River not especially well treated

Unpermitted ‘special’ events put strain on the Kenai, Parks staff, facilities

Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006

One day in July, Jeff King watched aghast as a special fishing event flooded the Kenai River with fishermen, tossing beers across open water and jamming the river with boats.

“I was just shocked by the whole thing, I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” King, who is a guide boat fishermen, said at a recent Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board meeting. “There were Bud Lights floating down the river where people would miss them.”

Over the last couple of years, special fishing events on the Kenai River have been drawing more attention as some of the river’s day-to-day users complain the events sometimes displace them and bring deplorable behavior to the river.

Jack Sinclair, Kenai area superintendent for Alaska State Parks, said that over the last couple of years, Parks has also recognized increasing problems with events on the river, and the problems usually occur when event sponsors do not follow the proper permitting process.

“People call up my office and say, ‘Why are all these people on this section of the river all of a sudden?’ and I don’t have any answers because they don’t have a permit,” he said. “We’ve come into one of our parks at one time in the season and found the parking lot full of these corporate participants and we’re going, ‘Wow, what’s going on here?’ And they’re flooding a section of the river with their employees on boats and we’re caught off guard.”

The permitting process helps Parks ensure special events don’t overwhelm facilities or park staff, or conflict with the park’s general users, he said.

“They pretty much can take over a section of river and that can be a problem on certain days,” he said. “That’s why it’s important that these organizations or corporations get permits to have an organized event, whether it’s a derby or not.”

Recently, however, event sponsors have chartered events using several guide charters, without getting a permit. Any event involving more than 20 people must apply for a permit, even if the event is dispersed through several different guides, Sinclair said.

He said the day in July that King referred to may have been a day on which a corporate sponsor hosted a fishing day on the river as a thank you to its employees, using multiple guides but no permit.

“An event like that may have gone unnoticed, because July is a very busy month anyhow,” he said. “However, as Jeff pointed out, it was the behavior of the participants that made clear that it was not individual guide boats going down with their individual clients, but several related participants.”

King asked that Parks and KRSMA address the issue before more special events get out of hand.

“I just think it’s something that needs to stay on the radar,” he said.

In addition, King said he disliked seeing public parks used to help a corporation improve its image.

During a phone conversation Monday, Sinclair said Parks is following up on complaints and trying to address the issue. To help, Sinclair said guides can keep clients and Parks informed by letting clients know when a permit is necessary and by telling Parks when they believe an permitted event is brewing.

“And it’s also our responsibility to make sure we’re tuned to what’s going on,” he said.

The permitting process also helps Parks ensure events don’t harm the resource, he said.

“We don’t want to have tournaments that encourage the additional taking of fish that may be real important to the fishery as well,” Sinclair said. “Because that’s kind of what (Alaska Department of) Fish and Game manages, normal sport fish take, not an aggressive competition to take more fish.”

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