Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Deb's web — Fellow cancer patients demonstrate how Sterling woman touched lives

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

John Clonan knew how special his wife, Debbie, was to him, their daughters, and their family and friends. He knew her social network was extensive, because to Debbie, a stranger was simply a new friend she hadn’t met yet.

He even knew she was considered an inspiration to many in the way she battled breast cancer and helped others fight the disease. But when she died Jan. 25, at their home in Sterling, he didn’t grasp just how far his wife’s sphere of influence, love and support reached.

At her memorial service Jan. 31 in Soldotna, it became abundantly, sweetly clear — represented by a mass of about 200 pink roses sent by women across the world.

Each flower represented how Deb touched someone’s life.

One from Glenview, Ill.: “I always admired Deb’s spirit, and her humor. She will be so missed, and my heart goes out to her wonderful husband and her much loved girls. She was a truly beautiful person, and touched so many lives that her memory will always live on.”

Another came from Saratoga, N.Y.: “She was such a marvelous woman. Her spirit will live forever with those of us who knew her. My heart breaks for her family. She was one in a million. She raised all of us up with her words of encouragement and hope.”

And from Minnesota: “She was always so full of optimism and cheer. So ready to lend a helping hand to those in need of one. I imagine there is a great party going on up in heaven right now. You’ll be missed, Deb.”

Most were from people Debbie had never even met, yet through the Internet, she was able to touch their lives.

She was active in online breast cancer support groups throughout her battle with the disease — from her diagnosis in 2005, treatment in 2006, remission and the cancer’s resurgence in 2007.

The sites, www.breastcancer.org and www.nosurrenderbreastcancerhelp.org, offer a wealth of information for anyone affected by breast cancer. It’s a place where people can get answers and find information about anything and everything, from new treatment research and drug side effects to tips on drawing in eyebrows after chemotherapy or how to answer whatever uncomfortable questions people may ask.

It’s also a place for people affected by the disease to talk to each other — to share information, fears, humor, anger, support and hope.

It’s that last one that Debbie specialized in.

“You can deal with the reality of it, but she never gave up,” Clonan said. “She never gave up and she never wanted anyone else to give up. She was a resource for a lot of people.”

Her strength, unflagging support and upbeat attitude were well-known on the central peninsula, said Kathy Lopeman, an oncology nurse at Central Peninsula Hospital. Debbie and her team, the Sensational Sterling Superstars, were the top fundraisers for the Relay for Life program, and she was a constant advocate of early cancer screening. Around the hospital’s oncology department, she was also a constant advocate for anyone who needed a boost.

“She always had a good word for everyone else — an encouraging word for all the other patients, a good joke to share with them or something upbeat to go with them,” Lopeman said. “She shared some tears, too, but she didn’t share them with the other patients going through the same thing as her.

“She will always be remembered through her sense of humor and her positive attitude. She was a fighter. She was tough.”

But she needed support at times, too, and she found a lot of it in the online support groups. Clonan said he didn’t always understand why Debbie spent as much time as she did posting and replying to messages online. Eventually, he got it. He, her parents — Lee and Julie Bowman — and her extensive network of family and close friends would do anything they could for her, but they just couldn’t always do what she needed, he said.

They couldn’t tell her about a new drug just out of clinical trials that may help alleviate a side effect she was suffering. They couldn’t answer her questions about why her toenails were turning black, or how she could focus better when her medications were making her foggy. They couldn’t tell her the names and stories of women who had successfully fought the kind of cancer she had when she crept out of bed at 2 a.m., afraid that there wasn’t any hope, but not wanting to burden her loved ones with that fear.

The women on the sites could.

“It got her through the tough times. It got her through things that we couldn’t help her with, even as her family, because we didn’t have the knowledge, and these folks do,” Clonan said.

When Debbie’s doctor in Anchorage gave up on her six months ago, saying there was nothing more doctors could do, she turned to the Internet, and women on the site pointed her to a new drug just approved by the FDA that ended up being effective against her cancer, Clonan said.

“She brought it to the oncologist in Anchorage and said, ‘This is what I want to be on. Find out about it, will you?’” Clonan said.

All along she took an active role in her medical treatment, doing her own research and being proactive in finding ways to stave off or deal with side effects. During the last course of treatment she was on, doctors said she’d be in the hospital three to five times. She was only in once, toward the end when the drugs started to overwhelm what her fragile body could take.

“It’s truly practicing medicine. They don’t have answers in a lot of cases. A lot of it is finding out how your particular body reacts to drugs,” Clonan said. “My impression is that people don’t take charge of their medical treatment as much as they should.”

Beyond medical knowledge, the sites are a forum for sharing general support. People post poems, pictures, jokes and stories. When someone’s having a tough time, the network responds by sending cards or small gifts. Debbie at one point got around 100 cards in the mail within three days of posting a comment that she was feeling low, Clonan said.

“Any way that they can possibly help a person, they do,” he said.

And she returned the favor, signing on as Alaska Deb and sending her own notes, gifts and tokens of support, or even checks for $20 here and there to help a friend be able to afford a prescription. She also attended a get-together in Upstate New York of several women from the site in 2007, which they dubbed Pinkstock — pink being the color of breast cancer awareness.

This winter, Clonan started participating in the sites, as well, forming his own friendships with some of the women close to Debbie, especially near the end when he desperately searched for treatment information and advice.

“When you’re sitting at home by yourself, especially in Alaska, we’re kind of cut off a little bit. It brings everyone together,” he said.

Debbie’s death served as a rallying point that Clonan didn’t see coming. He said he didn’t even know how to tell the people on the site that she’d passed away.

“I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want anybody to be discouraged or give up or anything like that,” he said.

He got a phone call from one of Debbie’s online friends, Traci, from Dallas, or “Trip Neg,” as she’s known online, and he asked her to let everyone know about Deb’s passing. On Jan. 26, she posted that “Alaska Deb is our newest angel.” Since then, the post generated 338 responses as of Sunday, from women all over the globe sharing a story of how Debbie touched them in some way. The stories, jokes, photos, poems, memories and tributes form a testament to how one woman, even in little Sterling, Alaska, can have a huge impact on others.

“They started talking about Deb, how sorry they were, how inspirational she was,” Clonan said. “It was amazing how many people have commented since she passed away, and some even said, ‘I didn’t correspond with her myself, but I always read her posts.’”

On Jan. 27, another online friend started a new thread — a topic of discussion — suggesting that people touched by Debbie send a single pink rose to her memorial service. The idea immediately took off. As of Sunday, there were 404 replies posted, resulting in the sea of about 200 pink flowers lining the front of the altar at Soldotna Bible Chapel on Jan. 31.

Debbie’s online friends also contacted Gov. Sarah Palin’s office, asking her to attend the service (she was in Washington, D.C., at the time, an office aide said) and asking her to donate to the central peninsula Relay for Life in Debbie’s name, Clonan said.

The women are also planning a barrage of e-mails to President Barack Obama’s Facebook page on Valentine’s Day, this Saturday, encouraging him to step up efforts to cure breast cancer.

“They’re asking him to put the country’s money where its mouth is and get this solved in honor of Deb,” Clonan said.

He said he’s honored that so many people not only share his recognition of how special his wife was, but that they’d be moved to do something about it, especially with how much they go through in their own lives.

“These people are just awesome, knowing what they put up with, after having gone through this with my wife,” he said. “I was just amazed at the outpouring of support for Deb and the girls and I. It was just amazing, just unbelievable, and the story isn’t even the flowers. The story is the fact that these people go through such difficult times and they come out of it with such a good attitude and can share joys and fun. It’s pretty impressive.”

