Nikiski residents protest restricted access to Nikishka Beach Road

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2008

Since before statehood, Karen McGahan has frequented Nikishka Beach every summer. She's watched five generations of her family search for agates, fly kites and roast marshmallows on the beach.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
About three dozen people protest Saturday afternoon in front of a guard shack and barriers blocking access to a stretch of Cook Inlet beach in Nikiski. They question the legality of the closure and security measures put in place by Offshore Systems Kenai.

But this year no agates have been collected, no kites flown, no campfires lit. Now what waits for McGahan and her family at the end of Nikishka Beach Road isn't an entrance to the beach, but rather a sign that reads "private property no public beach access."

Saturday, armed with four-wheelers and homemade signs, several members of the McGahan family and other Nikiski residents came out to protest Offshore Systems Kenai, which has blocked beach access for the last six months.

"We're getting our freedom taken away step by step and it isn't fair," said Nadine Gabbett, who has been coming to Nikishka Beach since 1965.

"We use this beach for education, recreation and relaxation," said lifelong Nikiski resident Leah Jackson.

Protestors carrying signs that read "We're not terrorists just rock collectors" and "We're not against security just the level of it" marched from Nikiski High School to OSK. Shouting "free the beach," protestors stood at OSK's gate and guard shack now in place of what once was beach access. Though six North Roaders did cross into unauthorized territory, according to OSK operations manager Mike Peek, both sides remained civil. Protestors were quick to move for supply trucks going to and coming from the dock and with the exception of two video cameras filming the event, security guards acted as if no one was there.

Protestors also gathered at the corner of Nikishka Beach Road and the Kenai Spur Highway and shouted their message to passersby.

Peek said he wants to see the people allowed to used the beach again but doesn't have a choice in the matter.

"I have to follow federal regulations or I'll be shut down," he said.

A lawsuit has been filed concerning beach access, but no decision has been made at this time.

"If it can be taken away overnight, they can give us our access overnight," said Katrina Nelson, frustrated with the amount of time the situation has taken to be resolved. "We just want our beach back."

On the upside, a new public access to the beach could be ready as soon as next week, said Peek. Located across from the former Lighthouse restaurant, the new beach access is scheduled to be paved on Monday and will have free parking.

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