Work will continue for the next several years on three projects designed to enhance access, usability and sustainability of the Kasilof River special use area and drift boat fishery.
In its fiscal year 2014 capital budget, the Alaska State Legislature set aside $1.4 million for upgrades to the mouth of the river for improving public access and user facilities. That allocation follows the $3.6 million the legislature previously allocated for construction of a drift boat pullout area on the river and $50,000 to add additional protective dune fencing around the area.
Adam Smith, a natural resource manager with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said the proposed $1.4 million allocation would be used to soothe area growing pains from the personal use fishery that attracts about 10,000 visitors each summer.
The department is looking to improve road access on both sides of the river, make and expand parking areas to accommodate an increasing number of users, add permanent sanitation facilities on each side of the river, and identity standard access routes into the area for the benefit of future additional fencing.
“We’re going to have to sit down and see how far we can make it go,” said Rick Thompson, DNR regional land manager for the southcentral region, of the allocation that has not yet been approved by Gov. Sean Parnell, but was included in his own proposed budget.
The money is part of an overall plan to manage the impacts to the river mouth area with the highest priority being sanitation.
“We’ve found through experience that if the facilities aren’t there people are going to use the natural resources, the dunes, wherever there is some natural cover, that’s going to be the bathroom,” Smith said.
Thompson agreed, adding that the state has been addressing human, fish and solid waste problems in the area for years.
“We’re going to continue to do that this year with Porta-Potties and Dumpsters, but we would like to start trying to get a permanent handle on that problem,” he said.
Smith said DNR would also like to help the Kasilof Historical Association with their goal of adding additional fencing on the east side of the river.
“We’re noticing the dune grass coming back,” he said of the results of the west side fencing installed a few years ago. “The public that has been down there is starting to kind of spread the word ... and we’re seeing a lot of behaviors that have gone on for years slowly shift back to what’s acceptable.”
Brent Johnson, a member of the historical association, said the group has been allocated $50,000 for the additional fencing project that will be shorter than the west side fencing.
“I think we’re a good year away from having everything lined up to be pounding posts and putting up fence,” he said. “We got the one side done and it has turned out, to my relief, to have worked out pretty dog-gone well.”
Lucy Baranko, landscape specialist with the DNR’s Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, said the state is close to purchasing a piece of property for construction of a drift boat pullout facility.
Currently, many boaters access the river at the Alaska State Parks public boat launch, but there are no publicly-owned exit points for drift boaters on the lower portion of the river. The several take-out sites below the bridge are privately-owned and operated.
The division previously received $2 million for the first phase of the project, which funded public feedback and property investigations. A second round of funding totalling $1.6 million, coupled with the remaining funds from the first round, will likely be enough to purchase and develop the pullout facility, Baranko said.
The state recently started negotiating a purchase of the Trujillo’s Landing property at river mile 3.75, which was its top choice, Baranko said. The state’s second choice was the Kimbrough property at river mile 4, but the owners of that property chose not to sell.
“I’m really excited that we’re at a point to be negotiating,” Baranko said. “It has been a very long process and ... it’s nice to know we are moving forward and hopefully we’ll have something signed or a contract in the works by the end of summer and we’ll know exactly what’s happening.”
If everything lines up, construction can begin next year, Baranko said. Because the details of the facility depend on which property is selected, she said the facility has not yet been fully designed.
“We’ll definitely be looking at getting the community involved in bringing them along in the process,” she said. “It is a brand new facility and it is going to be impacting that immediate neighborhood. So, we want to make sure we’re working with the community to make sure they’re getting what they want.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.