggest it. Don’t like something you did see in here? Let us know that, too.

Our goal is to develop a paper that reflects this community, and nowhere else. With the warm reception we’re received so far, it’s the least we can do.

Kenai sockeye run falters near finish

By Matt Tunseth
For the Redoubt Reporter

The only things moving quickly at the Pacific Star Seafoods dock in Kenai on Monday morning were the seagulls.

Fighting for scraps of fish in the mouth of the Kenai River, the birds swooped among dozens of idle fishing boats sitting on anchor. Though Mondays are usually fishing days, an emergency order by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had shut down most of the Cook Inlet fleet for a third consecutive opener, leaving fishermen like Larry Holland high and dry.

“It went down the toilet,” Holland, a driftnetter, said after pulling his boat from the water for the year.

Fishermen came into the 2008 sockeye season with high hopes after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicted a return of 5.6 million reds to Upper Cook Inlet, including more than 3 million to the Kenai River alone. But that hasn’t happened, according to Fish and Game biologist Jeff Fox, who manages the area’s commercial fisheries.

“Right now the run is much weaker than forecast,” Fox said.

Holland said fishing was good early in the season, but quickly dried up as July wore on.

“It went from looking like a good season to falling on its face,” Holland said.

As of Aug. 3, commercial fishermen had harvested 2.34 million sockeye salmon in Upper Cook Inlet. Fox said the weak run is primarily due to a lack of Kenai River fish, which have turned up in much smaller numbers than in past years.

“In Cook Inlet, the only bad one is the Kenai,” Fox said.

Through Sunday, Fish and Game had counted 499,178 sockeye past its in-river sonar counter. That’s fewer than the river’s minimum escapement goal, which has forced the department to impose restrictions on the commercial fleet and the in-river sports fishery.

In contrast, the Kasilof River has seen a bumper crop of salmon return, and biologists have had the commercial fleet fishing almost round the clock in the river’s mouth in order to shut off the flow of fish into the system, which has a biological escapement goal of between 150,000 and 250,000 fish.

Putting too many fish into the river can lead to weaker returns, and Fox speculated this year’s season may be a reflection of large Kenai escapements in past years.

“We’ve had several years of high escapements in a row,” Fox said.

The Kenai’s escapement goal varies depending on the size of the overall run, but it typically ranges between 650,000 and 900,000 fish. Overall, a 500,000 to 800,000 escapement produces the best runs, he said.

Over the past decade, escapements have far exceeded those numbers. Between 2002 and 2006, the Kenai’s escapement averaged 1.28 million sockeye. That’s not only bad news for this year’s season, but potentially the next several years.

“Next year, both the Kenai and Kasilof could be down,” Fox said.

Fox said large escape-ments mean fish face more competition for resources, which can lead to poor survivability rates. He said there’s a chance fisheries managers will ask the Alaska Board of Fisheries to revise the Kenai’s goals when the board next meets to discuss Cook Inlet fisheries in 2011.

“I imagine we’ll be looking at that before the next board meeting pretty seriously,” he said.

In Cook Inlet, rising fuel costs combined with mediocre prices have led many fishermen to hang up their nets. This year’s price — which on Monday was hovering at around $1.10 per pound — isn’t bad, but it’s likely the value of this season’s harvest will come in on par with the 2006 season, when just 2.4 million reds were harvested for an overall ex-vessel value of $13 million for the industry. The average price that season was $1.07. Last year’s catch was worth $22.6 million. The largest haul this decade came in 2005, when 5.48 million sockeye were worth more than $30 million to inlet fishermen.

On Monday, with most of Kenai’s drift fleet either on land or anchor, fisherman Larry Holland pulled his boat, the Beluga, from the water for good. He said he planned to head home to Washington State on Tuesday morning. After nearly two decades fishing Cook Inlet, he’s unsure if he’ll return next summer for his 20th season.

“I don’t even know if it’s worth coming up,” he said.

Nearby, rows of fishing boats sat idle, many with for sale signs plastered to their wheelhouse. Unless they’re bought up, the inlet may have seen the last of boats like the Sheik, the Mohawk, the Sumac, the Costa Lotta, the Lisa Lynn or the Kalgin Rider, all of which are on the market.
Still, Holland said he doesn’t hold any grudges about getting shut down for his final fishing openers of the year. He said he understands that the runs must be managed in order to keep the sockeye runs healthy.

