Summer on the Kenai Peninsula means great times in the great outdoors! For many, summer also means fishing fun on the Kenai River.
Over 150,000 people fish the confluence of the Russian and Kenai Rivers every year. This much loved river system has, at times, been over loved by its visitors. It wasn’t so long ago that this area was in bad shape. After decades of hipboots and waders trampling stream banks, riparian vegetation showed signs of wear and tear. Without roots to hold the soil, erosion began to destabilize banks and degrade water quality. Once sediment enters the water, it stresses fish populations both by styming their breathing but also by smothering their eggs. Something needed to be done.
In 1994, the USDA Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service decided to forge an interagency volunteer effort to thwart the damage that the upper Kenai and Russian Rivers were experiencing. In addition to fencing habitat and introducing fishing boardwalks, the Stream Watch program was born. This program proposed to train and organize volunteers who serve as advisory ambassadors, providing information on conservation efforts, fishing regulations and ethical angling.
Flash forward 16 years and the Stream Watch program is thriving much like the riverbanks that the volunteers strive to protect. Stream Watch has become a vital volunteer program that strives to protect the world-class salmon fisheries of the Kenai River through peer-to-peer education and environmental stewardship. Each summer, volunteers collectively donate an average of 900 hours to engage more than 4,000 people and collect over 500 pounds of trash! Since the program’s inception, many of our riverside areas have been restored to their natural state.
This summer promises to be even more productive as the Stream Watch program expands to protect the lower Kenai River through partnerships with the City of Soldotna, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and Alaska State Parks. The award-winning and highly-effective Stream Watch program expects to grow from 60 trained volunteers to over 80 as the program expands to protect areas along the lower Kenai River including Moose Range Meadows, Bings Landing and Centennial Park.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge maintains two boardwalks for anglers to use at Moose Range Meadows. The Federal government has easements for land that includes the river bank and as much as 140 feet back in some areas. The public can access this land much of the year, but property owners cannot build any kind of structures except removable boardwalks for habitat protection (with a special permit). There is also no public access to the riverbank during July 1- August 15 but boardwalks are available as fishing platforms. Stream Watch ambassadors will help share this information so that conservation efforts can continue as river users stay informed about best angling practices.
The Stream Watch program is currently seeking volunteer ambassadors to join the dedicated group of over 60 volunteers who, once trained, promote river stewardship on the Kenai River. Trained Stream Watch Ambassadors commit to at least three days on the river between June and September. Campsites are available for volunteers who need them.
People interested in helping out should attend the Stream Watch Volunteer Orientation Saturday, June 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, please contact Stream Watch Coordinator Lisa Beranek at 398-4304 or visit http://www.kenaiwatershed.org/streamwatch.html.
Lisa Beranek is the Stream Watch Coordinator and can be reached at StreamWatch@kenaiwatershed.org.