Anglers at Centennial Park in Soldotna soon will have more trails and environmentally friendly access to fishing sites, thanks to a $1 million grant arranged by U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
The $1 million, channeled through the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service to the city of Soldotna, will fund construction of a gravel trail from the Centennial Park boat ramp parking area to the downstream boundary of the park, an area increasingly popular with sockeye and coho fishers.
"There is an area in there that has been getting trampled fairly significantly in the last few years," Dick Bower, city building official, recently told the Kenai River Special Management Area Advi-sory Board. "So, we'd like to put in a trail back away from the water with some spurs similar to the angler trail spurs we've done over the last couple of years upstream of the boat launch."
That project also includes construction of elevated walkways from the trail to the river, up to seven elevated fishing platforms and stairways where anglers in hip boots can enter the water. The city has budgeted $340,000.
It has budgeted $635,0000 to build another upland gravel trail from the present Centennial day-use area to the upstream boundary of the park. Bower said he hopes to extend that across state and private land to the fishwalk at the Soldotna Visitors Center. However, the city still must obtain an easement from the owner of one intervening parcel.
"We're hoping that we'll have that by this summer," he said. "If we don't we plan to go ahead and work on the trail project to bring it at least to the side of the property, and by the time that happens, we're fairly confident that we'll have access across it."
The city will install elevated walkways and stairs from that trail to the river and fencing to discourage anglers from crossing fragile ground.
Bower said officials also plan to install fishing platforms at popular spots between the Centennial parking area and the visitors center.
"We've studied where people like to fish, and where the most damage is is pretty indicative of where that happens," he said. "We're trying to put in some protective facilities there and then restore the banks, and then take some of the other areas people are starting down the banks and just put those off limits to access."
Both trail projects include restoration and revegetation of trampled areas. In addition, the city will give $25,000 from the grant to the Kenai River Center as seed money for nearly $369,000 in trails, walkways, stairs and bank restoration work planned there. The river center will have to find other partners to contribute additional funding, Bower said.
Before beginning the work at Centennial Park, the city must complete an environmental assessment. Bower said he hopes to finish that this winter so that trail construction and bank restoration can begin in the spring.
Soldotna officials said they are hopeful Congress will appropriate $1 million per year for the next five years for similar projects. Staff from the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Stevens chaired, toured the Kenai River Center and met with local officials in August.
Bower said the city has more riverbank restoration and protection projects in the works, and he will include those when he writes the environmental assessment for the trails at Centennial Park.
Long-range, he said, the city would like to install lift stations and flush toilets near the river at Centennial. City officials also hope to install another handicap-accessible parking lot. Hopefully, he said, the money for those can come from future federal grants.
However, city officials are not sure whether additional federal funding, if it becomes available, will come to the city or to the Natural Resources Conservation Service for use across the Kenai Peninsula.
"We're hoping to find out more about that in the next couple of weeks," Bower said. "It looks like a fairly significant amount of money could be coming this way for bank restoration work, probably more money than the city is really going to be able to use on our own projects on our property."
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