Kenai hopes to attract flocks of birders: Groups get nest egg to educate visitors, locals

Posted: Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Kenai Convention & Visitors Bureau and Kenai Birders are hoping to market the Peninsula as a wildlife-viewing mecca by enhancing the Kenai wildlife viewing platform and trail as well as beginning a winter birding celebration.

Clarion File Photo
Clarion File Photo
A gull flies above the Kenai River last summer. Local birders are looking to improve a couple of different bird watching sites.

"Wildlife viewing is a really important reason people come to the Kenai Peninsula," said Natasha Ala of the Kenai Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Kenai wildlife viewing platform was completed last spring by the Kenai Watershed Forum. It is part of the Peninsula's wildlife viewing stations that extend along the highway from Potter Marsh to Seldovia. Last summer, the platform was a popular place for visitors and locals to go and observe the birds on the flats.

"The Kenai flats is a major viewing spot among the trail," said Ken Tarbox, the vice-president of Kenai Birders and a major force behind developing wildlife viewing in the area. The U.S. Forest Service had 3,000 individual contacts on the wildlife viewing trail last year, he said.

Because of the high interest in wildlife and subsequent traffic on the Peninsula, Tarbox has been working to embrace it by obtaining nearly $100,000 in state and federal grants to improve the area beginning with an audio cell phone tour this spring.

The tour will consist of 8 x 10-inch plaques around the platform on topics like migratory birds and the explosive Mount Redoubt with phone numbers to call and learn more, Ala said.

This new cell-phone tour also will serve more than just an educational purpose. Ala said that with the interactive displays the visitors bureau will be able to capture statistics.

"We'll be able to find out how many people call and where they're from," she said. "Our goal as a visitors center is to promote this to visitors and locals alike. We're just really excited about getting the signage and the audio tour and getting people out to enjoy the wildlife."

And the audio tour is just one of the upcoming improvements to spark more interest in the area's animals.

Tarbox's vision of a winter birding celebration in the central Peninsula starting next year is something to attract attention during the off-season.

"What happens here in winter is a lot of people think the summers over and birding is gone.

"Right now down at the river mouth there's a Slaty-backed gull, Iceland gull, and White-throated sparrow. I don't think we've ever recorded them in the central Peninsula here," he said. "We have these birds people would come here to see."

He said he also wants to promote birding as a winter activity for locals. The same grant that will develop the birding celebrations also provides for more educational resources for local teachers to use the viewing platform.

Tarbox said he hopes to have some 150 participants in this spring's birding celebration and 25 in the first winter one.

"We're going slow here," he said. "We don't want to promise outcomes we can't deliver."

Another grant will develop a Web site for the spring and winter Kenai birding celebrations that will be updated daily with wildlife sightings and plugged into other social media sites.

"We'll be Twittering our bird sightings," Ala said. The Web site could also serve as a resource for the Kenai Peninsula School District.

Tarbox's goal for the wildlife viewing trail is to have entrance and exit signs for each of the four major sections of the trail and 12 sites with individual turn off signs.

"Kenai is perfect for a central location to develop this trail," he said, adding that these types of improvements could be a new economic input to the city.

Ala said she was excited to see developments and the ongoing project come to fruition.

"When these things get going they really take on a life of their own," she said, referencing the rapid growth of the Kenai River Marathon. "Birders are a little OCD."

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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