Donations to the Central Pensinsula Relay for Life can be made by visiting www.relayforlifeofcentralpeninsula.org. Click on “Debbie Clonan” to access the donation form.

Dammed to repeat the past? Cooper Landing residents concerned about hydro with Cooper Creek fish runs depleted

Editor’s note: This is the final story in a series examining possible Homer Electric Association hydroelectric projects near Moose Pass.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Residents of Cooper Landing 50 years ago knew Cooper Creek as a favored fishing hole, where anglers could land rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, king salmon and the occasional sockeye and chum salmon without having to venture far from home.

Today, Cooper Creek is known for the hydroelectric dam it supports and the fish it doesn’t.

The dam on Cooper Creek and power plant at Cooper Lake were built by Chugach Electric Association in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Shortly thereafter, fish stocks began to decrease. Over the years there’s been argument over what caused the demise of the fish, and how substantial the fishery was in the first place.

Longtime Cooper Landing residents aren’t conflicted about it — there were large runs until the dam destroyed them, they say. It’s against this backdrop that Kenai Hydro — a partnership between Homer Electric Association and Wind Energy Alaska — is investigating building four hydro sites in the Trail Lakes drainage near Moose Pass, on Crescent Lake, Grant Lake, Falls Creek and Ptarmigan Lake.

Cooper Landing residents were outspoken with concerns about the projects at an informational meeting Jan. 21 in Cooper Landing, and the Friends of Cooper Landing group filed opposition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission against Kenai Hydro being awarded preliminary permits to study the sites for hydro.

For its part, Kenai Hydro says the environmental impact of the Cooper Creek dam that led to the decimation of fish runs won’t happen with the new projects. Their own studies and designs will seek to avoid damaging fish habitat, and the permitting process the projects will have to go through is meant to ensure due diligence will be taken to mitigate harms.

Residents living near the once productive Cooper Creek aren’t so sure.

Rich waters
Cooper Landing historian Mona Painter bristles at the suggestion that the existence and demise of fish in Cooper Creek is anything but fact.

“I did interviews with people, they talked about the fish that were in there,” she said.

Painter was hired by the Forest Service to do an extensive study of Cooper Creek, finished in January 1998, including the area’s history stretching back beyond construction of the dam to the mining bonanza sparked by Joseph Cooper’s discovery of gold in the creek in 1884.

Mining use of the creek was extensive in the early years, including three hydraulic plants built from 1907-09, and a dredge mining operation started in 1912. By 1941, World War II slowed mining activity in the area, and Painter found evidence that fish stocks rebounded in the creek.

She compiled studies, stories and written mentions of fish and fishing in the creek and lake for the project. Among the references she compiled were the results of a sport fishery survey from 1955 that found 342 fishermen fished 2,281 days in the creek. In 1956 a memorandum report stated that, “lower Cooper Creek supported an important sport fishery and provided spawning areas for small runs of commercially significant salmon species.” Only minimal fish surveys were done before the dam was built and counts varied widely, but they did document sockeye salmon, kings and the occasional chum salmon in the creek prior to 1959, according to Painter’s research.

She also added her own, firsthand knowledge of the area.

“There is no doubt that rainbow trout fishing was good in Cooper Creek before the dam was built,” Painter wrote. “Newspaper articles attest to that as does Nick Lean, David Rhode, Floyd McElveen, and Bob Williams. Thirty-inch rainbows were not uncommon. King salmon were seen swimming up Cooper Creek. In 1959, my 3-year-old son and I were exploring in the area beyond the campground on the west side of Cooper Creek and saw king salmon in a tiny stream that flowed into Cooper Creek. The creek was so shallow that the upper half of the salmon was out of the water. This was my first sight of a live king salmon and quite memorable.”

McElveen, a missionary, and his family moved into a cabin on the west side of Cooper Creek Campground in 1958. In his book, “The Call of Alaska,” he wrote about the sparkling creek filled with rainbow trout, and one time catching a 29-inch trout with a small hook and salmon egg.

Rhode and Lean told stories of fishing in the creek when they were younger, and Painter has a picture of Lean and his friend Laurel “Swede” Gresham taken in front of the Lean home on the Kenai River with rainbows the two caught in Cooper Creek.

In a videotaped interview with Gary and Chris Titus in 1993, Lean talked about the creek.

“Big chars, big Dollies, Cooper Creek was a good fish stream in those days,” Lean said. “Big rainbows would go up to spawn in the spring. I’ve seen 30-inch rainbows up there like you won’t believe. … It was a good king salmon stream, too. I’d stand there on the bridge as a kid and watch those great big kings swimming up. They were all up and down the creek.”

Poor returns
In 1957 Chugach was permitted to put in a hydroelectric facility at Cooper Lake. In 1959 a road to the dam site was completed and construction began, according to Painter’s research. A tunnel was dug between the south end of Cooper Lake and Kenai Lake to the east. An earthen dam was built on Cooper Creek, which drains out of the north end of Cooper Lake and winds five miles through forest and gorges to drain into the Kenai River under the Sterling Highway. The dam allowed water to collect in Cooper Lake and be sluiced through the tunnel to a powerhouse sitting on the shore of Kenai Lake, where the water was released. Water to Cooper Creek was cut off in October 1962 and the power plant began operating, to the delight of area residents — at the time.

“Certainly in those days when the dam was built people were really hungry for electricity instead of having their own generator,” Painter said. “I don’t remember anybody even talking about maybe there wouldn’t be fish anymore, and maybe we should do this differently. We wanted electricity.”

Painter said it didn’t take long to realize the dam was bad for fish.

“As soon as they built the dam there weren’t fish. That’s easy. I’ve been to the dam at different occasions and there’s no water that comes from Cooper Creek anymore,” she said.

Water below the dam in Cooper Creek comes from Stetson Creek, which drains into it from the west. But the water in Stetson is colder than the water in Cooper Lake; meaning Cooper Creek became 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit colder, according to Painter’s research. Decreased water flow was also documented at 25 percent of normal.

She also notes several surveys done in 1997 on Cooper Creek, one where minnow traps caught 146 Dollies and one rainbow, another where one adult male king salmon was found three-quarters of a mile upstream from the creek mouth on a day in August, and 26 adult Dollies were tagged on a day in September.

But without having substantiated fish counts from before the dam was built, it’s difficult to estimate the impact the dam and resultant change in creek hydrology had on anadromous fish in Cooper Creek. That was Chugach Electric’s position when the hydro facility was up for relicensing recently.

“There was discussion of the issues surrounding Cooper Creek and old anadromous fish in that creek back then pre the Cooper Lake power plant. There wasn’t any conclusion that I recall as far as how to determine whether there was a fish flow through there or not and how heavy the fish used that area or not,” said Steve Gilbert, with enXco, a renewable energy firm that partnered with Cook Inlet Region Corp. to form Wind Energy Alaska, which is HEA’s partner in Kenai Hydro.

Gilbert is manager of Alaska projects for enXco, and previously worked for Chugach, where he was the manager of the Cooper Lake power plant for several years, he said.

Chugach’s application to relicense the Cooper Lake power plant was approved by FERC in 2008. The relicensing was met with concerns from Cooper Landing residents and fisheries managers over what had happened to Cooper Creek.

Those concerns surfaced again in the meeting with Kenai Hydro and HEA representatives Jan. 21 in Cooper Landing.

