Editor's note: This is the second in a planned three-part series on Kenai and Soldotna city parks and what they offer to residents and visitors.
"Amazed" is a good word to use to describe the reaction of visitors spilling out of their campers at Erik Hansen Scout Park in Old Town Kenai when they realize they're looking at the very end of the world famous Kenai River as it empties into Cook Inlet, or when they gaze across the inlet at no fewer than three live volcanoes.
A good number of the tourists also are surprised to see the various plants and colorful flowers adorning several flower beds carefully planted and maintained by community volunteers and Parks and Recreation Department staff members.
"How can these things grow way up here in Alaska?" they wonder.
Hansen Scout Park is just one of a dozen city parks in Kenai offering amenities from passive bench sitting to disc golf and baseball.
Not far away is Old Town Park at 816 Cook Ave., next to the Art Guild. The park offers three playground stations with a swing set, a half-court basketball net, a small shelter with a picnic table and a small barbecue grill.
Another Hansen park -- this one Leif Hansen Memorial Park -- is a bit easier to find along the Kenai Spur Highway in the heart of Kenai. With its veterans' and mariners' memorials, it is often the site of civic ceremonies paying tribute to Kenai military servicemen and -women. A gazebo is available to reserve for weddings and memorial services.
One of Kenai's larger downtown parks is the Kenai Park Strip, which runs along Main Street Loop north of the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.
With a sanded volleyball court, four softball fields and a skateboard park, the park strip has much to offer for the more active set. The facility also has a large, covered shelter available to reserve with electricity, picnic tables, four small grills and a larger outside grill. Permanent restroom facilities are available, as well.
Municipal Park on South Forest Drive is another large Kenai park. Located next to the bluff overlooking Cook Inlet, the park has two covered shelters with picnic tables and a Kenai Lions Club handicap-accessible trail and picnic sites. Park visitors also can access the beach below by way of a walking trail from the park. Other amenities include a playground area, basketball court, sanded volleyball court, a covered lookout and a permanent restroom.
Although camping is not allowed in Municipal Park, it is permitted on North Beach to the left of South Spruce Street, where beachgoers also enjoy beach fires. Camping is not allowed to the right of Spruce Street, but campfires are allowed, preferably in fire rings placed there by the city.
The area becomes one of the most popular destinations in Kenai during the annual personal-use salmon dipnet fishery. Hundreds of Alaska residents stand nearly shoulder to shoulder, chest deep in the water, attempting to net spawning sockeye salmon as they return to the Kenai River.
On the way to the beach access from Spruce Street, motorists will pass the Kenai Little League fields. Four fields are equipped with dugouts, bleachers, scoreboards, scorekeepers' boxes and a snack shack.
To accommodate fans of the newly popular disc golf, Kenai's East End Trail near the Peninsula Oilers baseball stadium offers an 18-hole course. The community trail also is used for walking, cross-country skiing and biking. The total length of the trail is three-fourths of a mile.
One of the few places for the public to access the lower Kenai River for bank fishing is Cunningham Park on Beaver Loop Road, not far from Bridge Access Road. Site amenities include a boardwalk, two benches, a picnic table and permanent restroom. A great spot to land a red, silver or even king salmon, anglers are advised to bring along a pair of knee boots or hip waders as the bank gets progressively muddier with the ebbing tide.
Birdwatchers have two favorite spots to enjoy their pastime in Kenai -- the Kenai wildlife viewing area along Bridge Access Road and the new bird viewing platform off the city's boat launch road. Overlooking the Kenai River tidal flood plains, the areas offer up scores of bird species from various gulls to arctic terns, snow geese, sand hill cranes and bald eagles, to name a few. Other wildlife, including coyotes, caribou, moose and an occasional bear, also can be spotted. Photographers have used the Bridge Access viewing area to capture spectacular shots of the erupting Mount Redoubt volcano.
The residential community of Kenai offers neighborhood parks, as well: Beaver Creek Park, off the Spur Highway, and 4th Street Park on Fourth Avenue.
Midway between Kenai and Soldotna, Beaver Creek Park has playground equipment, a basketball court, a covered picnic shelter available to reserve, a barbecue grill, a bench, a drinking fountain and a large open grass field.
Fourth Street Park offers a playground, basketball court, small covered picnic shelter available to reserve, a barbecue grill and a grass field with a backstop.
Off Kenai's Main Street Loop is the Bernie Huss Trail, offering a half-mile of multiple looping walking trails and a small pedestrian bridge. Moose and an occasional bear can be seen from the trail.
The next part of this series will feature more Soldotna city parks.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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