“It hurts, but if you don’t get your escapement, you don’t have those fish coming back,” he said.

Brown bear getting familiar at Jim's Landing

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

A busy boat landing, a popular fishing spot, a stretch of riverbank where fish carcasses tend collect and a young brown bear looking for an easy meal could be the making of a bad situation at Jim’s Landing along Skilak Lake Road.

A brown bear that appears to be 2 or 3 years old has been spotted several times over the weekend at Jim’s Landing and a little farther downstream at popular fishing holes and along well-traveled hiking trails in the Skilak Lake Road recreation area.

The bear apparently doesn’t mind the company.

“He seems acclimated to people. They said yesterday they made noise and he didn’t seem to mind,” said Leila Portell, of Anchorage, on Sunday. She and her husband, Ralph, daughter, Katy, and visiting friend, Fr. Claude Lenehan, of New York, were at Jim’s Landing on Sunday taking pictures of the bear as it wandered around a backwater slough just beyond the parking lot.

Portell said it was making a loop sniffing along the shore, going into the woods then coming back out on the beach.

“People here yesterday said it’s the same bear that was here yesterday. It’s not too bothered by them. It hasn’t gotten too close, although it was sniffing where people have been cleaning fish,” Portell said.

Fishermen along that stretch of Kenai riverbank had spotted the bear Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There was a hand-written sign posted at the Kenai River Canyon trailhead up Skilak Lake Road from Jim’s Landing warning hikers and fishermen of the danger.

So far there have only been sightings and nothing worse.

“Every time (they see the bear) the fishermen have been backing off. They’re doing what they were supposed to do,” Portell said.

Rafting guides with Alaska River Company have been keeping their clients at a safe distance from the bear. They use Jim’s Landing as the end of upper Kenai River float trips, dropping off anywhere from four or five to 40 people this time of year. By about 4 p.m. Sunday they’d landed 33 rafters at Jim’s.

“On occasion you need to grab people by the back of the life jacket and say, ‘No, it’s not the Coca-Cola bear,’ said Kirby Girard with Alaska Rivers Company. “Most people are aware that thing is bigger and faster than me, I need to stay away from it.”

Fr. Lenehan said it didn’t look like the bear was fishing. No one had seen it in the water. It just walked up and down the shore sniffing areas where fishermen had cleaned their catch.

That’s typical bear behavior, especially for that area, said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“That area right there collects a bunch of fish carcasses by the bank,” he said.

With the concentration of people in the area, it’s not surprising the bear may be used to the sight of people. If that’s the case, it is even more important they practice proper bear safety techniques and stay away.

“Even if it may not avoid people because of this learned behavior, people still need to respect it as a wild animal. If they approach it teach and it bad habits the animal generally winds up paying the price for people’s lack of making good judgment,” Lewis said.

The situation reminds him of another bear four or five years ago that he had to kill at Jim’s Landing. That bear had been captured and relocated twice but still returned to Jim’s. By early August the combination of fish carcasses washed up on shore and people’s poor behavior spelled a death sentence for the bear.

“The people were actually throwing things to it at the end of parking lot, fish carcasses to eat,” Lewis said. “It actually escalated to the point of people trying to get their picture taken touching the bear.”

Once the bear learned people equaled easy food, it started approaching them and even rushing them, which usually resulted in the people throwing it food.

Lewis waited in the parking lot for three hours until a raft and a driftboat pulled in. The bear ran out of the woods and started grabbing food from them. Lewis made sure everyone was safely out of the area before he shot the bear.

“It was all the human behavior,” to blame in that instance, he said. “When people are trying to touch a bear and are throwing fish to it, they killed that bear as surely as they pulled the trigger,” he said.

“Hopefully that will not be what’s going on now. But, boy, it seems like these things do tend to escalate.”

Fish and Game got a report of a brown bear in the area last week, but so far there have been no reports of it acting aggressively so they haven’t been out to investigate.

Lewis cautions everyone in the area to keep a safe distance from the bear and reminds them it is illegal to intentionally feed bears. Fish and Game and other agencies are especially encouraging fishermen to chop up their fish carcasses, lop off the tails and throw the pieces in the main stem of the river so they don’t accumulate on the bank and draw in bears.

“We’re hoping people will make good choices,” Lewis said. “Alaska is not a petting zoo. Wild animals need to be treated as such. Enjoy them at a distance.”

