It’s that time of year again when we look forward to the New Year, look back at happenings from the past year, or steel our resolve to stop a vice or start building new character. Rather than recap happenings this past year or predict what will happen this next year on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, I thought I’d provide some ideas for your New Year resolutions in 2014 and how the Refuge can be a springboard for achieving them.
Take a look at our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge). One of our staff, Donna Handley, highlighted a couple of hikes that she took on the Refuge to meet her goal of doing one hike a week last summer. What a great resolution! If you are inclined to make a similar resolution, stop by Refuge Headquarters and chat with Donna or other staff at the front desk about Kenai Peninsula trail information that can help you meet your goal.
Many birders make a habit of recording (aka listing) every bird they see during the year, which sometimes requires extraordinary efforts. If “listing” becomes your resolution for the New Year, it can be as simple as recording the bird species at your feeder or as ambitious as chasing down birds all over the Peninsula during all seasons.
If you find birds too hard to identify and are not inclined to join one of the local birding organizations, attempt to see and identify as many mammals on the Peninsula as possible. Of more than 1,700 species identified on the Refuge, 154 are birds but only 31 are mammals (www.fws.gov/refuge/Kenai/wildlife_and_habitat/index.html) so chasing the furry wildlife might not be as overwhelming.
You could start this mammal list right now with those “mice” that somehow find their way into our abodes despite our impeccably clean and uncluttered living space that is supposedly sealed to the elements. The next time you find one of the critters in your home (or your cat delivers one to you), take a hard look at that “mouse” and you’ll likely discover that it is, in fact, a species of shrew, vole or even a lemming that can be added to your list.
Should identifying a moving object prove too difficult, set your sights on plants. Start with listing all the different woody plants that poke up through the snow this winter. As the spring snow melts, you can begin to identify those ground-hugging woody plants that are hidden in winter. The addition of leaves on deciduous plants in early summer may make things a little easier. If you complete your list of all the woody plants by early summer, start identifying those beautiful wildflowers as they bloom throughout the remainder of the summer. The Refuge offers a guided wildflower walk every year that can help you get started.
You might also resolve to do what some folks call “peak bagging”, an effort to reach all of the highest peaks within an area. To me, this sounds a little extreme and would likely require a waiver from a doctor. Why not go after something a little lower in altitude and visit as many lakes on the Peninsula as you can this next year? Start with those within the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area that are easily accessible and then move on to the Swan Lake and Swanson River Canoe Trails. Whether you “bag the lakes” in the winter via snowshoes and cross-country skis, or choose to use a canoe or kayak after break-up, there’s plenty of time to do your planning with maps that are provided at the Refuge.
During 2014, consider bagging as many rivers and named streams as possible on the Peninsula. Do this in your own boat or charter the services of one of the many guides that ply the Refuge. Visits to the Kenai, Kasilof, Moose, Funny, Russian or even the Swanson River do not require much effort, but getting to the Fox, Chickaloon, Killey and Skilak Rivers would require advanced planning.
If the thought of all of this travel wears you out, you can “sleeping-bag” our 16 cabins on the Refuge. We have two cabins that are free on a first-come first-served basis, and 14 cabins that require a reservation and fee (www.recreation.gov). Some of these cabins are just a short hike from a parking lot while others will require a snowmachine, snowshoes or skis in winter, or a boat or air taxi during summer. Refuge staff are happy to assist in your planning.
Whether you take one of these suggestions and make it your own, or re-create another resolution to kick that bad habit, we hope you take the time in 2014 to visit Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and enjoy the many natural wonders that it has to offer. Happy (almost) New Year everyone!
Steve Miller is the deputy manager at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. You can find more information about the Refuge at http://kenai.fws.gov or http://www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge.