Kasilof Beach trail access should be preserved

Posted: Friday, July 30, 2010

The single half-mile traditional vehicle trail leading from Coho Loop Road to the mouth of the Kasilof River runs parallel to the beach, about 150 feet. It's hard to say how long this trail has been used but certainly it provided access to the river and fish camps for the early Native groups and settlers. This trail continues to allow access to the river without the necessity of crossing wetlands or beach dunes. Allowing reasonable vehicular access in June for the personal-use gillnetting fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof means the freedom to use this trail.

Thousands of Alaskans depend upon this fishery for private consumption. Families spend months planning and gathering the necessary equipment prior to the June fishing time. Families usually spend the entire 10-day fishing period down on the beach, in any weather -- eating, sleeping, using whatever bathroom facilities are available (and remember there are thousands of Alaskans here) to participate in something so unique it would be hard to find another such opportunity and experience anywhere. Alaskans do it because they are Alaskans, because Alaskans eat salmon, and because it is a way of life that is a reminder of what Alaska is. The Alaskan population that participates in this fishery is mostly from the Kenai Peninsula as opposed to the dipnet fishery at the mouth of the Kenai and the dipnet fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof later in the summer.

Because the trail leading to the mouth of the Kasilof and traditionally used by this fishery crosses neither the wetlands nor the beach dunes, it is difficult to find a reason to restrict access. The shifting beach dunes create a different beach line each year. They have been shifting for centuries. A wide variety of plants grow over these dunes, more than a person would guess until someone stops to identify them. There are dozens. Most of them grow well in a disturbed ecological system. They need disruption to continue to reproduce. The vehicle track clears the way for young plants reaching for the light. If a fence is put in place and vehicles are not allowed to use this trail, it is possible that only the taller of the sea plants would survive because they would tower over the tiny little moon wort and others, suffocating and strangling them. In the end, the Kasilof River Dunes would be like the Kenai River Dunes, only sea grass and sedge grass and the beach sweet pea. The rivers have their own systems, and sea grass in Kenai is welcome. Keep the Kasilof area the way it is, however, and do not make it like Kenai: put the fence on the other side of the trail, not toward the beach but towards the wetlands.

The permit in discussion is Kasilof Regional Historical Association Fence Project LAS27627.

It is not apparent from public comments that those entities that have cooperated on the production of this permit have been on the beach during the personal-use setnet fishery, or have specific knowledge of the needs of these fishermen as opposed to the needs of the dipnet fishermen. Making the Kasilof Beach the same as the Kenai Beach with the same type of fence does not work because the personal-use setnet fishery is not the same as the dipnet fishery.

Kathy Clark, Soldotna

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