If anyone does witness a person feeding a bear or inappropriately approaching the animal, he asked that they get the person’s description and license plate number and call Fish and Game, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge or Alaska Division of Wildlife Troopers.

“It’s everybody’s responsibility,” he said. “Wildlife is a public trust resource. It’s managed by the state but that means we all have a responsibility to manage it.”

Stain remains — Local fisherman wait to hear what payout in Exxon suit will be

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

For Steve M. Schoonmaker, the moment came while rebuilding a skiff in Kasilof with the radio playing in the background.

“It’s like the feeling you get when you go up to a stop sign or yield sign and there’s something wrong, the car doesn’t stop,” he said. “Then I heard ‘major oil spill.’ Then they said, ‘in Prince William Sound.’”

He heard the words. He understood them. But he didn’t — couldn’t — relate their meaning to the reality of the situation: That he had suddenly been inducted into a fraternity of frustration and financial turmoil, with dues paid in lost income and suddenly worthless fishing permits, and membership now approaching 20 years.

The specifics of how the 1989 oil spill fouled the lives of the more than 32,000 plaintiffs in the civil case seeking punitive damages against Exxon Mobil Corp. vary from person to person. But there are common moments linking them all: When they first heard about the spill. When they began to comprehend just how devastating it was. And more recently, when news came June 25 that the U.S. Supreme Court reduced the judgment against Exxon from $2.5 billion to $507.5 million.

For Schoonmaker, comprehension of the spill’s magnitude dawned when he and his then-wife, Elizabeth, got to their Prince William Sound setnet site in Main Bay in June 1989 following the March 24 spill.

Cleanup crews hadn’t gotten to that part of the sound yet. The only remediation effort in the area was a seine boat tending a boom in front of the salmon hatchery in the bay. They decided to start cleaning themselves, but were told they didn’t have the right equipment so they should wait for the Exxon-organized cleanup effort to arrive. It didn’t show up until July, Schoonmaker said.

“I didn’t know then that they didn’t know what they were doing,” he said.

Schoonmaker, now 51, had bought his setnet permit in 1984, shortly after a new hatchery in Main Bay started producing runs of pink salmon, then chums and reds. He paid $35,000 for the permit, and was doing well enough by ’89 with reds selling for $2 a pound and pinks getting $1 per pound that he decided to buy a place in Kasilof. A month later, the Exxon tanker Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sound.

When it came time for Exxon to compensate fishermen for lost income due to the spill, Schoonmaker’s share was about $78,000. It was less than he figures he would have made had he fished that year, but within the same ballpark.

The problem was that the spill’s impact on the fishery wasn’t contained to just the ’89 season. But neither was there a clear oily line tracing from the specifics of the fishery’s decline to Exxon’s fingerprints.

Schoonmaker was able to fish his setnet site again two years after the spill. By then the most obvious signs of the oil had dissipated. The air didn’t reek of hydrocarbon and black sludge wasn’t being baked onto the rocks. But to anyone who knew the area, it was clearly changed. The rock at the mouth of the bay that used to be covered shoulder to shoulder in cormorants was bare. The herring and shrimp had disappeared. Seals were few and far between. So were the salmon, and the high price they’d fetched had declined along with their run strength.

Schoonmaker had lost something, too, beyond money. Part of the reason he got into fishing was the lifestyle. He remembers being in Kodiak working as a Department of Fish and Game technician, watching the boats go in and out of the harbor and thinking, “Oh, I gotta do that.”

“To me the reason I’m out fishing is to be there with the wind in my hair and the wildlife and all we have right here. That’s what it’s about for me,” he said. “To try to deduce how many dollars I lost, I had to remove myself emotionally to do that, and it’s hard.”

It would likewise be hard imagining Schoonmaker as anything other than a fisherman. He fits the image nearly to the point of stereotype: flannel or woolen shirt, rubber boots even on dry land, longish hair curling out under an ever-present ball cap, a face that’s seen plenty of wind, sun and salt.

Schoonmaker sold his setnet permit in 1996. In 1990 he had bought a gillnet herring permit for the Kodiak area for $31,000 and wanted to get a setnet permit there, too. But in 1997 the Japanese market collapsed, which dried up demand for Kodiak herring. Suddenly Schoonmaker’s herring permit was worth all of $5,000, not that he could find anybody to sell it to.

