New public river access timely for reds

Ribbon-cutting at Swiftwater today at 3 p.m.

Posted: Friday, July 13, 2001

More public Kenai River fishing access is available just in time for the second run of sockeye salmon.

Today at 3:30 p.m. a ribbon-cutting, open to the public, will take place at Kenai River Mile 23 in Swiftwater Campground and Boat Launch off East Redoubt Road in Soldotna. This dedication of the new wooden walkway and river access is a $400,000 joint project with local and national agencies.

"This has been the latest in a series of bank improvement projects over the years," said Tom Boedeker, Soldotna city manager. "It has been a pretty good cooperative effort."

Locally, support has come from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and the city of Soldotna, and nationally, from the Alaska-based U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Swiftwater Park, like Centennial Park, is owned and operated by the city of Soldotna.

This latest phase of a joint effort in bank restoration and habitat protection has taken place in steps over the years. According to Dick Bower, building official for the city of Soldotna, it started with volunteers close to six or seven years ago. The jetty makes a nice harbor for boat launching.

"The area is popular, but it is a fragile wetland," Bower said.

The plans for a wooden walkway ran out of funds after volunteers started the project, but that didn't stop the folks that wanted to wet a line. Damage to the wetlands became a problem, as did trash.

"For four years we tried to raise money with no luck," Bower said.

Then, the city applied for Section 206 funds through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The fund antes up 65 percent of aquatic projects as long as the other 35 percent is available through local funds.

That's when the Kenai River Sportfishing Association stepped in, according to Bowers.

A Section 206 fund is "a continuing authority program," according to Dave Martinson, project manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "It is targeted for aquatic restoration. This is the first Section 206 project that has been completed in the Alaska district," he said.

Nationwide each year, the Corps of Engineers is appropriated $25 million for aquatic projects. No one project can exceed $5 million.

"It could work out that the local matching funds could be 100 percent 'in-kind' contributions," Martinson said.

The Army Corps of Engineers' contributions to this project consisted of a preliminary restoration plan, leading to a final report, which resulted in the approval. The Corps then came up with the design. During the project, corps members coordinated the efforts.

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association contributed $150,000 of the $400,000 to this project, according to the association's executive director, Brett Huber. The sportfishing association's goal is to "complete habitat restoration and preservation while providing responsible public access," Huber said. Through the various projects, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association contributions have represented more than 5 percent of the city of Soldotna's budget, he said.

Eventual plans call for linking the new fishwalk to the Phillips fish walk in the Clearwater Campground, a short distance downstream from the boat ramp.

"Anyone who hasn't been to Centennial or Swiftwater in the last two years, should go down and see the improvements," Boedeker said.

In addition to the new boardwalk giving access to four fishing ramps and the new floating boat ramp, construction is in the process of adding 1,000 feet of new road and 18 new campsites, in addition to the existing 38, said Andrew Carmichael, Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director.

One of these ramps is designed for handicapped use and meets the specifications of the American Disabilities Act.

The entire effort, including the cost of the first phases and the plans to expand total between 1 and 1.2 million dollars, Boedeker said.

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