For the second time in as many years the Kenai Watershed Forum (KWF) was responsible for an outdoor joint meeting of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce. Last year it was the occasion of the opening of the new culvert installation on College Road and last week as the wind swept across the flats at the Kenai City Dock, chamber members gathered for the official opening of the new Kenai Wildlife Viewing Platform. "We like to get the community outside to see some of the work we do," said KWF Executive Director Robert Ruffner, "This particular project is very exciting for us to have completed. To have this facility open where people can come and be elevated ten to twelve feet off the ground and be able to view the unique shore birds and wildlife that congregate here at the Kenai River estuary is a great community accomplishment," said Ruffner. As he spoke, sand hill cranes, formations of geese and other water fowl winged over head in aerial display underscoring the advantage of the new facility.
Chamber members heard from Ruffner and retired biologist Ken Tarbox how the platform came into being and the economic impact the platform is expected to have on the local community, "Nine million Americans say they are interested in traveling where they can view wildlife and you can probably double or triple that number in Europe and Japan. Facilities like this are a magnet for these visitors. With the diversity of habitat on display here, the river and the river bank, the marsh and estuary and fresh water ponds and forest area with these diversity of habitats come a lot of different birds and the flats here alone have over 125 different species recorded of the 275 total species recorded on the Peninsula so you can see this is an excellent spot for birding and wildlife adventures," said Tarbox.
"During the building of this platform it has been amazing to me how many people have shown up not from Alaska, but Europe with a check list of birds that they want to make sure they see that are unique to this area and no doubt this new facility will be a draw to the area," added Ruffner. He estimated the total project cost was nearly $130,000 acknowledging that the lion's share of those funds came from a single donation from ConocoPhillips, "They have been working with us at a number of sites across the Kenai Peninsula to improve wildlife viewing trails as one of their programs," added Ruffner. "I'm very proud of my company and the investments they are willing to make in our communities for habitat protection and conservation issues and especially for education and opportunities for our young people and the Watershed Forum is one of our favorite partners because the results of their projects benefit everyone involved and especially our natural resources, fish and wildlife here on the Peninsula," said Peter Micciche representing ConocoPhillips at the event.
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