Paul McLarnon, a biologist with HDR Alaska, a consultant doing engineering design work and ecological studies for Kenai Hydro, told the audience Kenai Hydro plans to do things differently than the Cooper Lake facility.

“In Cooper Creek, we determined the biggest limiting factor of that creek is temperature,” he said, due to water coming from colder Stetson Creek, rather than Cooper Lake.

In the projects Kenai Hydro is considering, the same water diverted out of lakes and creeks for power would be returned to the creeks above anadromous fish habitat, McLarnon said. And they would study what effect power generation may have on water temperature before the projects are built, he said.

That isn’t enough assurance for everyone.

“I have serious doubts that you’re going to be able to do that, and I don’t know. You’re going to have to convince me and everyone here that you can do that,” said John Thorne, of Cooper Landing, during the meeting

Painter said she isn’t against hydro per se, but is concerned about the effects it can have, especially due to the lessons of Cooper Creek.

“It’s not that I’m biased, or because I don’t know the electric business. I guess if there was a low-impact way that wouldn’t hurt the recreation or the fishery and so forth I guess I wouldn’t have anything against it. I mean, we all need electric power. It’s just that, it’s interesting,” she said.

“I know there were fish in Cooper Creek, and I hope there will be fish in Crescent Creek.”

Shaken, not stirred to erupt — yet

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

If the Alaska Volcano Observatory were looking for a theme song, it could turn to The Who and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Current activity at Mount Redoubt volcano is deja vu for Kenai Peninsula residents who lived here during its last period of unrest, in 1989 and 1990.

And while the observatory keeps tabs on the rumbling giant across the inlet, the volcano in turn serves as a measure of how the observatory itself has progressed.

The observatory was formed in 1988, just one year before Mount Redoubt erupted.

“It was really that eruption that sort of showed the state and federal government that that was an important issue,” said Allison Payne, geologist with the observatory.

“It demonstrated how important it is to keep track of those volcanoes. … We can’t predict what the volcano is going to do, but we have a much better grasp of what it might do and a better timetable to work with, and that allows us to be more prepared.”

The observatory has come a long way in the last 20 years, when Redoubt’s eruption came largely as a surprise.

“The onset of the eruption happened quite quickly. We had about 24 hours notice,” Payne said of the 1989 event. “A couple people were looking at seismicity the week before the eruption, and had this premonition that there was going to be an eruption, based on some interesting seismic patterns.”

But the geologists weren’t widely believed until the seismic activity significantly ramped up just prior to the eruption in December 1989. Had the observatory known sooner, it could have sounded the alarm sooner, which would have allowed people to be better prepared for the resulting ash fallout — especially on the Kenai — and possibly could have prevented a KLM jet from flying through the ash plume and nearly crashing.

These days, there isn’t much going on at the volcano that the observatory isn’t aware of.

There’s a Web cam pointed at the summit and geologists monitor real-time seismic data that’s updated every second. They keep a constant watch on satellite data for heat and gas emanations. They do periodic overflights to monitor activity, and take gas measurements to learn about new magma moving in the system. Wind patterns are tracked and particulate matter in the air is monitored. The Web site is continuously updated with new photos and status reports. If unusual activity does occur, the observatory sends out e-mail alerts to anyone who signs up for them, along with its usual communication with government, emergency response, aviation and other agencies.

The observatory will even send out updates via Twitter, a networking service where people send and receive short text messages on cell phones, computers and other devices. That certainly wasn’t around in 1989.

“No, not so much,” Payne said.

So monitoring has changed, but the volcano itself isn’t behaving all that differently this time around. Other than the short notice in 1989, that cycle of activity and the current one share similarities.

Redoubt is displaying two kinds of seismicity, Payne said. Volcanic tremors are small, continuous earthquakes mainly produced from hydrothermal activity, when ground water in the volcano is heated to boiling by magma underneath and moves through the rocks, causing them to break up and jumble round. The other seismicity is more substantial, discreet volcanic events that come in at higher frequencies than the continual tremors.

Both types preceded the eruption in December 1989 and are being measured at Redoubt now, although in 1989 they led to an eruption much more quickly.

“Certainly they were there,” Payne said. “They happened sooner, so right now we’ve had a couple weeks with mostly tremors and just a few events of discrete volcanic events.

“This time we started seeing similar seismicity and we were thinking it could happen rather quickly. This just goes to show nature is very diverse, volcanic systems are really diverse and you never really know what’s going to happen.”

The level of seismic activity at Redoubt over the past month has cycled up and down. During the past two weeks there was a spike in activity Jan. 25, another Jan. 31 and an increase in seismicity over the last several days, Payne said Monday, with the volcano settling down in between.

It’s possible the volcano could quiet back down without an eruption, Payne said, but it’s more likely an event similar to 1989 and 1990 is coming.

“Something comparable to the ’89 eruption, or smaller in scale,” she said. “So that could mean an ash column the same size or smaller — or it could mean more growth of the lava dome, or growth of new lava dome. Or not.

“I think most folks are thinking it’s more probable we’ll have a small eruption. It’s possible nothing will happen, and it’s possible there will be a larger eruption.”

If Redoubt behaves as it did in 1989-90, that means Southcentral Alaska is in for several ash-producing eruptions up to 40,000 feet over a several-month period. Redoubt followed its December 1989 eruption with others in February, April and June.

The 1989-90 eruptions produced several ash plumes up to 40,000 feet, which dusted Kenai with 5 millimeters of ash overall, Payne said. The prevalent wind pattern this time of year blows east, northeast — toward the peninsula. If and when there is an ash-producing event, the peninsula will probably be in the crosshairs.

Eruptions can be from deep within the volcano out through the cone itself, and others are produced by volcanic domes growing and then collapsing, spitting up ash, gas and rock.

The iconic photo from Redoubt’s April 1990 eruption, with a red-tinged mushroom cloud rising into the sky, was caused by a collapse of a lava dome, Payne said, which is why the cloud rose off-center from the volcano, instead of directly from the cone.

Payne recommends continued preparedness, because it may be summer before Redoubt goes dormant again.

“It certainly could. The last one was several months,” she said.

Fast learners — Kids conquer the trails in youth skiing program

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Eight-year-old Oliva Botirius’ stream-of-consciousness play-by-play was going as fast as her skies were Saturday as she launched herself down an incline at Tsalteshi Trails.

“Yeah, a hill!”

“Look out below!”

“Hey, no cuts!”

“Woah, don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall!”

She didn’t, making it to the bottom in a blur of matching purple snow gear, hardly any ski pole flailing, and brown curls flopping in the breeze. Once she coasted to a stop at the bottom of the hill, she plopped down to her knees, but made sure everyone in her learn-to-ski group knew it wasn’t an accident.

“I didn’t fall. I did this on purpose. ’Cus I can do this,” she announced, as she started scooting herself backward.

A few loops over on the trail system behind Skyview High School, the mighty Snow Leopards were sizing up a hill of their own. The kids had been at Tsalteshi Trails Associations’ learn-to-ski program long enough that their first reaction to hills — “We have to go down that?” — had been largely replaced with the desire to see how much momentum their 4-foot-tall bodies could accumulate.

Coach Robin Nyce was waiting a little ways down, calling out encouragement to try to snowplow — point the tips of their skis together to slow descent — or some other technique.

They dutifully followed instructions, whether it was a snowplow or hunching over their feet and grabbing the tips of their skis as they slid down the hill. But some were mystified about the point of maneuvers that made them go slower.

“Why did we do that? I could have gone down that way faster on my own,” said 6-year-old Tyle Owens.

