The second sockeye run is here and the third is on its way. After six years of closure, two public fishing areas on the north side of the Kenai River are reopening just in time for anglers to take advantage of them.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge announced that Thursday at 5 p.m. it will open two fishing platforms connected by boardwalks on a two-and-a-half to three-mile stretch of the Kenai River in Moose Range Meadows subdivision in Soldotna.
"The new facilities will restore some of the lost opportunity," said Robin West, refuge manager. "But clearly the opportunity is significantly less than what people enjoyed prior to the subdividing and developing of the subdivision."
In its heyday the section of river was second only in popularity to the Russian River, West said, but it has been closed to public use since 1995, when the wildlife refuge decided something needed to be done about the erosion of the river bank.
Vegetation was trampled, and the flood of 1995 washed away a lot of the river bank, West said. At that point the area was closed with an emergency order, and the refuge met with property owners and the public to decide what needed to be done with the area.
In the end, the group decided to seasonally close the stretch of river from July 1 until Aug. 15. For the past six years, the refuge and contractors have worked to build boardwalks and platforms that anglers could use in lieu of trampling the banks.
The end result is two parking lots that combined hold approximately 50 vehicles and a boardwalk that connects two platforms extending out over the river. Anglers are restricted by the fast current and water depth near the first platform, but those on the second can stand in the river once the water level has lowered, West said.
"There is a different culture fishing from platforms," he said.
West cautioned that anglers need to remember two main points if they decide to fish in the newly opened access areas. First, they always need to think about safety: their own and that of everyone around them. Second, landing a fish from a platform requires extra heavy line and cooperation among anglers.
He emphasized that fishing at the new sites will be different from many other areas along the river. For that reason, landing nets will be provided through funds from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association Inc. The association also supplied money for personal flotation devices and informational signs.
Money from the 1995 Kenai River Emergency Flood fund was used to construct parking lots, restrooms, walkways, a ranger residence and fish cleaning tables.
Beyond that, money furnished by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council was used to purchase the two tracts of land and build the fishing platforms. The land was originally part of the refuge, but in the 1980s it was handed over to the Salamatof Native Corporation through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The trustees' grant allowed the refuge to regain title to the two riverside lots.
Since that time, the rest of the land has been subdivided and developed into residences. Anglers should take into consideration that the area is predominantly private homes.
"Just be respectful of not fishing beyond the access points," West said.
To reach the area, drive east on Redoubt Avenue near Fred Meyer until the end of Keystone Drive by the Unocal Recreational Club boat ramp.
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