Winter speaker series designed to educate, entertain local folks

Posted: Wednesday, October 25, 2006

As daylight dwindles and the snow flies, the mass exodus of tourists comes to an end, returning the central Kenai Peninsula once again to those who live here year-round.

Those who make their home here all 12 months are privy to many things unknown to the fair-weather folks, such as the Winter Speaker Series sponsored by Kenai River Center and Kenai Watershed Forum.

The series consists of monthly evening talks that bring scientists, storytellers, historians and other experts to the Kenai River Center for discussions designed to entertain as well as educate.

“We try to give local residents, those that live here through the winter, a chance to really learn about where they live, with cultural and natural history topics related to the Kenai Peninsula,” said Jan Yaeger, the center’s educational director.

The Winter Speaker Series actually began earlier this month, when area angler Dave Atcheson gave a presentation on cold weather fishing forays. Yaeger said anyone who missed it shouldn’t fret, though, because there are plenty more speakers to come.

“Our next event will be Nov. 14 when Alan Boraas will be coming to talk about Peter Kalifornsky and the Dena’ina language of the Kenai Peninsula,” she said.

Boraas is an anthropology professor at Kenai Peninsula College and an honorary member of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. He has done extensive research on Dena’ina history and traditions.

Beyond being able to learn who Kalifornsky Beach Road is named after and why, Yaeger said this lecture would be a good history lesson about the first people to call this area their home.

“A lot of people think the history here and in Soldotna started in the 1940s, but it goes much deeper. The Dena’ina were here for 1,000 years and were the original people here,” she said.

Boraas also will demonstrate a Web-based Dena’ina language program being developed with the Kenaitzes, Yaeger said.

On Dec. 12, as the reconstruction of the David Douthit Veterans Memorial Bridge nears completion, Yaeger thought it would be timely to have Matt Coullahan, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities engineer for the project talk about the coordination and construction of the bridge.

“It’s been emerging right before our eyes, but it’s hard to imagine what is going on in the few seconds we drive over it,” she said.

As the calender flips to a new year, Yaeger said the speaker Jan. 12 will be Tom Lohuis, a wildlife biologist and director of the Kenai Moose Research Center, north of Sterling.

Yaeger said this would be a good opportunity for people to learn about an institution that few are familiar with, despite that is has performed research on habitat needs and population health for moose and caribou since 1969.

“It’s a world-class facility in our own backyard that hardly anybody knows about,” she said.

On Feb. 13, the series will take a look at the influence still felt from when Alaska belonged to our friends across the Bering Strait.

“We’ll be having Gregory Weissenberg, a world history teacher at SoHi and Skyview, who is originally from Moldova (a former republic of the Soviet Union). He also lived in Magadan, Russia, for many years before moving to Alaska,” Yaeger said.

She said Weissenberg will focus on many of the Russian-influenced names and words that people use daily.

On March 13, the series wraps up by answering the question of when did the moose cross the road.

“Rick Ernst will discuss the ongoing wildlife crossing project,” Yaeger said.

Ernst is a wildlife biologist with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and a member of a working group currently addressing the issue of wildlife-vehicle collisions along the Sterling Highway.

All lectures in the Winter Speaker Series begin at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public. For more information, visit the Kenai River Center’s Web site at www.borough.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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