Editor's note: This is the first in a planned three-part series on Soldotna and Kenai city parks and what they offer to residents and visitors.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Captain Cook State Recreation Area are hard to miss on the Kenai Peninsula, but many smaller parks and playgrounds, as well as city-run campgrounds easily can go unnoticed because of their size or out-of-the-way locations.
Even with a good map, Sunrise Park in Soldotna, for instance, is not easy to find, and a number of longtime residents don't even know it exists.
In larger cities it would be described as a pocket park, nestled in a residential neighborhood aptly on Sunrise Avenue not far from South Kobuk Street. After passing a row of residential lots on Kobuk and turning west onto Sunrise, the park appears as a wide open athletic field suited to soccer and lacrosse. Equipped with goals, the field also is fitted with a baseball backstop.
Another out-of-the-way, though much better known Soldotna park is Swiftwater Park and Campground on East Redoubt Avenue -- that's the street that runs east behind the Fred Meyer store from the Sterling Highway.
Bordering the bank of the Kenai River, the park offers camping for $16 a night and day use for $6. Besides the 60 developed campsites, the park has about 800 feet of elevated boardwalk and fish-walk platforms for anglers who want to fish from the river's edge without doing damage to the sensitive riparian ecosystem.
Firewood and ice are available for sale at the campground, which has potable water, outhouses, picnic tables and fire pits. The park also has a boat launch ramp and plenty of parking for day users.
With hundreds of feet of elevated boardwalk, Rotary Park is a favored spot for landing a sockeye, silver or pink salmon from the famed Kenai River. Another Soldotna park somewhat off the beaten path, Rotary can be reached by driving about 2.5 miles on Funny River Road from the intersection of the Sterling Highway and Kalifornsky Beach Road. Equipped only with a port-a-potty, the park requires a $6 day use fee, and overnight camping is not allowed.
Though many people think it's part of Soldotna Creek Park in the heart of the city, Pioneer Park, the flower garden along the Sterling Highway, is actually considered to be a park in itself. According to the city's Web site, the garden has "spectacular flowers and greenery that surprise most first-time guests and are known to bring a tear of appreciation to the eye of visiting 'green thumbs.'"
Not far away is Farnsworth Park, designed for the active youngsters of Soldotna. Located along Birch Street across the Sterling Highway from Pioneer Gardens, the park features swing sets, slides and spring toys for children. A pavilion also is available by reservation, and benches around the grassy perimeter provide a great spot for adults to keep a watchful eye on their young charges.
Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael said the city has approved the purchase of new playground equipment for the park, expected to be installed later this summer.
Youth who are a little older are attracted to the popular gated skateboard park on Karen Street and its metal quarter pipes, boxes and rails in differing shapes and sizes.
The public skateboard park is open during daylight hours from May through September, but closed when the ramps are wet. To get to Karen Street Park, people heading north on the Kenai Spur Highway should turn right on Karen Street and head toward the hills. Just before the foot of the hills, the park is on the right.
The next part of this series will feature Kenai city parks.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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