He did odd jobs for a while, carpentry, bear guard for oil crews and guiding tourists and hunters in the Kenai Mountains and Alaska Range. In 2000 he got back into fishing with a state loan for a $60,000 driftnet salmon permit in Prince William Sound, followed by a $40,000 boat.

It’s nice because it’s a long season, from May 15 through the end of September. But with diesel at $6 a gallon and buyers becoming increasingly conglomerate-owned, Schoonmaker has been thinking about finding another line of work, another lifestyle that appeals to him.

He’d like to set up an ecotourism business doing guided horse trips in the Wrangell Mountains. He’d especially like to get the money he thought he had coming to him from the Exxon punitive damages suit to make it happen.

“It was this carrot that was held out there,” he said. “Pie in the sky dreams. You tease yourself with that for a while then live with the disappointment.”

At one point Schoonmaker thought he’d be getting about $900,000 from the $5 billion punitive judgment awarded in Anchorage court in 1994. In 2006 the judgment was cut in half by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court on Exxon’s appeal. On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court reduced it to $507.5 million. Plaintiffs are still waiting to hear whether or not Exxon will be required to pay interest on that amount.

Just like the day he heard of the spill, Schoonmaker remembers the moment he heard he wouldn’t be getting what he thought was coming to him.

He was fishing in Port Nellie Juan. Taking a nap.

“One of my buddies came on the radio and said, ‘They overruled it. The bastards aren’t going to pay,’” he said. “I woke up to that. It was a rainy, gray day. I didn’t expect that.”

Friends had been cautioning him not to depend on getting the money. He’d argued when his former brother-in-law, a lawyer, predicted Exxon would get out of having to pay.

“I think I can honestly say I was counting on it,” he said. “That was foolish.”

To Schoonmaker, the ruling demonstrates the power of corporate influence in America today. It’s the golden rule on a national scale, he said — they who have the gold make the rules.

“It seems like all of us owe something to our society, our environment. Maybe it should be in proportion to what you take, but how do you hold someone liable to that?” He said. “… How do you slap the hand of Exxon when their sole purpose is money?

“I lost a lot of respect. Not that I had a lot left, I guess,” he said.

Sunken investments

When Greg Bosick, of Kasilof, heard there’d been a massive oil spill in Prince William Sound, his response was, “Well, that can’t happen,” he said.

The first comprehension of the spill’s magnitude came after a friend flew over the spill and showed him pictures.

“Then it was pretty much obvious it was devastating,” he said. “That year it was so devastating. It wrecked so many lives — divorces, suicide, people going bankrupt. It was just incredible. It took many years for people financially to barely hold their ground.”

Bosick had herring permits in Prince William Sound and herring and salmon permits in Lower Cook Inlet in 1989. He was on his way to Prince William Sound for the herring season when the spill happened.

Before the spill it could cost around $220,000 to get into the herring fishery in the sound. Now a permit’s worth $10,000, Bosick said. A salmon permit went from around $150,000 before the spill to $20,000-$40,000 now.

“You took loans out to get the permits and equipment. Then you couldn’t sell the stuff,” Bosick said.

With the herring fishery in the sound demolished and halibut going to an individual fishing quota system shortly after that, that left the Bosicks to seine for salmon in Cook Inlet and eventually back in the sound.

“You have your really good years and really bad years,” Bosick said.

The year after the spill the price of pink salmon dropped drastically, making for some of those really bad years.

“My wife became a teacher. We cut the Visa cards up. It was a meager living,” he said.

Luckily they weren’t in much debt at the time, having built their house out of pocket on family homestead land. And Bosick had the luxury of using family as deckhands. His wife, Marina, had grown up fishing with her father, Grant Fritz. Their kids — daughter, Molly, and sons, Gregory and Garrett — started fishing when they were 10 or 11.

“But it was a struggle just to make the boat payments and keep the gear going,” Bosick said.
Salmon fishing in the sound has finally rebounded to the point where their season’s gross about equals what they made before the spill. But the herring fishery never recovered.

“It’s pretty much like taking your livelihood, taking half of it away,” he said. “The loss of the herring is what really hurt us, because it was always a backup for salmon season.”

With two kids in college and one soon headed that way, a house and boat to pay off and retirement to plan for, money from an Exxon settlement would have had many uses. But the Bosicks weren’t balancing their budget on it.

