When the final evening of dipnet fishing at the mouth of the Kenai River winds to a close each year, the north and south beaches of the Kenai River be left looking as though a large storm moved through — leaving a trail of debris and dead fish behind.
This year, when the last of the fishing was finished, several groups set about removing barbecue pits, broken dipnets, torn waders and trash piles left behind by the vacating visitors.
Dozens of bags of trash, truckloads of debris and several hours of work later, many involved said the beaches were much tidier and easier to clean this year than they have been in previous years.
“I was really surprised because it was not as bad as I thought it was going to be,” said Shauna Thornton, a candidate for Democratic candidate for State House of Representatives District 30 who organized the event along with Rocky Knudsen, a Democratic candidate in House District 29 and Eric Treider, an non-affiliated candidate for State Senate District 0.
Thornton said the three decided to organize a clean-up event for Friday after the issue was raised several times while the three were campaigning.
“We had been canvassing and meeting and greeting our constituents and a lot of the people’s concerns were the dipnetting and the overcrowding,” Thornton said. “It has always been really, really yucky in the past. As candidates, we can’t let this kind of stuff happen.”
Thornton, Knudsen and about 30 other people, including several children from the Boys and Girls Club, worked on the North beach of the Kenai River for about 8 hours Friday.
On the South beach, members of the Kenai Central High School Cross Country Team organized their own cleanup effort.
“They did a thorough sweep,” said City of Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates. “They started at Dunes Road and worked their way toward the mouth. They worked about 3-4 hours. That was a big help, a very big help.”
Frates said there were a few factors that have lead to the beaches being cleaner and easier to clean in recent years.
During the 2014 season, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game never allowed the dipnet fishery to extend for 24-hour periods meaning city crews had the chance to pick up debris during the late evening hours when no one was fishing. In addition, the city placed dumpsters near the North beach for the second year and that has also led to fewer trash piles in the sand, Frates said.
““We definitely picked up a lot of debris, but it wasn’t anything above and beyond what I was kind of expecting,” Frates said. “It was certainly cleaner this year than what I remember in years past. But, it took city crews about half-a-day on each side of the river to clean it up.”
Thornton and Frates said they saw a lot of broken nets and discarded clothing and ironing boards.
“We found a duffel bag full of clothes, a sweatshirt, a couple of pairs of shows, a broken dipnet and broken chairs,” Thornton said. “We found a barbecue. There was one barbecue that was not broken, it’s at the city building. Anybody looking for lost and found can find it at the Parks and Recreation Office.”
By Monday, very few traces of the high-volume fishery remained near the mouth of the Kenai River.
“Considering the amount of people on the beach... it looked like, definitely when people exited off the beach Thursday, there was a pretty good, concerted attempt by folks to clean up and consolidate things,” Frates said.
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org