That’s a far cry from the beginning of January, when the kids’ ski program started.

“We had a couple of little, little ones like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t want to go uphill,’ and, ‘I don’t want to go down hills,’ but now they’re doing it. The ones who have never even skied before are cruising. It just takes getting kids out moving on skies and they figure a lot out on their own,” said Laura Pillifant, with the trails association board.

For older or more experienced skiers, the program is a chance to get instruction and practice with their peers, instead of just their parents.

“We take them out skiing, you know, with us, and they kind of complain a lot and they don’t really want to go,” Pillifant said. “Being in the program, they haven’t complained once. They’re out there skiing hard and having fun and coming along really well.”

Marc Johnson, a parent volunteer, said he was excited when he heard about the program. Not only does it teach kids a new skill and gets them to enjoy the outdoors, but it’s helpful for school ski programs, as well.

“It gets kids started at a young age, like they do with kids in Anchorage,” he said. “They have a pool of talent when they get into middle school and high school there.”

He said the instructors have been doing a great job of tailoring the program to the kids and their ability levels, even coming up with games they can play to keep it interesting — like sharks and minnows and a scavenger hunt.

“They make it fun for the kids to get them excited about skiing so they want to keep doing it,” he said. “They’re having a great time. Even when they crash they get right up and they’re laughing.”

Johnson’s daughter, Leah, 8, is hooked. She said she plans on being on the Kenai Central High School Kardinals ski team when she’s old enough.

“I think the trails are the funnest part,” she said. “The hills are really fun because you go so fast.”

This is the first year for the program, which was scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday nights, plus four Saturdays, from Jan. 6 through March 7. The trails association got a grant to buy 30 pairs of combination skis — waxable skis that can be used for classic or skate skiing — for kids to rent out. Next year it hopes to add poles to its stock of rental gear.

Kids start with the basics of how to wax skis, put on the boots, skis and poles, and the all-important tricks for how to stand back up once you succumb to the unavoidable combination of gravity and slippery, awkward footwear. Kids are grouped by ability level, so the more experienced skiers can work on higher-level techniques, like step turning around corners, while others practice the basics of just get getting going.

Originally, the plan was to teach four weeks of classic skiing and four weeks of skating, Pillifant said, but weather, trail conditions and ability levels have dictated the program’s progression more than initial planning.

“The younger, 6- to 8-year-olds, the beginner beginners, if they can get standing on their skies and moving any way they can, they don’t distinguish between the skate and the classic,” Pillifant said. “The older ones, they know skating is faster so they’re kind of starting to press coaches, ‘Come on, let’s go to skating.’ But the classic is just a lot of fun and they need to know that, that’s for sure, if they’re going to continue on.”

Pillifant said she’s thrilled with the response to the program, with 43 skiers ages 6 to 12 signed up (plus one 13-year-old with two younger siblings in the program). Along with the kids came a platoon of volunteers, which has been crucial in wrangling, much less teaching, so many kids.

“It’s been overwhelming the response from people and the help that we’re getting. It takes a lot of people not to leave someone on the trail or take a skier back to warm them up or help with cookies and hot chocolate,” she said.

Organizers conscripted a group of coaches — David Michael, Adam Reimer, Gigi Banas, Pillifant, Sara Hepner, Nyce and Denise Harro — and have had even more people step up every week to help, including Bill Holt keeping the trails groomed, Kelly Keating bringing a lighting system, Dr. Justin Moore and SoHi skier Jordann Nelson helping coach, parents and Skyview High School coaches and skiers helping wax, and Mary Helminski bringing cookies, cleaning up and helping with whatever else is needed. The community has also pitched in with donations when needed, Pillifant said.

“Everybody is just going crazy with helping us,” she said. “You think ahead of time, ‘Oh dear, I’ve got a lot of places to be already,’ but it’s just way different than most things that you have to be at. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s going very fast.”

Building on history — Kenai historical site gets new look as old cabins are dusted off

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Swedish sailor Victor Sanders was about 40 years old when he came to Alaska in 1921, married a Native woman, built a one-room log home and proceeded to raise a family. The couple fished for a living, tended a sled dog team, raised a garden and produced 13 children, just seven of whom survived past infancy.

One of those children, the fifth born, they named Elsie, and several decades later she donated her family’s original cabin to the city of Kenai when it was collecting old structures to place on the lot behind the Fort Kenay building. At the time, Fort Kenay — a representative re-creation of the original fort built after the United States purchased Alaska from Russia — housed an upstairs museum, and the cabins were seen as part of the display.

Somehow, however, the history of the Sanders cabin got lost, and for many years a sign at the cabin identified it merely as Cabin No. 3, and added that “little is known” of its origins.

That changed in 2007. In the midst of a large-scale cabin restoration and preservation effort by the Kenai Historical Society, the Sanders cabin history was unearthed by Mary Ford. Then Ford, who publishes the historical society’s monthly newsletter, unfolded more of that history for her readers in the September 2007 issue.

When the restoration project is complete, the cabin will sit on a new lot and will bear a new sign — “Sanders Cabin” — with a more detailed explanation of its history and the lives of its inhabitants.

But the Sanders Cabin is not the only historically significant object being repaired and moved. Also included in the project are four other cabins and a 75 mm howitzer. The cannon and four of the five cabins currently reside within the enclosure behind Fort Kenay, but that residence will change early this summer.

The Fort Kenay building was erected in 1967, 100 years after the Alaska purchase, on land leased by the city from the Russian Orthodox Church. When the city built its visitors and cultural center in 1991, the museum articles were moved to the new facility and the lease on the church-owned lot was allowed to lapse. The cabins and the howitzer also became property of the church.

Finally, in 2007, ownership of the cannon and the structures was transferred back to the city, with the understanding that the cabins would be repaired and relocated. A new lot by the Kenai Art Guild, between Peninsula and Cook avenues, was provided by the city, and when the ground thaws in spring, work will begin on the preparation of gravel pads and concrete pier blocks upon which the cabins will be placed.

When the entire project is complete, the lot will be fenced, and visitor traffic will be directed through the old Civic League building. The project, which is being directed by George Ford, with help from engineer Joe Harris, work foreman Ivan Sjodin and his crew of volunteers, is budgeted at about $287,000, including the $150,000 value of the city land.

“The project has turned out to be more complicated than first thought,” said Ford, who in 2005 started the process of moving the structures back to city hands, with the idea of opening them up once again to viewing by the public.

The moving process has been complicated by a greater need for repair work than first anticipated. Several of the cabins need lower logs replaced, and all but one will have to have new floors put in. Additionally, the structures will need cross-bracing as reinforcement to hold them together during the move.

In one of the cabins, the volunteers were faced with the daunting task of moving a heavy old Emerson grand piano. Even after removing the piano’s legs and placing the instrument on edge, they worried about how to get it through the door without damaging it. The solution turned out to be snow-covered pieces of discarded carpeting, upon which the piano slid successfully.

The move itself will be complicated. Each cabin will have to be jacked up, and then a sling will be placed beneath the structure to allow it to be lifted by a crane onto a lowboy truck. At the new site, the crane will lift each cabin from the lowboy onto the prepared pads.

Besides the Sanders Cabin, the other exhibits include:

The Arness Cabin, built in 1925 on the bluff east of Riverview Road in Kenai. In 1948, Peggy and James Arness bought it to use as their home. They modified and added on to the original structure, and at one time the cabin was used as Kenai’s first kindergarten, and briefly to house services for the Mormon Church.

