Peninsula Reflections

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2007

Aviation was especially important to Kasilof before 1950 when the Sterling Highway was dedicated. The Kasilof airstrip was cleared in the late 1930s. Archie McLane spearheaded that work and provided upkeep for 20 years or more. Maintenance of the field became a responsibility of Kasilof Boosters Club, which organized about 1957 with Enid McLane as president. In those days the airstrip was used for pilot training, among other things. It is thought that Ray McNutt of Sterling gave lessons here. His students (among which was Burt Carver and, probably, Harry Reger) used the unregulated strip to practice take-offs and landings.

Statehood came in 1959 and a crisis for the Kasilof airstrip followed. State officials announced intentions of closing that field effective May 1, 1964. They tried to soften the blow in a March letter to Enid McLane, "... Should the airport be abandoned, the Kasilof Public Library will be in a position to request a grant, or purchase of the land."

Local support for the airstrip seems to have been unanimous. James E. Fisher was president of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and wrote an April 23, 1964 letter urging the state to keep the airstrip open. Dr. Paul Isaak also was opposed to closing the airstrip. He used the landing field for medical emergencies and didn't relish the alternative highway landings.

The state scheduled a public hearing in Kasilof to address the proposed closure. In a March 18, 1964, letter to the state airport director, Enid McLane wrote: "... Due to the break up, most convenient accommodations are in Soldotna. Pollard's Lodge will not be open at this time. ... We would be most happy to have them (state airport officials) in our home as guests, but the half mile trek in the mud on our private road would not be appreciated."

Apparently, a meeting occurred April 24, 1964, in the Kasilof Library, which was then conveniently located next to the airstrip. We might wonder if the March 27 "Good Friday" earthquake stimulated conversation about the need for the airstrip in emergencies?

Airport supporters prevailed. George Jackinsky was appointed Kasilof Airport manager in 1965. He communicated with local pilots, state airport inspectors and officials, and solicited bids for maintenance. The Kasilof Booster Club continued to provide oversight by approving any work done.

George had been attending UW and married Jeanne MacPhee in March, 1951. Last month I mentioned a flight they had which included an engine fire and emergency landing. The date I presented needs correction. It happened in 1951, the year George first brought Jeanne to Kasilof to participate in the setnet fishery. In 1953 the Jackinskys bought a cabin Walter Pollard had built and lived in. It was southeast of the airport and the driveway crossed the south end thereof.

After surviving the closure threat, the airstrip still had problems. A hill crowded airspace, gravel was needed and the strip was wanting in length. Driveway conflicts also existed. The new airport manager was the right guy for the job. Next month we'll review how he addressed these problems.

This article was provided by Brent Johnson with the Kasilof Historical Society. Sources: Peninsula Times, Sept. 30, 1962, Soberg ends 26-year career of road building in Alaska by Katherine Parker. Kasilof Airport records, James E. Fisher, Al Hershberger, George Jackinsky and Joan Lahndt.

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