Current weather

  • Scattered clouds
  • 54°
    Scattered clouds

Waterfowl worries surround trail across Kenai River flats

Posted: Monday, April 02, 2001

A bike path across the Kenai River flats could be the shining link in a route between Soldotna and Kenai. But some fear it could spell trouble for migrating waterfowl.

"We have tens of thousands of waterfowl coming through that area," said retired Alaska Depart-ment of Fish and Game fishery biologist Ken Tarbox. "They're not like Potter Marsh birds, used to human activity. They're wild birds, very wary of human activity. If you even get out of your car, they fly. A bike path with people on bikes and dogs may keep these birds moving to where they abandon the area altogether."

The river flats are renowned nationwide as a place to watch migrating snow geese.

Tarbox said it makes no sense to jeopardize the birds.

"There's a perception of a public mandate for this project. I don't think the public understands what it may be giving up," he said. "The cost of this project may be far more than any benefits we may see. There are hundreds of people who enjoy driving across the flats and watching the birds."

Kenai City Manager Rick Ross said the Unity Trail has been the dream of many local residents.

"It's been the city of Soldotna, the city of Kenai and all kinds of recreational users that have suggested for years that there should be some kind of trail looping between the two communities," he said.

"I think most of the concerns that were brought up can be addressed in construction or through regulatory means. Some people say the birds see the dogs and take off. Maybe we can keep the dogs out."

The state already has built the 6.5-mile segment along Kaliforn-sky Beach Road from Soldotna to Bridge Access Road, and a 2.5-mile segment down the Kenai Spur Highway from Bridge Access toward Kenai Central High School. Construction is to begin this summer on the remaining $2.8-million, 10.5-mile path down the Spur to Soldotna.

That would leave only the 3.3-mile link paralleling Bridge Access Road. Now, state highway planners are rooting out environmental concerns with that $3.8-million trail. They met last week with state and federal resource agencies.

More than 100 species of ducks, geese, cranes, shorebirds and other birds visit the flats each spring, said Randall Davis, a state fishery biologist who has counted the birds each year since 1986, when he helped with a banding study of snow and cackling Canada geese. A few birds, including sandhill cranes, harriers and parasitic jaegers, stay to nest, he said, but the most just rest and feed, then resume their migrations.

The snow geese stop midway through the 3,000-mile migration from the Skagit-Fraser valley in British Columbia to nesting grounds on Wrangell Island off Siberia, he said.

Arctic terns stop en route from the southern tip of South America to nesting grounds as far north as Nome.

"There are lots of studies that indicate the presence of families, children and pets negatively impacts migrating birds," Davis said. "Each time they flush, it's time wasted from what they need to be doing, which is resting and restoring their energy supplies."

Geese in poor condition may not survive to Wrangell Island, he said. If they do, they may lay fewer eggs, or fewer of their young may survive.

Glenda Landua, a state habitat biologist, said highway planners put three alternatives on the table -- a paved bike path separate from Bridge Access Road, a paved path abutting the highway embankment, and the option to build parts or all of the path using elevated, grated walkways that let light reach the plants beneath.

Birds are not the only concern, she said. Young salmon and trout use three small streams that drain the flats.

"There are also caribou calving and moving back and forth across the wetlands. We know dogs can do a lot of damage, and they're difficult to control," she said.

A grated walkway could block moose and caribou, she said.

Joggers, cyclists and their pets already use the shoulders, she said, but with a trail, many more will come.

"I understand that there's a lot of community support for this project, because our communities lack these trails and places to get out with these wonderful views," she said. "I'm not sure people realize, with human intrusion, the impact there will be on the wetlands."

If the purpose is to provide trails for bikers and joggers, she said, there are less sensitive areas to build trails. If the purpose is to improve wildlife-viewing opportunities, she said, there may be better solutions, such as building a nature trail on Birch Island or screening the existing bird-watching area so that watchers do not scare off the birds.

Davis said a bike path from Kenai to the viewing area on the west side of Bridge Access Road probably would not do much harm, but the impact of a trail from there to the bridge would be significant.

A compromise might be to build a trail to the viewing area, use the road shoulder from there to the bridge, cross to Birch Island, then build a trail along that side of the highway to K-Beach. Seasonal closures also might help, since migrating birds use the flats mainly in April and May.

"I think there are options to do something for the bikers and minimize the impacts on wildlife," Davis said.

Ross said the shoulder could be dangerous for joggers and cyclists, and Davis' ideas are one end of a spectrum.

"Maybe that's what Randall wants, but that may not be where it ends up," he said.

John Dickenson, project manager for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said planners must analyze the issues and determine whether there are significant environmental impacts.

They hope to complete preliminary design and environmental work by July 1, then complete formal environmental documents and permitting by February 2002. Their analysis must fairly weigh the no-build alternative, he said. If the project proceeds, construction could be in 2004.

