Inability to get up road to refuge cancels event

Posted: Sunday, February 09, 2003

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge had to call of it's annual Family Fun Day on Saturday due to icy road conditions leading to and from refuge headquarters.

"It's a mess, basically," said Candice Ward, a park ranger at the refuge. "We had four people slide off the road trying to get out here."

"It's really slick," said Mark Wegner, an employee pulling people out of ditches with the refuge dually pick-up truck.

"This is a little abnormal. We get ice every year, but not this bad. The rain is making it a perpetual problem," Wegner said.

Despite the lack of snow and persistent rain, the refuge had every intention of holding the event Saturday.

However, as employees began arriving, concerns over the road conditions were running high.

The road grader was dispatched to give some texture to the slick surfaces of Ski Hill Road, but the grater had some trouble of its own on the ice.

"The grader went off the road, too," Ward said. "It went off not far from the refuge, down the steep hill heading toward Spenard's."

"I wasn't scared," said Steve Strecker, the man behind the wheel when it slid off. "I just hoped it didn't roll."

The front end of the grader came off the ground when it slid off the road, and there was a four- to five-foot drop off behind it.

"Al O'Guinn, our heavy equipment operator, came and drove it out," Strecker said after deferring to the more experienced O'Guinn.

"O'Guinn really saved the day."

The grader went back to work on the roads and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities came with a sand truck to aid efforts.

The fun day is an activity the refuge holds annually to deal with the cabin fever many Alaskans may be suffering from this time of year -- in a more typical winter.

The event features guided snowshoeing, a trek to the historic Andrew Berg cabin to learn what life was like in winter during the turn of the 20th century, and interactive lectures on the changes of nature and wildlife during the winter months.

Similar events were held at the refuge last month for peninsula Girl and Boy Scouts. This event was for the general public.

"You can't control Mother Nature," Ward said, trying to stay optimistic. "You just have to roll with the punches."

Refuge staff doubted the event would be rescheduled before the end of this winter.

"We'll just go for it next year," Ward said.

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