The Miller Cabin. Pioneer Emil Ness built this structure in Kasilof in 1910. In 1930, its logs were numbered and it was disassembled and barged to Kenai, where it was pieced back together again. In 1937, the family of Emil’s brother, Gust Ness, sold the cabin to Ward Showalter, who sold it to George Miller in the 1940s. After the death of the next owner, Rex Williams, his widow donated the cabin to the city in 1975.

The Dolchok/Juliussen Cabin. This cabin, which is the only structure not currently part of the Fort Kenay complex, was built in Kenai in 1922 by Mike Dolchok. He sold it in the late 1940s to Julius Juliussen, who moved it near the present site of the Peninsula Oilers ballpark and lived in it with his family for many years.

The Three Scandinavians Cabin. This cabin may have been built in the 1920s, but no one is certain. The Kenai Historical Society believes that Swede Foss may have lived in the cabin at one time, but KHS members are seeking confirmation of his occupation, and any other information anyone might have.

The 75 mm howitzer. The date stamped on the combat cannon is 1917. It was given to the city of Kenai by the Wildwood military base.

Ford said that the historical society is looking for volunteers interested in helping to restore and prepare the cabins between now and early May. The KHS crew works Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Anyone wishing to help can just stop by. For more information, call Joe Harris at 283-1946 or George Ford at 283-7700.

Plugged In: Upgrading computers doesn’t have to be costly

You don’t need to spend yourself into bankruptcy to acquire effective computer hardware. The key to smart business automation is careful research and long-term planning.

In tough times, you need solutions that increase your efficiency and your effectiveness, at a smart price. One of the best ways to improve your profitability and viability is to make smart decisions about investing in new technology and to then crisply implement your decisions.

This week, as a wrap-up of our recent computing hardware discussions, I’ll address some more general business and planning considerations that business users should take into account when purchasing new PC computer automation.

Compared to other steps that you can take in your business, prudent investment in technology can produce comparatively large benefits. Small- to medium-sized businesses are a particularly good fit for Michael Porter’s business strategy, developed at Harvard Business School, that focuses upon optimum profitability and survivability in tough times through developing low-volume, high-margin work. Smart technology implementation often is key to developing that sort of resilient business because it allows you to both improve your responsiveness and effectiveness while simultaneously reducing your base overhead costs.

Even though simple approaches and programs often provide the best return for your automation investment and are usually the easiest to implement and use, businesses commonly throw a lot of immature “bleeding-edge” technology, expensive hardware and even more expensive consultant fees and staff time at what is really a business management problem.

Gradually implementing a well-thought-out strategic business automation plan is usually the most effective and efficient way to transform your business, buying only the hardware and software that you will be able to install and begin using within the next two months or so and then implementing your next phase.

Purchasing binges are inefficient. By the time that you get around to installing some of your purchases, you likely can buy a newer, better version of the same product for less money.

Choose your technology for long-term, low-cost usefulness. Buy mature mainstream technology wherever possible and avoid both dead-end and bleeding-edge hardware and software. You’ll not only save money by purchasing mature, proven software and hardware, but likely also spare yourself an expensive, frustrating experience installing and using immature technology.

The hidden costs in terms of your time, staff time and general disruption when you install new computer technology usually costs a business much more than the actual purchase price of the hardware and software. Keep these less-obvious costs in mind when deciding what technology to purchase. It may be less costly in the end for a business to buy something that’s initially more expensive but ultimately more easily installed, maintained and used.

Use the least complex technology that efficiently does the job for you, provided that it’s supported by a financially stable vendor and has reasonable long-term growth potential. Choose your business software with great care after careful investigation. Application software is the heart of any business automation. Without good business software, a computer network is just a collection of electrical and mechanical parts. Choosing the right application software is more difficult and of great consequence than buying your computer hardware. If the computer becomes unreliable or too slow, then it’s easy enough to upgrade your hardware and migrate your application programs and data to the new computer, but changing over to an entirely new software program is much more expensive and disruptive.

Further, your accumulated business data is the heart of your business — it is the sole reason that you bought and implemented all of that expensive hardware and software. It’s more valuable than all your hardware and business application software combined. Be sure that your data will be usable for many years in the future and can be converted as needed should you decide upon different application software or if your current vendor goes bust. Try to avoid becoming locked into a vendor’s proprietary data format that cannot be later converted or upgraded to other application programs in the future.

Basic engineering and overall system reliability and performance don’t vary a great deal from brand to brand anymore, even though brand-name manufacturers often use system boards that are proprietary in how they mechanically attach to the computer case, an approach that unfortunately precludes less-costly, third-party upgrades later.

Even though brand-name systems from first-tier vendors can often be excellent buys, you should favor locally purchasing more readily upgradable generic systems that use high-quality components mounted inside an industry-standard, ATX-style system case.

Most brand-name vendors assemble components made by the same vendors used by better “white box” generic computer systems. Again, the system case ideally would be a vertical, floor-mounted system that’s capacious and well-cooled.

Consider making periodic upgrades to your systems, which is easier to do with generic “white box” hardware. Periodic upgrades are often a highly economical, less disruptive way to regularly improve computing performance.

At a minimum, you should buy medium-high performance computer hardware rather than the fastest bleeding-edge system or the slowest, cheapest system, which is destined to be soon obsolete and unrepairable. Try to avoid systems that use wholly proprietary components.

Don’t buy more hardware than you need and avoid advertising-driven computer consumerism. As a business user, you are buying a cost-effective business tool, not a hobby whose main purpose is emotional satisfaction, even though most of us also enjoy the latter. Typically, online and retail dealers push their most expensive, highest-margin units. The extra cost of the highest-priced computers derives primarily from highly touted consumer features, such as superfast video cards, features that have little real benefit in most offices.

Historically, system performance increases while prices simultaneously plummet. There’s no immediate end in sight to either trend, although the rate of useful improvement has been diminishing lately as the technology matures. Make purchasing decisions based on current needs, rather than perceptions of what you might need in a year or two. Cutting-edge technology is typically overpriced, immature and unreliable while it’s still “hot.” Many manufacturers try to sell you their higher-margin, top-of-the-line systems and fastest components by promising that purchasing marginally more computing power ostensibly avoids the need to upgrade hardware as often. That’s false economy at best, and it’s probably not even true.

I believe it’s most sensible to buy quality, mature technology that’s about a half generation behind the current top of the line. Buying about a half a generation behind the leading edge saves you a lot of money while providing more reliable technology with enough performance to work satisfactorily for at least two to three years. These cost savings alone should allow you to regularly and economically upgrade the critical computer system components, the CPU, DRAM and hard disk, or to replace the system more often — a policy that saves money and keeps your hardware more generally current for the overall life of the system.

I usually recommend a three-year cycle for complete replacement of a computer, printer or scanner, although you might want to make partial computer system upgrades more frequently, given today’s very low component prices. It’s false economy to retain or not upgrade a too-slow system until it’s been fully depreciated based upon an artificially long depreciation schedule. Remember, modern computer and communications technology are now the basic tools and lifeblood of any business.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his Web site, www.kashilaw.com, along with links to legal and community resources.

Arts and entertainment week of Feb. 11

  • Art Works in Soldotna has photography by Joe Kashi and Rachel Lee on display through February.
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has artwork by Laura Faeo on display through February.
  • The Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College will have “Leader of the Pack,” an exhibition of paintings by New York artist al baio, on display through March 4, with an opening reception from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Baio won the Boit Award for painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has artwork by Timothy S. Dahl on display through February.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has artwork by Scott and Renee Davis through February.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has “Portraits of Flowers in Felt, Watercolor and Digital Photography,” artwork by Clayton and Juanita Hillhouse, on display through February.
  • The Soldotna Senior Center is looking for artists to display their work in the center's lobby. Shows are one month long. Artwork must hang on the walls. Call Mary Lane at 262-8839. The artist of the month in February is Melinda Hershberger.

