The City of Kenai has nearly completed its dune restoration project, which targets the dunes along the mouth of the Kenai River, said Bob Frates, parks and recreation director.
“We’ve done what we need to do,” city manager Rick Koch said, “and it’s up to nature to fill in the damage that happened over time.”
The dunes, which have been eroding as long as Koch can remember, act as a protective barrier for the wetlands behind them.
“It blocks things,” he said. “There’s native foods in those grasses; there’s native foods in some of the eggs of the birds that nest there, and it provides nesting areas for birds.”
The problem, Koch said, is foot and vehicular traffic trampling and killing vegetation holding the dunes together, and the sand blows away, he said.
Before 1996, the city had no fencing or signs along the beach or nearby roads to prevent dune traffic, Frates said.
“Without having any type of physical barrier to keep people out of those dunes, especially during the dipnet fishery, people just walked through them or camped in them,” Koch said.
He said it was tempting, too, without fences for locals to drive ATVs and trucks through the dunes.
The city has received grants from the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Resource Conservation Service and the Kenai Watershed Forum to fund the project, Frates said.
During the past three years the city, with the help of the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula, has posted chain fencing along the dunes’ perimeters, constructed aluminum gangways through commonly used foot paths and transplanted Beach Rye to trampled areas in the dunes.
“The kids like it,” Frates said about transplanting with the Boys and Girls Club volunteers. “They dig five holes for themselves to every sprig that’s planted.”
The city also accepted four parcels of land, located along the north shore of the mouth of the river, from Nancy Peck at a city council meeting last week. Frates said his department will post more fencing along the perimeter of the dunes in the parcels.
The Kenai Watershed Forum also planted Beach Rye sprigs under the gangways last spring, he said.
Now with everything in place, Koch said the city’s role in the project is over; now they just have to wait.
“Without ATVs and motorcycles and tens of thousands of people tramping through those dunes, the sedge grasses have come back quickly,” he said.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.