Kenai Peninsula's Stream Watch Program

Fishers take an active role in protecting habitat and educating fellow anglers

by Dave Atcheson

While many of our group normally take to the stream to wet a line and tangle with one the Kenai’s legendary salmon or huge native trout, today we have gathered for perhaps a more noble effort, to help protect the fishery we love. Our main goal is to dismantle a large steel fence that has fallen into disrepair and now blocks Soldotna Creek, inhibiting fish passage on this important Kenai River tributary. “While most of us would rather be out fishing,” says Bruce King a retired biologist and avid angler, “it defnitely feels good to be out here doing something like this.”

This is only one of the many projects spearheaded by the Kenai Peninsula’s unique Stream Watch Program, which began in 1994 as a way to assist the Chugach National Forest in protecting habitat and educating the public on the Russian and upper Kenai River. Today, it is a program that has evolved into a partnership of various public and private entities, with the bulk of the daily administrative duties handled by the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai Watershed Forum. Today’s “Stewardship Work Day” is sponsored by Trout Unlimited Alaska and has brought a dozen of us together for a morning of hard yet gratifying work.“This is the perfect program for us to be involved in,” says Nellie Williams, Special Projects Coordinator for TU. “It completely goes along with our mission of protecting cold water ἀsheries, and it’s easy to get our members, who are ἀshermen, excited about these types of projects.”

Bobbie Jo Skibo, a ranger with the U.S. Forest Service who oversees the program, agrees, and says it has been gratifying to see a growing interest in Stream Watch. “In 2011, we formally expanded from just the Russian River to other popular sites along the Kenai River,” she reports, “and now we are even on the Kasilof.” This broadened effort, she says, gives people throughout the region the opportunity to participate closer to their home waters while expanding the good work that the organization is known for.

Volunteers regularly interact with anglers from around the world as they spend a part of their day at various ἀshing hot spots, such as Soldotna’s Centennial Park and Swiftwater Park, and in Sterling at Bing’s Landing and the Izaak Walton Recreation Area, a well-known public campsite where the calm water of the Moose River meets and intermingles the swift currents of the mighty Kenai, creating a natural holding area for both red and, later in the season, silver salmon.

While the larger habitat protection and restoration projects such as “Stewardship Work Days,” are a big part of the program, most Stream Watch volunteers are heading out to these popular sites to participate as river “Ambassadors.” Their duties include maintaining habitat fencing and signage, while walking the trails and discussing with visitors important issues such as bear safety, fish waste management and regulation changes. While working to keep the river clean and keep habitat safeguards intact, their mission is also to help educate the general public, so we might all become better stewards of these great rivers and maintain for future generations these important fisheries resources.

To read the entire article on the Stream Watch Program written by Dave Atcheson, download the PDF file.