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Once-trashed fishing Kenai River areas reopen with improvements

Posted: Thursday, January 04, 2001

SOLDOTNA (AP) -- The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge expects to unveil two red salmon sportfishing boardwalks on a stretch of the Kenai River once so trashed that part of it was nicknamed ''the hog wallow.''

Closed to anglers for a couple of years, the bank-fishing spots will reopen this summer with parking, latrines and more than 1,000 feet of fiberglass and metal ramps fronting the river, most of it handicapped accessible.

The two sites are about a half-mile apart, just upstream from Soldotna in a neighborhood that's a mixture of expensive summer cabins, houses and sportfishing camps.

In strong red salmon years in the mid-1990s, the two undeveloped fishing spots attracted hordes of anglers who parked along the road, walked down a couple of public trails to the river and spread out along the bank. They cast wet flies into the current to play feisty red salmon.

''It got such high use that we ended up having to close it because the bank was sloughing off,'' said Jim Hall, assistant refuge manager. ''One place we nicknamed the hog wallow because so many people fished there it looked like hogs rooted up the river banks.''

Other park rangers referred to the spot as the buffalo wallow.

The new fishing access, owned and operated by the refuge, will be named Moose Range Meadows fishing access for the subdivision on both sides of the river there.

Flooding in 1995 tore up more of the shoreline, but greenery has returned in abundance in recent years, said Bill Kent, supervisory park ranger.

Federal disaster assistance money after the flood helped the refuge buy the riverfront property from the Salamatof Native Association, which owns Moose Range Meadows.

Crews began driving piles about this time last year, and work continued all last summer.

Both boardwalks are essentially ready to open, with only some steps off the boardwalks remaining to be built, Kent said.

Private, state and now federally funded fishing boardwalks have popped up along the Kenai in the past five years to provide fishing access without bank damage.

Untrammeled shoreline is seen as critical to salmon fisheries. The bug-filled eddies with overhanging branches are nurseries to juvenile salmon.

Opening ceremonies haven't been scheduled yet but likely will be held this spring, Hall said.

These two sites will allow fishing from the walkway as well as steps down to some productive gravel bars, Kent said.

The refuge even is considering providing some landing nets to make it easier for anglers who aren't able to get down into the river, he said.

''Hopefully, people will just use the landing nets and hang them back up. We're keeping our fingers crossed on that one.''

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(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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