  • The Sitka Summer Music Festival musicians will perform at 7:30 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna. Tickets are $15 general admission and $5 for students, available at the door and Northcountry Fair, River City Books and Sweeney's in Soldotna, and Already Read Books and the Funky Monkey in Kenai.

  • A high school dance and activity night, including a DJ, karaoke, Halo 3 competitions and unlimited laser tag, will be held from 8 p.m. to midnight at Hawks Games in Soldotna. Call 260-9750 for more information.
  • The Kenai River Brown Bears play Wenatchee at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center.

Saturday (aka Valentine’s Day)
  • Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Environmental Education Center on Ski Hill Road in Soldotna will hold a winter family fun day with a yo-yo fur sewing craft at 10 and 11 a.m., Native dance instruction from noon to 12:30 p.m. and a one-hour guided family snowshoe walk. The craft and snowshoe walk require registration and space is limited. Contact Michelle Ostrowski at Michelle_ ostrowski@fws.gov or 260-2839.
  • Hooligan’s in Soldotna will have speed dating at 7 p.m. Singles talk one on one for five minutes, then everybody rotates.
  • Peninsula Artists in Motion’s annual Winter Ball fundraiser will be at 7 p.m. at the Kenai Senior Center. It’s a black tie optional event with a catered menu, ballroom dancing with live music by Rob Ramponi's Alaska Swing Co., wine tasting by Bear Creek Winery of Homer, beer tasting by Kassik's Brewery and a silent auction. Contact Katrina Carpenter at peninsulaartistsinmotion@hotmail.com or 283-3140.
  • A free showing of the movie “Fireproof” will be held at 7:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Kenai. Open to the public.
  • The Kenai River Brown Bears play Wenatchee at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center.

Coming up
  • Rosie Reeder will lead a class on how to start a book group from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 19 at Soldotna Public Library.
  • Kenai Performers will present the musical classic "Oliver!" at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School Feb. 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 and March 1. Show times are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors, available at Charlotte's and Already Read Books in Kenai, Sweeney's and River City Books in Soldotna, and at the door.
  • Kenai Community Library will hold a wire wrap bracelet or necklace class from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 21 for ages 12 and up. Cost is $12.50. Preregistration is required. Contact Julie at 283-4378 or jniederhauser@ci.kenai.ak.us.
  • Kenai Community Library will show the Shirley Temple film “Heidi” at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 22 in the conference room. It’s free and open to the public.
  • Kenai Community Library will hold a tea tasting workshop from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 28 for ages 18 and older. Participants will sample different blends from the four categories of tea: black, white, oolong and green. The workshop will culminate with a tea party.
  • Central Peninsula Hospital is seeking artwork in a variety of mediums to display in its new addition. Artists in Southcentral Alaska are invited to apply. The deadline for submissions is March 9. For information about the program, contact Leah Goodwin with Aesthetics, Inc. at 619-683-7500, or Goodwin@aesthetics.net, or visit http://kenaiphotography.com/CallForArtists.htm.
  • Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus is requesting proposals from artists interested in creating work to be placed in its new Riverview Commons by 5 p.m. March 13. The installation will be complete by Aug. 17. Proposals must include a conceptual sketch including notes, up to 10 slides of past work, a resume and a self-addressed stamped envelope. Submit proposals to Phillip Miller, Kenai Peninsula College, Facilities and Maintenance, 156 College Road, Soldotna, Alaska 99669. Miller can be reached at 262-0325 for more information.

Friday and Saturday nights at The Riverside.

Live music
  • Hooligan’s Saloon in Soldotna has open mic night Thursday and music by 9-Spine on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has the Free Beer Band on Sundays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has live music Saturday night.
  • The Place in Nikiski has bluegrass by Them Other Shuckers on Friday nights through February.
  • The Rainbow Bar in Kenai has live music by Tuff-e-Nuff at 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has open mic night from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday and music by Scott Merry from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday.
  • 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
  • 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the .406 in Kenai.
  • 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.
  • 9 p.m. Friday at J-Bar-B outside Soldotna.
  • 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Maverick in Soldotna.

  • The J-Bar-B has a cash drawing at 6:30 p.m. Saturdays. Patrons get one ticket each day they’re at the bar. Must be present to win.
  • Hooligan's in Soldotna has Texas Hold ’Em poker at 5 and 8 p.m. Tuesdays and free pool Thursdays.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has a pool tournament at 8 p.m. Fridays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has darts on Tuesdays.

Celebration in song — Sitka Summer Music Festival has classic take on statehood

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The highlight of Thursday’s concert by the Sitka Summer Music Festival musicians in Soldotna may well be a piece written by Paul Rosenthal, the festival’s founder and artistic director, but not as far as he is concerned.

Rosenthal, a violinist, wrote an arrangement of the Alaska flag song for the state’s 25th anniversary. He was asked to perform it again this year in honor of Alaska’s 50th anniversary, so he wrote a set of variations on the piece, “Bravura Variations on ‘Alaska’s Flag,’” to be played by violin and piano.

“It’s sort of funny, when I talked to Paul about playing this in the concert he kind of huffed and said, ‘Oh all right, and we’ll play some music by real composers, too.’ He’s very humble,” said Maria Allison, with the Performing Arts Society, which is sponsoring the concert.

The irony being that Alaskans would consider Rosenthal quite real, no matter what he was composing. He is well-known through his connection with the 36-year-old Sitka music festival, and as a performer throughout the state due to his interest in bringing classical music to even the most remote Bush communities.

He and his fellow Sitka festival performers have included a stop in Soldotna in their winter for more than 10 years now, Allison said.

His piece being a play on something familiar, along with Rosenthal’s talent for composition and performance, should make it even better received.

“It is very virtuoso. It makes you think of something played by Paganini. It’s just really flashy and spectacular and shows off all the violin technique,” Allison said.

The grandeur of the piece makes sense, considering Rosenthal’s thoughts on Alaska, his adopted home state since 1969. In the liner notes of the “Bravura” recording, he wrote, “For a concert violinist to live in Alaska seemed an odd notion back then, and yet the place had irresistible attractions for my restless spirit: Nature, of course, so grand and varied, and Adventure, which beckoned from the side of every road, the window of every plane, and the vast waters around every boat I would take to cover those huge distances.”

Along with Rosenthal, cellist Armen Ksajikian and pianist Arnulf von Arnim will perform. All three are familiar to central Kenai Peninsula audiences from their previous tours with the Sitka festival.

“They have a huge following, and all three of them have played here many times,” Allison said. “… When the three play together it’s always really exciting because all three are just so fabulous.”

The “real” composers featured in the concert will be Bedrich Smetana and Ludwig van Beethoven. “Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 15,” by Smetana, called the “father of Bohemian music,” is a powerful work that progresses from somber to energetic themes.

In the Beethoven trio, “Piano Trio in E Flat Major, Op. 70, No. 2,” a slow, sedate introduction quickly gives way to a more lively, high-spirited aura.

One of the cornerstones of the Sitka music festival is spreading exposure to and appreciation of classical music. That’s why they tour in the first place, and especially why they like to include stops at schools.

