SOLDOTNA (AP) -- A bill that would add 8,000 acres to the state park that protects the Kenai River has passed in the state House of Representatives.
Rep. Ken Lancaster, the former mayor of Soldotna, sponsored the measure. It now heads to the Senate.
The land is prime fish habitat along the southern shore of Kenai Lake and parts of Upper and Lower Trail lakes. Supporters of the bill say it surrounds small fish-spawning creeks, and includes picnic beaches, boat-launching and fishing spots prized by residents of Cooper Landing and Moose Pass.
They want the upper river to remain as pristine as possible, protecting not only the Kenai's multimillion-dollar fisheries but also public access for recreation.
''We don't want gas stations around the edges of these lakes,'' Lancaster said.
House Bill 165 may run into objections, however. Borough Mayor Dale Bagley of Soldotna has long contended the borough should get rights to a chunk of the state land, including lakefront, which it could sell.
And Sen. John Torgerson has said he has reservations about expanding parks on the Kenai Peninsula. He said he's unsure whether the state parks division can manage more land without a budget increase.
Chris Degernes, Kenai Peninsula parks superintendent, said expanding the park system doesn't pose a huge challenge. Much of the acreage is forested, she said. Toilets might be added to a few spots and parking might be improved in others, she said.
''But it wouldn't be like adding another Russian River campground,'' Degernes said.
Biologists describe Kenai Lake and Trail Lake country as a critical nursery for young fish.
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