Posted: Friday, February 09, 2007

Driving 12 miles south of Kenai on Kalifornsky Beach Road, at the southern junction of the Sterling Highway is Kasilof. Although home to roughly 500 residents, Kasilof itself is a geographic location rather than an established community that encompasses 11.4 sq. miles. Kasilof has no main street or central business district. But it is a community — a dynamic place with rich history, gorgeous scenery and colorful Alaska characters. You just have to know where to look.

The area has a history entrenched with Native Alaskan and Russian cultures. Traces of human habitation along the river date back about 3,000 years.

The Dena’ina Athabascan villages in the area, Kalifornsky Village north of the river and one south of the river at the place, called Humpy Point or Cape Kasilof, were abandoned in the 1920s.

Russian Kolomon fur traders of the Lebedef-Lastochkin Company found the river and built a post they called Fort St. George on its banks in 1786, making it the second-oldest documented settlement on the Kenai Peninsula after Nanwalek.

Five years later, a rival group of traders set up shop in Kenai, pillaged the Kasilof post and ran off its Native clientele. Fort St. George was abandoned, the area’s Russian headquarters shifted to Kenai. In 1882 the Alaska Packing Company established South-central Alaska’s first cannery. It was located where the Kasilof River flows into Cook Inlet, near the site of Fort St. George.

Commercial fishing as a source of income and way of life is a large part of the fabric that comprises the Kasilof region. Not unlike the family vineyards of the famed Sonoma Valley of California, Kasilof’s Cook Inlet beach camps offer the rare opportunity to see the commercial fishing industry up close.

Commercial fishing contributes greatly to the diversity of the area. Fishing organizations and area businesses have implemented value-added and quality control handling of the wild salmon harvest that make Cook Inlet salmon a world-renown delicacy.

The Kasilof River winds through the heart of Kasilof, beginning at the biggest lake on the Kenai Peninsula, Tustumena Lake. The lake is closed to king and sockeye salmon fishing and is prone to severe winds. The river is a popular salmon fishing destination, second only to the Kenai. This sport fishery offers a non-motorized fishing experience. The Kasilof River State Recreation Site is just past the bridge on the south side of town, with bank fishing available.

Johnson Lake State Recreation Area is a wooded, 332-acre campground surrounding Johnson Lake. Camping, fishing, canoeing and walking are popular activities in the area. The Crooked Creek State Recreation Site is located off North Cohoe and is a short walk from the confluence of Crooked Creek and the Kasilof River.

A visit to the Kasilof Historical Society Museum on Kaliforniski Beach Road is well worth the stop. Recently the group entered into an agreement with the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust to manage the Victor Holm cabin in Kasilof-Cohoe, one of the peninsula’s oldest buildings.

During the winter months, Kasilof is the training ground for several Iditarod mushers and the site of the annual Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race.

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