Retiring ranger still lured by river

Posted: Thursday, May 18, 2006

After 28 years of patrolling along the Kenai River as a state park ranger, Suzanne Fisler retired this month, but she has no intention of abandoning the Kenai Peninsula’s most prominent fresh water resource.

Oh, her husband Jack will be getting his wife back, and their two sons can expect more of mom’s help with their homework, Fisler says with a laugh, but she remains interested in the land management issues of the Kenai River resource.

Born in Carmel, Calif., Fisler left the central coastal town in 1975, moving to Sterling.

Three years later, she went to work for the Division of State Parks, beginning as a park technician at Izaak Walton State Recreation Area in Sterling.

“I painted picnic tables, picked up trash, talked to the visitors, a little of everything,” Fisler said Wednesday.

“In 1984, the Kenai River became a state park and the Division of State Parks focused its efforts on the Kenai River Basin,” she said.

Throughout her long career, Fisler remained in the Kenai River Special Management Area, serving in various positions from park ranger, to district ranger to chief ranger, working anywhere she was needed from Cooper Landing to Sterling and from Soldotna to Clam Gulch.

Like it has to untold thousands of visitors, the Kenai River captured the interest of Fisler.

When asked what she has enjoyed most about her career, she said, “Just being on the river.”

Winding up her career as a natural resources specialist, Fisler also said she liked working in land management.

She said the management area contains large tracts of land that might be wetland areas, and there are always proposals for putting in roads or boat ramps, or increasing public access in other ways.

“We need to look at what all the impacts are going to be,” she said, explaining consideration must be given to impacts on animals in the watershed as well as impacts on the river itself.

Over the years, Fisler has witnessed much development along the river.

“If you go back to the ‘70s and ‘80s, most of the land along the river was owned by Anchorage folks,” she said.

Now, as people retire and more move to the area, there has been a lot more development on the river, she said.

“The sockeye (salmon) fishery is a tremendous change from that time,” she said of the crowds of people trying to access the Kenai River to fish for reds.

Fisler said she also believes people know more about the river and its many resources than they once did.

“A lot of groups like the (Kenai) Watershed Forum are active in educating the public,” she said.

Fisler said she has been fortunate in that none of her encounters with bears have been bad while working on the river, and she does not recall any experiences with people that stand out while she was working law enforcement for state parks.

“I’ve been lucky,” she said.

Although Fisler said she has always enjoyed working with the public, she has gotten to know a lot of people in the community during her career, and will probably not miss always placing their issues before her own whenever she’s standing in line somewhere in town.

About the Kenai River as a resource, Fisler said increasing demand for places to camp and fish needs to be weighed against overburdening the resource.

“Limiting ourselves is the better choice,” she said. “It can’t be everything to everybody.”

Fisler said she can’t see why she would want to live anyplace other than on the Kenai Peninsula, and said she enjoys hunting, fishing, traveling, camping, cooking and gardening.

“... Being outside, like all Alaskans,” she said.

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