“We weren’t expecting it, but we were hoping for it,” Bosick said.

Since the Bosicks were just starting out in 1989, they were able to regroup and recover financially without Exxon’s help. That was harder to do for people like Bosick’s father-in-law, who was already looking toward retirement when the spill hit.

“Now he’s 75 and he’s living on a fixed income, where before that he was living OK,” Bosick said. “He couldn’t even sell out of fishing, and that was part of his retirement.

“That’s the saddest part, watching these old-timers hoping it comes in so they can go golfing or make the medical bills,” he said.

Fritz started out fishing a setnet site in Kasilof in the 1950s. He sold it in ’58, bought a boat and fished from sea ever since, either gillnetting or seining.

The year of the Exxon spill Fritz had herring and salmon permits and had just bought a new $550,000 boat.

“It was quite a blow to our income to get that oil spill happening,” he said.

Not only did his income sink, but his investments were suddenly as healthy as the herring runs he once supported his family on. For a fisherman like Fritz, who was in his mid-50s in 1989, that had a major impact on the rest of his career.

“What fishermen retire on is what they invest into their business,” said Marina Bosick, Fritz’s daughter and former deckhand. “They don’t have a pension or anything from a job so that’s what you retire on, what you invested all those years.”

Fritz and the Bosicks got reimbursed for what Exxon estimated they lost in the 1989 season. Beyond that Exxon deducted what they were paid for ’89 in determining their share of compensatory damages. The result of the math was not positive.

“We got a check for zero,” Bosick said.

“Oh yeah, we got a lot of zero checks for that year,” Marina Bosick said.

Fritz sold his seine boat to Greg and Marina three years ago, and has sold some of his homestead property along the Kasilof River to be able to retire.
Marina teaches at Tustumena Elementary School and Greg will continue fishing salmon in the sound. They won’t let this latest installment in the saga of the Exxon oil spill change how they’re living their lives, whether they get another check for zero or more than that. But it has changed their outlook.

“We’ll never be able to hold them liable for anything they ever do,” Bosick said. “They can destroy the world and no one can stop it. They can do whatever they want. It’s just a crime what Exxon is doing to the whole country, not just the fishermen.

“I think Exxon owns the country, and they own the world. What they did in the Supreme Court kind of shows that. The criminal system is a joke anymore to let that happen, but they own the country. I really believe that they own the country.”

Readjusting the cards

The Tomrdles, of Kenai, like thousands of other fishermen, found themselves stuck in a seat at the post-spill poker table.

Should they bet on the herring fishery coming back? Should they hold their permits until the next round of fish prices is dealt? Should they discard some fisheries and hope for better luck with others? Or should they fold altogether?

“Our basic philosophy has always been, if you can’t make a living at what you’re doing, you just readjust and figure out what will work,” said Kathy Tomrdle.

The hand her husband, Tom, had to shuffle consisted of a seining permit in Prince William Sound and Copper River flats gillnetting. They ended up selling the seine permit, and later buying another one. The Copper River permit was sold to their oldest son, Arvo, and now Tom longlines for halibut in the Gulf of Alaska with their youngest son, Tommy. Their daughter, Lisa, was able to get through college on her fishing income and student loans.

“When you have to borrow money from the state then have to figure out how to pay your bills, it was just completely kind of out of left field,” Kathy Tomrdle said. “It was something we weren’t prepared for. We were expanding, then kind of shut down. We just carried on. You just adjust.”

The Tomrdles lived on Perry Island for a couple of winters before the spill to watch the fish hatchery there. Kathy remembers being the only ones there. But the year of the spill it was a much different scene.

“It was like a huge city,” she said. “There were people everywhere. It just seemed to be kind of a futile effort. It just wasn’t pretty.”

Now it seems as though the last 19 years of court wrangling has been futile, as well.

“I don’t think we’ll be compensated. I didn’t think we would when it happened, just because you’re up against a corporation, which is not a real person with real feelings,” she said. “Thanks to President Bush and President Bush the Supreme Court is stacked in favor of business. I think it was pretty much a given it was not going to go well when they decided to hear it.”

At this point, all Tomrdle is hoping for is closure.

“I’ve been watching this for the last 20 years and it’s still not over. They’re still fighting it. I think it’s a pretty sad situation for the Natives and the fishermen and everyone else who was really affected by this having it drug out so long.

“It’ll be nice just to have it in the past.”