HEAD:Waterfowl worries surround trail across Kenai River flats

BYLINE1:By DOUG LOSHBAUGH

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

A bike path across the Kenai River flats could be the shining link in a route between Soldotna and Kenai. But some fear it could spell trouble for migrating waterfowl.

"We have tens of thousands of waterfowl coming through that area," said retired Alaska Depart-ment of Fish and Game fishery biologist Ken Tarbox. "They're not like Potter Marsh birds, used to human activity. They're wild birds, very wary of human activity. If you even get out of your car, they fly. A bike path with people on bikes and dogs may keep these birds moving to where they abandon the area altogether."

The river flats are renowned nationwide as a place to watch migrating snow geese.

Tarbox said it makes no sense to jeopardize the birds.

"There's a perception of a public mandate for this project. I don't think the public understands what it may be giving up," he said. "The cost of this project may be far more than any benefits we may see. There are hundreds of people who enjoy driving across the flats and watching the birds."

Kenai City Manager Rick Ross said the Unity Trail has been the dream of many local residents.

"It's been the city of Soldotna, the city of Kenai and all kinds of recreational users that have suggested for years that there should be some kind of trail looping between the two communities," he said.

"I think most of the concerns that were brought up can be addressed in construction or through regulatory means. Some people say the birds see the dogs and take off. Maybe we can keep the dogs out."

The state already has built the 6.5-mile segment along Kaliforn-sky Beach Road from Soldotna to Bridge Access Road, and a 2.5-mile segment down the Kenai Spur Highway from Bridge Access toward Kenai Central High School. Construction is to begin this summer on the remaining $2.8-million, 10.5-mile path down the Spur to Soldotna.

That would leave only the 3.3-mile link paralleling Bridge Access Road. Now, state highway planners are rooting out environmental concerns with that $3.8-million trail. They met last week with state and federal resource agencies.

More than 100 species of ducks, geese, cranes, shorebirds and other birds visit the flats each spring, said Randall Davis, a state fishery biologist who has counted the birds each year since 1986, when he helped with a banding study of snow and cackling Canada geese. A few birds, including sandhill cranes, harriers and parasitic jaegers, stay to nest, he said, but the most just rest and feed, then resume their migrations.

The snow geese stop midway through the 3,000-mile migration from the Skagit-Fraser valley in British Columbia to nesting grounds on Wrangell Island off Siberia, he said.

Arctic terns stop en route from the southern tip of South America to nesting grounds as far north as Nome.

"There are lots of studies that indicate the presence of families, children and pets negatively impacts migrating birds," Davis said. "Each time they flush, it's time wasted from what they need to be doing, which is resting and restoring their energy supplies."

Geese in poor condition may not survive to Wrangell Island, he said. If they do, they may lay fewer eggs, or fewer of their young may survive.

Glenda Landua, a state habitat biologist, said highway planners put three alternatives on the table -- a paved bike path separate from Bridge Access Road, a paved path abutting the highway embankment, and the option to build parts or all of the path using elevated, grated walkways that let light reach the plants beneath.

Birds are not the only concern, she said. Young salmon and trout use three small streams that drain the flats.

"There are also caribou calving and moving back and forth across the wetlands. We know dogs can do a lot of damage, and they're difficult to control," she said.

A grated walkway could block moose and caribou, she said.

Joggers, cyclists and their pets already use the shoulders, she said, but with a trail, many more will come.

"I understand that there's a lot of community support for this project, because our communities lack these trails and places to get out with these wonderful views," she said. "I'm not sure people realize, with human intrusion, the impact there will be on the wetlands."

If the purpose is to provide trails for bikers and joggers, she said, there are less sensitive areas to build trails. If the purpose is to improve wildlife-viewing opportunities, she said, there may be better solutions, such as building a nature trail on Birch Island or screening the existing bird-watching area so that watchers do not scare off the birds.

Davis said a bike path from Kenai to the viewing area on the west side of Bridge Access Road probably would not do much harm, but the impact of a trail from there to the bridge would be significant.

A compromise might be to build a trail to the viewing area, use the road shoulder from there to the bridge, cross to Birch Island, then build a trail along that side of the highway to K-Beach. Seasonal closures also might help, since migrating birds use the flats mainly in April and May.

"I think there are options to do something for the bikers and minimize the impacts on wildlife," Davis said.

Ross said the shoulder could be dangerous for joggers and cyclists, and Davis' ideas are one end of a spectrum.

"Maybe that's what Randall wants, but that may not be where it ends up," he said.

John Dickenson, project manager for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said planners must analyze the issues and determine whether there are significant environmental impacts.

They hope to complete preliminary design and environmental work by July 1, then complete formal environmental documents and permitting by February 2002. Their analysis must fairly weigh the no-build alternative, he said. If the project proceeds, construction could be in 2004.



CONTACT US

  • 150 Trading Bay Rd, Kenai, AK 99611
  • Switchboard: 907-283-7551
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-283-3584
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Business Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-335-1257
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING

MORRIS ALASKA NEWS