Bed and breakfast operator Marta Eldridge, Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center Director Mya Renken and Father Macarius Targonsky share a laugh during a bus tour through Old Town Kenai on Friday morning. People involved in the tourism industry shared information on Kenai highlights during the tour through town.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Local tour industry workers switched rolls Thursday as they gazed at Kenai through the windows of a tour bus and answered questions about their local knowledge.
“How many people remember the Fine Arts Center as being a jail?” asked Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center Director Mya Renken, as the bus trolled slowly through Old Town Kenai for bits of history.
The visitors center invited local tourist industry workers to participate a workshop and take the bus tour last week to help them become better guides for the visitors who will soon flock to Kenai.
The Kenai Fine Arts Center and Potters Guild, which still contains a jail cell, sells locally crafted artwork and is just one of several stops recommended in Old Town Kenai.
Before a peruse through local artwork, for example, visitors might want to stop at the quaint little coffee house just down the road for for a fresh cup of joe. From Veronica’s coffee house visitors can gaze on the blue and white Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church and its three cross-topped domes, or cupolas representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Just a hop away from Veronica’s is a trail leading down to the beach and mouth of the Kenai River where visitors can go to watch the wild circus that ensues during dipnet season.
Those who are feeling a little sinful might want to stick around until later in the day and visit Kenai Joe’s, a small wooden building shedding small flakes of gray paint and peeking from beneath modest blue trim. Kenai Joe’s is the area’s oldest bar, according to Renken.
And Old Town Kenai history may be found in some unexpected places. The somewhat plain apartment buildings perched on the bluff overlooking the shoreline, for example, also have a story to tell.
“Even though they don’t look like a part of our history, they are,” Renken said.
The apartment buildings are a product of the oil boom in the area and were built to house extra workers, she said.
Thursday’s tour was attended by people both steeped in the local community and newly transplanted.
Jim and Joanne Terrell, for example, just arrived in Kenai on Tuesday to work at Diamond M Ranch for the summer, and were getting there first glimpse of areas they would soon be recommending to other newcomers.
But even people who have lived through many years of change in the area joined the bus tour to learn more about Kenai.
“(I came) just to see what the new things are,” said Marta Eldrige, who owns a bed and breakfast in Kenai. “When you’ve been here 20 years it’s just nice to come out and see what’s new ... to get a sharper image.”
As the tour rolled on to view other areas of town, riders received tips on where to send visitors for good birding from Josselyn Burk, office manager at the Kenai Watershed Forum.
Burk said it’s always a good idea to keep activities for birders in mind since their typically large disposable incomes and sense of environmental stewardship makes them ideal tourists.
For early visitors, shorebird-watching opportunities in Kenai abound.
“This time of year especially, the shorebirds are fantastic,” Burk said.
For viewing Burk recommended turning off Bridge Access Road toward shore and the city of Kenai Public Dock and then turn right where the road takes you to a patch of wetlands.
“That little patch of wetlands is a phenomenal shorebird viewing area,” she said.
A second option can be reached by turning off of Kalifornsky Beach Road onto Cannery Road and driving until the road ends.
“It looks kind of strange because you have some industrial things (near the road’s end), but it’s great birding,” she said.
Bird talk on the bus prompted Renken to throw out a quiz question that everyone seemed to know the answer to.
“Where can you see eagles, but we tend not to want to send our visitors?” she said.
Nearly everyone responded, “the dump.”
The tour wrapped up at Kenai Landing, an old cannery recently converted into a shopping center with a restaurant and lodging.
Beneath the shops, planks from the original cannery still floor the building. In fact, the shopping center and other Kenai Landing buildings maintain many of the features that mark their history as part of the old cannery.
And after a day of shopping, visitors can amble into the Kenai Landing Sockeye Restaurant and Lodge next door for a meal by the sea.
Patrick McCaffry, a one-year transplant and employee at a lodge in Soldotna, said the tour introduced him to areas he had never seen before and gave him ideas that he can pass onto visitors and utilize himself.
“It’s nice to know what to do when you’re on your own in the winter here,” he said. “I’ve never seen downtown Kenai before through the old area. That was my first time.”
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