Spring has finally sprung here on the Kenai Peninsula. Even though we saw snowfall as recently as last week, the sun’s warmth has melted the tall berms into jagged shards then into deep muddy puddles. With the snow’s departure, a not so pleasant reality is emerging along the roadsides. Litter and debris blown by winter winds, pushed by speed plows and hidden by white layers of ice and snow is now found along every street. Runners and bikers drawn outside by the recent gorgeous spring days speed past sad waterlogged trash bags, discarded drink cups and a plethora of other random objects that do not belong in our picturesque landscape.
Soon, these roadsides will get their coat of wildflowers. The lupine will cast a blue hue along the highway in the month ahead as Alaskans shake off the winter and start exploring their home and summer visitors also arrive to take in the richness of this landscape. Leaf out may cover the trashy picture, but there are greater consequences than appearance that we should have us concerned.
Every week, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge handles calls from concerned citizens and other organizations reporting injuries to wildlife caused by vehicle collisions. Often birds like eagles and ravens have been attracted to roadkill and themselves become the unintentional victim of our vehicles. It is no secret that these birds take interest in scavenging litter, as we see them frequently pecking at fast food wrappers in local parking lots. A common misconception after seeing eagles soaring overhead is their speed at getting airborne. As heavy birds, it takes a significant amount of lift to take flight from the ground. Without the time and space to get into the air, eagles can find themselves looking into the wing mirror of an oncoming truck instead of taking wing.
In response to the known risk of roadside trash to wildlife and in preparation for our summer recreation season, our Kenai Refuge staff are planning a community cleanup effort on every road on the Refuge. Called Clean Up Green Up, it is an opportunity to celebrate spring, get our boots dirty after walking on snow for months, and tidy up the highway pullouts, campgrounds, roadways and scenic overlooks before the grasses cover up the trash for the summer.
The Kenai Refuge is the most easily accessible National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The Sterling Highway transects the Refuge’s nearly 2 million acres from east to west while Skilak Lake Road dips to the south and Swanson River Road leads north. Nationally designated by the U.S. Forest Service as a scenic byway where it winds through our neighboring Chugach National Forest, the Sterling Highway offers spectacular views that few imagine complimented by tumbling grocery bags.
On May 9, ten teams of Refuge staff and community volunteers will head out from Soldotna to pull trash and recyclables from every corner of the Refuge before tallying the results at a potluck lunch. There are still several opportunities for community members to join these teams, too! This is a great event for community and youth groups looking for a way to make a big difference in a short period of time. In just four hours we expect to clear more than 30 miles of roads and pullouts, returning them to the picturesque image we enjoy through the summer, and making them safer for scavenging wildlife by removing enticing debris.
We would love for you to join a team for the 2013 Refuge Clean Up Green Up. Participants of all ages and abilities are needed. If you are interested or want more information, please call Leah Eskelin at 907-260-2811 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leah Eskelin is a Visitor Services Park Ranger at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Find out more about the Refuge events by visiting http://kenai.fws.gov or by liking us on Facebook.