“Usually if school is in session when they are here they have done school concerts. Kaleidoscope, Sterling Elementary, just different schools around the community,” Allison said. “Tustumena Elementary is the lucky one this year.”

The Performing Arts Society honors that spirit of outreach by maintaining a low student rate at the concert, $5 a ticket for anyone in school — whether it’s children or college students. Even general admission, at $15 a ticket, is low compared to concert prices when the group performs in Anchorage.

“It’s a good deal,” especially considering everything the group puts into their performances, Allison said.

“Paul and all the musicians who come with him are very anxious to communicate about music with people, not only in playing it but talking about it and making it really fun for the audience.

“They’re really great about talking about their music and education as well as entertaining.”

The performance is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna. A free reception will be held after the show. For more information about the musicians, visit www.sitkamusicfestival.org.

Art Seen — Better together

The truth is we need each other. I’ve lived on the Kenai Peninsula for 20 years now, and as far as I can tell, it has always attracted and bred artists. It is quite possible that the amazing beauty that surrounds us on every side is an inspiring element, whether the artist chooses to represent those images or something else.

I’m certain many artists throughout history have managed to produce interesting bodies of work without associating with a group designed to encourage and support them. But we need them, nevertheless, and they need us, as well. Our participation in artist co-ops may not be as intensive as being involved in the European “salons” at the turn of the last century, but they can certainly invigorate us and keep us working. The Kenai Potters’ Guild and the Kenai River Council on the Arts, each located at the Kenai Fine Arts Center, have gone through many changes and revolutions over the years, but still remain viable sources for artists.

The Arts and Humanities Council, developed to be an overarching source of support for the arts of any kind, functioned out of the KFAC for years and put on the Jail House Rock fundraiser (the building used to house the town jail). Eventually, fluctuating board membership caused the group to join with the Peninsula Art Guild, but then was revived as the Kenai River Council on the Arts when there was a big push in the art community for a new, world-class center of the arts in the central peninsula area. Although that dream has not yet been realized, the board has once again rejoined PAG and has been putting on experimental shows, as well as group experiments, exhibits and installations.

Last month, Joyce Cox displayed “Facets of Three-Dimensional Art.” It is an eclectic mix of materials and indicates an artist with a lively curiosity and a sure love for the object. She has a triptych that is a tribute to Louise Nevelson, an artist who may well be one of those aforementioned artists who worked in relative isolation and was able to put out quite an interesting body of work. Most of what she produced, although original, was quite similar throughout her career.

She built large, mostly bas relief sculptures (meant to be viewed against the wall, but have three-dimensional elements. It sometimes means “slightly raised,” and is pronounced bah-relief) amounting to various sizes of boxes to hold the myriad interestingly shaped wooden objects. If the pieces were not already of a similar color, she painted the entire sculpture one color, to help emphasize the form and the relationship between the objects. Her work is striking and poetic, and certainly has endured, both physically and in the public eye. I would love to see what she might have created had she been part of a supportive group of artists, how her work may have inspired others, and how their input may have encouraged her, as well.

We’ll never know, of course, but in an area that has as many artists per capita as a well-known artist community like Homer, I am thankful we have groups like the KPG, the PAG and the KRCA, and I look forward to their continued growth. If you are also feeling thankful for their existence, you might want to join the upcoming PAG meeting at the Kenai Fine Arts Center, at 10 a.m. Feb. 28. You don’t even need to be an artist to get involved, just have an interest in supporting the arts.

Marcia Beauchamp is a great example of someone who gave her time, intelligence and excellent managerial skills to the PAG board, and was not herself a practicing artist. She donated over a decade of service in memory of her mother, who had been an artist. When she moved to the treasurer position, Roy Shapley, a photographer and busy teacher, stepped up to the role as president. Recently, Roy passed away at about the same time as Marcia left the peninsula for Napa Valley, Calif. Although we miss them both immensely, they have left an organization in full swing and progressive motion. Roy was only 52 when he died, shocking a huge community of friends and co-workers. He and Marcia are models for all of us by their unselfish service and dedication to what they loved and believed in.

So if you believe in the arts and want to do what you can to support artists in our area, consider joining the effort. Because we really can’t go it alone.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

Way Out Women ride for life

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The “out” in the Way Out Women annual fundraiser to benefit cancer patients on the central Kenai Peninsula has several meanings.

There’s the literal, in that women spend a day riding snowmachines way out into the Caribou Hills.

Then there’s the more figurative meaning: The women are a bit “out there” in how they approach the event. There’s the costumes — everything from bees and butterflies to snow angels, beauty queens and characters from “The Wizard of Oz.” And this year, there’s a Wild and Woolly Bra Contest.

Kathy Lopeman, the event’s founder and organizer, said the idea is for all those crafty Alaska ladies out there to put their talents to work creating some unique undergarments to be auctioned off at the spaghetti dinner following the ride Feb. 28.

“Anybody can bid on this (guys included, although the day’s ride is just for the ladies),” Lopeman said. “I suppose if somebody wants to model them they can — a little something extra to raise money.”

The most important “out” of all is the event’s purpose, to raise money for Central Peninsula Hospital’s WOW fund to help out local people battling cancer.

“Every cent and every bit goes back to patients directly in the form of nontaxable grants,” Lopeman said. “Child care, groceries, travel back and forth to Anchorage if they have to have radiation, housing. In the way the economy is, transportation and groceries are big pieces. It’s for anything that takes care of a need that cancer has effected in their life.”

The organization gives out $1,000 grants to people in need, one grant per calendar year to each recipient. Lopeman said 46 grants were awarded in 2008, and the money can be used however the recipient sees fit.

The WOW ride is in its fifth year. In its four previous years the event has raised more than $100,000 as participation has soared from 46 riders the first year to 107 last year.

“If we’re able to raise enough, we want to up that,” Lopeman said. “A thousand is nice but with this economy it’s a drop in the hat when it comes to the giant expenses of cancer treatment.”

Lopeman is hoping for an even bigger turnout this year and an even greater amount raised. She said $65,000 is the goal this year, between the ride, the silent auction and outcry auctions.

The event begins with a meet and greet event from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Clam Shell Lodge, where silent auction bidding will begin. Items planned for auction so far include a turned wooden bowl, a pink breast cancer awareness Beijo purse, matching bags, T-shirts and ball caps in cancer awareness colors, pottery, and ivory and beaded jewelry.

The ride starts at 9 a.m. Feb. 28 at the Clam Shell, on trails groomed by the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers.

“We take a route that is easy enough that anyone could ride it. Several times we had people who didn’t ride (snowmachines) before,” Lopeman said.

Following the ride is a dinner at the Clam Shell that’s open to anyone. The lodge also volunteered to be smoke-free for the weekend, Lopeman said, and there will be live music both nights. The silent auction will conclude at the dinner Feb. 28, the bras will be auctioned off and costume judging will take place.

Of all the cancer causes Lopeman has been involved with — including the Polar Bear Jump Off for 10 years in a row and starting the Relay for Life event on the peninsula — she’s particularly proud of what WOW does for people with cancer, because the help is so tangible.

“I just feel this is so much more near and dear to my heart because it all goes directly back to patients, and every cent of it does. This is just so much better because everything is donated,” she said.

Sign-ups have been a little slow so far, Lopeman said, but snow conditions in the hills are passable.

“We could use more but we can do it now. I’m kind of worried, you have a party and nobody shows up, but I think we’ll be fine now,” she said.

Lopeman asks that women interested in participating in WOW register by Friday by contacting her at klopeman@cpgh.org, 714-4490 or 283-7602.

