Damaged campsites await funds from floods

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2003

Campers looking to pitch tents and boaters expecting to launch into Cook Inlet at Deep Creek beach this spring could be in for a bit of a shock.

Last fall's severe flooding destroyed the Deep Creek beach double-boat launch ramp and wiped out one end of the campground's parking lot and upward of 30 camping sites.

State parks officials notified campers of the unrepaired damage in a press release last week, announcing the state would begin collecting seasonal park-use fees May 1.

"Deep Creek is really a mess now," said Chris Degernes, Kenai area parks superintendent.

Repair crews are working to fix as much of the damage as rapidly as they can and hope to have some campsites cleared and day parking restored by next week.

"But the boat ramp will not be replaced at least in the early part of the season, and it is questionable for the year," Degernes said.

"The river is still changing on a weekly basis. It's kind of like dominoes falling. There's been a significant hydrological regime change. As a result, one hydrologist we talked to recommended not replacing the ramp immediately."

Those used to launching their boats at the beach ramp may be able to use a tractor service operating there. Otherwise, they would have to use the Ninilchik River Boat Launch, a site Degernes called marginal.

"It is a ways up the river and takes quite a bit more water (tides) to get in and out of that one. It's not popular," she said.

Other campgrounds on the Kenai Peninsula also suffered damage due to flooding. As a result, campers should be prepared for changed conditions at some of their favorite sites. Some repairs have been made; others will take more time, Degernes said.

Flooding washed out Clam Gulch Road, but that's been repaired, and the Clam Gulch State Recreation Area is fully operational.

"A lot of people have been calling on that one," she said.

In the Ninilchik area, floods caused damage at Ninilchik Beach, Deep Creek Beach Camp-ground and two park areas along the Sterling Highway at the southern end of Ninilchik called the Deep Creek North and Deep Creek South facilities. Those did not suffer the level of damage that the Deep Creek beach camping area did, but so far at least, disaster aid expected for the Ninilchik area repairs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been slow to appear, Degernes said.

With the Memorial Day weekend fast approaching, the Alaska Division of Parks likely will have to use its own funds and in-house crews to make many of the repairs in the Ninilchik area. That would render those repairs ineligible for federal reimbursement because FEMA rules require the work to be done by bidding contractors, Degernes said.

Further south, four of the five campgrounds at the Anchor River State Recreation Area were damaged in the flooding.

"Of the four, three are not too bad," she said. "We have picnic tables buried in gravel up to their tops, but that's not really a problem."

That material can be cleared away, she said.

"The Slide Hole Campground had more damage. That's one of the more popular ones. The gravel roads and campsites were washed out."

The good news for the Anchor River is that FEMA money has been provided for damage repairs there, Degernes said.

Twin Peaks Construction of Anchor Point has the contract for the repair work, which will include importing new gravel, cleaning up debris and retrieving facilities buried in gravel.

Repairs should be completed by May 20, in time for the Memorial Day weekend when Anchor River campsites typically fill to capacity, she said.

While not damaged by flooding, the Bing's Landing Camp-ground in Sterling suffered beetle-kill and wind damage over the winter.

Cleanup operations are under way, and the boat launch facility is open, Degernes said.

"That was just plain old Mother Nature and the beetles," she said.

It's pretty much just post-winter cleanup at other state campgrounds on the Kenai Peninsula, she said.

Parks crews are on their normal spring start-up schedule but are playing catch-up, nevertheless, primarily because the predominantly good weather has led many campers into state recreation sites far earlier than normal, Degernes said.

"Mother Nature was really ahead of us this year," she said.

Across Kachemak Bay, where a network of wilderness trails lures thousands of visitors each year, hundreds of downed beetle-killed spruce trees are blocking many trails. It will be early June before many get any attention at all, she said.

College-age volunteers typically make up seasonal trail crews. They are being hired now but must complete a training program before being cut loose into the trail system to do their work.

Degernes said it is one of the Alaska Division of Parks most popular summer employment programs.

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