Kenai harbors historic start of peninsula life

Posted: Saturday, April 20, 2002

The city of Kenai represents a cooperative amalgamation of salmon fishing, oil exploration and tourism. Within the city limits live 6,942 people who share the peninsula's hub for transportation, industry and history.

Kenai's original inhabitants, the Dena'ina, a tribe of Athabaskan Indians, and later the Russians and Americans, all made the mouth of the Kenai River the center of their presence on the peninsula.

Oil was discovered in 1957 near the Swanson River, causing rapid development and sustained growth, while commercial salmon fishing and tourism provide diversity to the economy.

Historic Old Town Kenai features Fort Kenay, a replica of the Russian Orthodox School built in 1900. The fort was constructed in 1967 in celebration of the Alaska purchase from the Russians 100 years earlier. It stands where the original fort was built in 1869, which also was the site of an earlier Russian fort (1791). Elsewhere in Old Town is the Kenai Bible Church, the Civic League Building, old Kenai jail and numerous homesteader cabins.

Visitors can enjoy self-guided walking tours of Old Town using a tour map available at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. The cultural center also offers a free summer interpretive program from June through August that features science on Mondays, art on Wednesdays and Alaska heritage on Fridays, at 3 p.m. each day.

This year's art extravaganza at the cultural center is "Spirit of Alaska: The Inner Landscape," featuring more than 90 artists from all over the state representing their feelings about living in Alaska and being Alaskans. General admission is $3.

Kenai is home to many parks and open spaces, including Erik Hansen Scout Park overlooking Cook Inlet and the mouth of the Kenai River, which bustles with activity during the commercial and dipnet salmon fisheries. From that vantage point, and from Cunningham Park on Beaver Loop Road, beluga whales often can be seen in the lower river chasing their next meal.

Wildlife viewing can be done at the Kenai River flats on Bridge Access Road.

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