A Kenai-based nonprofit organization, dedicated to giving youngsters hands-on experience in restoring riverbank habitat, is eying a gravel pit near Quartz Creek as its next project.
Kelly Wolf, director of the Youth Restoration Corps, told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd Wednesday the group plans to make fish habitat out of the lake created by the gravel pit, which was used to supply materials for rebuilding the Sterling Highway between miles 37 and 45 the last two summers.
The five-day program will import 75 Young Marines from around the nation to pair up with local YRC youth in an effort to begin reclaiming the gravel pit, known as Liepitz Lake, and turning it into rearing habitat for salmon.
Wolf said the lake drains into the Kenai River. He calls it the "Bringing the Nation to Alaska" restoration project. Local youth will be pulled from the Russian River and Little Susitna YRC projects to help.
In a video Wolf showed about the project, Lance Trasky, regional director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Habitat Restoration, said YRC's involvement will speed up the reclamation process.
"If we left it up to nature, it would take 15 to 20 years," he said.
"The project is intended to begin restoring habitat while promoting environmental stewardship," Wolf said.
This will be year one of a three-year project, which is budgeted for $215,000.
The Russian River and Little Susitna YRC projects, which began last year, will continue this summer.
On the Russian River, where eroded banks were threatening archeological sites and fish rearing habitat, more than 200 feet of riverbank will be vegetated with a variety of methods this summer, according to the YRC schedule. By the end of summer 2002, it says close to 2,600 feet of bank will done.
The project also will revegetate 800 feet of old trails that have been replaced with habitat-friendly walkways constructed by the U.S. Forest Service. The project budget is $74,000, and it will run from May 29 to June 29.
On the Little Susitna, 900 feet of riverbank is scheduled to be rehabilitated. It is budgeted at $75,000, and work is scheduled from June 11 to July 6.
The Youth Restoration Corps was formed by Wolf in 1997. He said he had been a general contractor doing bank restoration when he decided to form the group.
"I thought, 'kids can do this,'" he said. "It really motivates kids."
Wolf has drummed up sponsorships from about 100 individuals, companies, organizations and both state and federal agencies.
"We're pretty proud of that support," he said. "We'd like to have more; we'd like to have 200."
YRC got more support from Phillips Alaska Inc. at the lunch, when Steve Arbelovsky of the Phillips liquefied natural gas plant in Nikiski presented Wolf with a check for $5,000.
The corps uses a variety of methods to shore up eroded riverbank, including straw logs, erosion control blankets made from coconut husks, transplanted sod and willows.
In Wolf's video, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer said fishers are loving the river to death by using the banks.
"Mother Nature can heal herself, but not when hundreds of thousands of people are trampling the banks," she said.
Wolf provided a shopping list detailing the food and equipment needs of YRC for this summer, including 100 shovels, 30 hoes, 500 feet of garden hose, 150 hard hats and two cases of insect repellent.
Business or individuals interested in supporting YRC's efforts can call Wolf at 262-1032.
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