Refuge Notebook: Celebrating 30 Years of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2010

I have been very fortunate to live on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 26 years and to explore and enjoy Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness. All three units -- Mystery Hills, Dave Spencer, and Andy Simons have their unique character, but of the three I have certainly spent the most time in the Mystery Hills unit. This unit includes Skyline and Fuller Lakes Trails and is easily accessible to hikers, fishers, and berry pickers.

Photo By Kenai Refuge Ranger Dave Kenagy
Photo By Kenai Refuge Ranger Dave Kenagy
A wilderness moment with a Dall sheep in the Fuller Lakes country of the Mystery Hills.

Several years ago on a day in late August, I headed up Fuller Lakes Trail with my pack full of empty Tupperware containers to pick blueberries. It was one of those perfect early autumn days, blue skies with fall leaves beginning to change to red, yellow, and orange.

Hiking a steady pace, I reached the second lake and continued upslope above tree line. I worked my way uphill picking berries filling my containers and trying not to get side tracked eating more berries than I picked. As I picked, a soft breeze began. It was that perfect amount of wind that blew the bugs away and yet gently dried my sweaty shirt without chilling me. I stopped to drink water and eat my sandwich and began to fill sleepy. I lay down on the soft tundra covering myself with my jacket and putting a head net over my head to keep off the bugs and drifted off into a nap.

I'm not sure how much time passed, but I awoke to the sound of a snort and the smell of sheep. While I slept a group of Dall ewes and lambs had come over the mountain summit grazing their way downhill.

I quietly turned on my side to watch them graze. They were likely aware of me, but enough distance and my quiet behavior allowed them to graze peacefully. Eventually, they grazed further away from me uphill and I felt I could leave without disturbing them.

As I hiked down the mountain, I realized what a perfect wilderness day I had experienced -- beautiful scenery, exercise, wild berries to take home, and most of all a wonderful memory of watching the ewes and lambs enjoying an afternoon grazing.

Wilderness experiences have been tremendously important in my life and I am grateful to live in a place where I can enjoy and benefit from Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness. If you appreciate refuge wilderness like I do and are curious to learn more, join us Saturday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness.

Our program takes place at the refuge Environmental Education Center and the speaker schedule includes:

1 to 2 p.m. -- Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness: The Kenai Peninsula's Wild Legacy

Ranger Rick Johnston tells how 1.35 million acres of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge became a unit of the National Wilderness System. For 30 years, this wilderness area has been relied upon by the people of the Kenai Peninsula for fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation.

2:15 to 3 p.m. -- Kenai Wilderness: Imperiled?

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge wilderness is rapidly changing. Warming climate, invasive plants and animals, and a changing soundscape threaten these lands in unexpected ways. Join Wildlife Biologist, John Morton, to examine how refuge staff members are monitoring these impacts and what they doing to solve them.

Refreshments are provided and there will be wilderness theme door prizes. All events are free. For more information, call 262-7021.

Candace Ward is a park ranger, who leads the refuge's information and education programs. For more detailed information about the refuge, you can call 262-7021.

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Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on the refuge website, You can check on new bird arrivals or report your bird sighting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Birding Hotline at 907-262-2300.

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