Kenai harbors historic beginnings

Posted: Saturday, May 26, 2001

Salmon fishing, oil exploration and tourism all coexist within the confines of the city of Kenai, population 6,942. It is the peninsula's historic, industrial and transportation hub.

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.

Kenai information sources

City of Kenai

Phone: (907) 283-7535

World Wide Web:

Kenai Parks & Recreation Department

(Kenai Recreation Center)

Phone: (907) 283-3855

Kenai Chamber of Commerce

Phone: (907) 283-7989



Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center

Phone: (907) 283-1991



Challenger Learning Center of Alaska

Phone: (907) 283-2000



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 take guided walking tours of Old Town from June to August for $5. The tours begin at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Overland Avenue and end at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.

There also are maps at the cultural center for self-guided tours.

The cultural center offers a free summer interpretive program from June through August that features science on Mondays, art on Wednesdays and Native heritage on Fridays, at 3 p.m. each day.

This year's art extravaganza at the cultural center is "2001: A Fish Odyssey," featuring more than 100 original pieces of art exploring the peninsula's relationship with fish. It will be on display seven days a week. General admission is $3.

The city of 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 can be seen in the lower river, chasing their next meal.

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

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