A cow moose turns her gaze toward wildlife watchers while grazing with her calf in trees on the Kenai River flats alongside Bridge Access Road last weekend.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
From the grazing caribou, chirping shorebirds and honking waterfowl that arrive in spring, to the thousands of gulls that nest in summer, to the beluga whales and harbor seals that swim by in fall, the Kenai River flats and public boat launch area are a wonderful place to view wildlife.
Biologists have identified 31 different taxonomic groups of animals in this area, with individual numbers in the millions. But not everyone knows how rich this site is in animal diversity.
All that may soon change, as this area and as many as 63 other wildlife viewing sites around the Kenai Peninsula become unified into a highway-based driving itinerary called the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail.
“The state is in the process of putting it together now,” said Ken Tarbox, a retired research project leader with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Tarbox is part of a 50-person partnership between the general public, local agencies and businesses that are working to develop the trail. Work will include signs to identify the site as a good spot for wildlife watching, but will not include improvements to the landscape.
“People will be able to drive along the road, go to a sightseeing guide, and learn about what they can expect to see, where and when,” Tarbox said.
A draft map of a highway-based driving itinerary called the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail has 64 sites regionally divided into four color-coded groups.
Map courtesy of Ken Tarbox
Sites will be regionally divided into four groups, will not be more than 40 miles apart and almost all will be vehicle accessible.
Tarbox emphasized that this project will not change the existing status of designated sites for use by the general public.
“They will continue to be multiple user sites for fishing, hunting or whatever. This will just highlight where people can look for wildlife and enjoy Alaska,” he said.
The project is based on similar trail projects that started showing up in the Lower 48 roughly 10 years ago, but have since spread to more than 30 states across the country. The trails brought with them an economic influx from in-state resident users as well as tourists who stayed longer and spent more.
“Wildlife watchers are particularly good for the economy,” Tarbox said, and cited several sources, such as a 2001 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey that found that nationally, wildlife watchers spent $38 billion on travel and equipment in pursuing their pastime, compared to other user groups, such as fisherman and hunters, which only spent $36 billion and $21 billion, respectively.
The trail project is already under way, according to Tarbox. Much of it, to this point, has entailed reaching out to the public for input and ideas through local chambers of commerce.
Proposed sites are being assessed to identify wildlife viewing opportunities, and a writer has been selected to write the narratives for the planned 50-75 page, interpretive wildlife viewing trail guide, according to Tarbox.
“The target deadline to have the trail guide out is March 2007,” he said, and added that a federal grant has already been secured to offset the cost to produce it.
The development of a Web site is also planned as part of the project. It would expand on content from the trail guide, as well as having links to information about wildlife species, educational events and festivals.
Signs may come in the summer of 2007 or later, Tarbox said, in regard to highway signs that would identify viewing sites with the nationally recognized binocular logo. Funding for these signs is still being sought.
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