Something to chew on: Circle of life, beaver style

Every school-age child knows that beavers dam up streams, and it is a compliment to be described as being “busy as a beaver.”

These two thoughts are related, since beavers do spend long hours cutting down trees and then weaving the branches into a functional dam. Their impoundments require constant upkeep and additions of new branches. Along with the woody components, beavers scoop up mud from the bottom of the impoundment and pack it in between the stick framework.

Beaver dams vary in size and height but are frequently 2 to 3 feet high. The beaver dam I studied for my master thesis was more than 200 feet wide and created a pond of almost half an acre.

There are a couple important benefits for the beaver that justify the extensive energy output during dam construction. Perhaps the most obvious benefit is to raise the water level upstream of the dam. The deepened, backed-up water provides a quick escape when confronted with potential predators like cougars, wolves or bears. Besides the safety aspect, the water inundates channels that then provide safe access to feeding areas upstream. These upstream areas are where beavers cut down trees that are used for food or construction materials. While beavers will often take down larger diameter trees, they seem to prefer the young trees that are only a couple inches in diameter. The smaller trees are completely covered with tender and edible bark. It’s like a beaver’s version of a corn dog on a stick.

The beaver pond can provide a series of shipping lanes for moving tree limbs to the lodge or to the dam. Another major role the impoundment plays is as a food locker. Beavers will store hundreds of freshly trimmed limbs and branches underwater. During winter, they can swim from their lodge (or from tunnels into the bank) to the underwater pantry to retrieve a submerged limb. After feeding on the bark, the now-bare sticks can be used for springtime dam repair.

Ecologists often describe beavers as a keystone species in streams. This connotation refers to the major impact beavers have on a stream and the surrounding habitats. The presence of beavers can change many important aspects of the stream, as well as conditions in the surrounding riparian areas.

Beaver impoundments inundate large areas of terrestrial vegetation and will literally drown out most of the original vegetation. Virtually all the inundated trees and shrubs will die. This usually leads to an increase in solar radiation, which provides opportunities for new species of plants and algae to grow. Sometimes sedges and other wetland plants will appear along the edges or right on the breast of the dam.

Construction of a beaver dam immediately slows the stream water and that causes deposition of many materials being washed downstream. Organic materials like leaves, twigs, grasses and fish carcasses, as well as mineral sediments, will collect on the bottom of the dam. This accumulated material will eventually become very rich soil.

Because of the deepened water in the beaver pond, many fish will use these areas as an overwintering refuge. Many resident salmonids in Alaska move out of streams in the winter months and seek out areas like beaver dams where they can be assured of unfrozen waters. Given the opportunity, young silver salmon fry will use a beaver pond for a wintering area or may use it for a year-round place to feed and hide.

Because of the excavations by beavers and scooped-up mud for stabilization of the stick-built dam, there tends to be a fair amount of fine silt downstream of beaver dams. Those silty stream conditions cause changes in the stream’s invertebrate community downstream of the impoundment. These differences in turn can cause alterations in the downstream fish populations, too.

Beaver dams are ephemeral structures. After beavers utilize most of the available trees, they begin to prospect for greener pastures, or areas with more young trees. With no beavers to perform repairs and maintenance on the dam, it will eventually give way and drain out. When a dam washout occurs, those previously underwater areas become terrestrial habitats again. With all the deposited materials creating rich soil, the newly exposed pond bottom quickly becomes revegetated with herbs and woody vegetation.

The released stream cuts down through the deposited silt material and returns to its original physical flow patterns. Soon, the original stream and riparian biota return too. Several years later, when the trees have regrown, the stream section will once again be an attractive site for another beaver dam.

David Wartinbee, Ph.D, J.D., is a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. He is writing a series of columns on the biology of the Kenai River watershed.

Guest editorial: Joint effort needed to study belugas now, before it’s too late

Should belugas be protected as an endangered species? This is really several questions in one:

Do belugas warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act? Definitely. The population has little chance of long-term survival unless its size can be increased and kept above 1,000 whales.

Wouldn’t the problem disappear as soon as the last beluga dies? Wouldn’t we save a fortune and years of trouble by covertly killing all the remaining belugas? No! That’s like saying the way to way to cure liver disease is by cutting out your liver. That kind of “cure” can be worse than the disease.

Don't fall for the myth that ecological disruptions lack economic and social consequences. Perhaps the best-known marine example is impacts to commercial fishing when sea otter numbers crashed along the central Pacific coast. Without their predation on sea urchins, the urchins did so much damage to kelp forests that fish dependent on these forests crashed. A “balance” between predator and prey numbers is vital to the health of an ecosystem.

Hasn’t the decline in belugas actually helped fishermen? We don’t know. Granted, belugas compete with salmon for herring prey; and belugas eat salmon. But whether those losses outweigh benefits provided by belugas is still impossible to say. Ecological impacts of changing beluga numbers are largely unknown, despite decades of requests by biologists for funding to study this.

Failure of governments to provide adequate support hasn’t made the problem go away; it’s just gotten worse and more expensive to cure. Had we been working on this full steam for the past two decades, we’d have solid answers in hand and have been able to innovate minimal-cost technologies for keeping human impacts within tolerable limits.

Unfortunately, local and state governments waited to the 11th hour and their feet are still dragging. With every passing month, chances of success fall and potential costs rise.

Would the benefits of protection outweigh the costs? Cost-benefit ratios vary from person to person, and community to community, depending on who reaps the benefits vs. who pays the costs. Some costs could be felt very quickly, for instance if beluga protection were to preclude mining coal on the western side of Cook Inlet or require installation of more thorough treatment of sewage and other effluents from Anchorage. However, until we know a lot more about how our activities impact belugas, we will have little basis for identifying needed protections, much less for evaluating their costs.

It’s time to pull our collective heads out of the sand and quickly ramp up studies of beluga ecology and of how we humans impact them. The sooner we have this information, the more effectively and efficiently we can identify and implement protective measures that meet beluga needs with minimal economic and social impact.

What steps should we take? Identify legal requirements under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and other relevant statutes, court decisions and agency regulations.

We all know what a nightmare government red tape can be. This is partly a consequence of antiquated methods of educating ourselves about legalities. Invaluable aid has been provided by uploading legal information onto the Web where it is accessible to search engines. But even with that assistance, some laws, like the Marine Mammal Protection Act, are so convoluted that major sections defy logical analysis – a job I once attempted as an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Reading statutory law is just a first step. We also need to review case law and agency regulations. Some “laws” need to be clarified and/or made more user-friendly. It’s not enough to have the information available. You’ll never find the information you need unless you know enough to ask the right questions and how to interpret the answers. So-called “expert systems” employing artificial intelligence — way beyond that in search engines — could be of great assistance, and save folks a fortune in legal fees.

Business functions best in a climate where legal gray areas are minimized as much as possible so that we can anticipate with fair reliability which of our actions would be judged legal vs. illegal (as well as which conservation measures would be effective vs. ineffective). This may require being very proactive, perhaps in revising the MMPA.

For each municipality, business or other entity to tackle these challenges individually would be intolerably expensive. A far cheaper alternative is to do much of it collectively. For example, the Kenai Peninsula Borough might solicit donations from local industries and small businesses as matching funds for federal and state grants. Think of it as an economic stimulus package for Southcentral Alaska.

Every million dollars saved is another million dollars earned — tax free.

Dr. Stephen Stringham earned his master of science degree at the University of Alaska studying moose, and his doctorate degree studying bears. He is the author of five books on Alaska’s wildlife.