Kenai council asked to turn over new leaf

Posted: Sunday, October 19, 2003

Area gardeners hope to keep things coming up roses at Kenai's community garden, but the future of the site is in question.

The garden, officially known as the Warren Larsen Memorial Test Site at the Kenai Green Strip Park, has been maintained and organized by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service by contract with the city of Kenai for about the last 20 years.

The contract runs out in May and the extension service has decided it no longer has the resources needed to maintain the project. The city of Kenai now has to decide whether it will step in and keep the garden flourishing by taking over the responsibility of maintaining and organizing the site once the contract runs out.

A group of community gardeners asked the city council at its Wednesday meeting to do just that.

"I think that it's very important for the city of Kenai to not give up on an area like this that has such potential," said Janice Chumley, who has been gardening and doing maintenance at the site for about eight years.

"Throughout the United States, community gardens are a very important part of communities."

The site provides gardeners with 500-square-foot plots of rototilled soil that is fenced in and has access to water.

The gardeners are responsible for keeping their areas weeded and disposing of their refuse, while the extension service used to do the rototilling in the spring, mowed the grass and organized the plots.

Florence Munger of Kenai has been utilizing the site for many years, she said.

"I love it, but I'll miss it if we can't have it," she said. "It's a real good pastime."

Munger grows flowers at her home and uses the community garden to grow cabbage, potatoes and other kinds of vegetables. She particularly likes that the site is fenced and protected from moose, which routinely destroy her flowers at home.

The site is not only a good outlet for adults with green thumbs, it also offers learning experiences for kids, Munger said.

"It's just like when I was a kid we worked in gardens and we got acquainted with the farm life," she said. "... I think it's good education for these younger people, too."

Chumley said she thought it wouldn't be hard for the city to take over the maintenance of the site because they already have the equipment necessary and maintain other areas of park as it is.

The city's parks and recreation budget was cut this fiscal year, however, so Chumley suggested the city start charging gardeners to use the site to help offset the cost of maintenance. She said she and others would be willing to help out, as well, and do whatever is takes to keep the site growing.

"Kenai has one of the nicest, largest, easily-accessible gardens in the whole state of Alaska," she said. "It really should be such a jewel. ... Kenai's very fortunate to have such an area."

The council directed the city's administration to look into the matter and come up with a plan for taking over the maintenance and organization of the garden that the council could review in its upcoming budget sessions.

"I'm not a gardener myself, but I drive by all the time and see a lot of people there doing a lot of good things," council member Jim Bookey said. "I think we can make something happen."

In other action Wednesday, the council:

Swore in its two new members, Rick Ross and Blaine Gilman, who were elected over incumbents Amy Jackman and John "Ozzie" Osborne. Incumbent Pat Porter was re-elected to her seat, but was absent from the meeting.

Voted unanimously to redefine the allowed hunting areas in the city and replace old maps with updated ones.

Voted unanimously to change the time period for allowed absences for commission and committee members from three to six months, since several commissions and committees no longer meet every month.

Voted unanimously to amend the official zoning map to rezone a portion of government lot 44.

Voted three to three to change the city code to allow the council to pass a resolution changing the membership number of a commission, board, task force or committee to greater than seven members. The measure failed.

Voted on and discussed amendments to the city code regarding Kenai City Cemetery regulations. The issue faces further discussion in the Kenai Parks and Recreation Commission in the future.

Tabled an ordinance that would transfer $55,500 from the general funeral to the library to buy a new computer system to replace one that is becoming obsolete. The council decided to have the current computer system further evaluated before deciding whether to replace it.

Voted unanimously to award a five-year contract for the Alaska Regional Aircraft Firefighter Training Facility vending machine concession to Tyler Distributing Company Inc.

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