Biking of all stripes is growing in popularity on the Kenai Peninsula. To be fair, it’s happening it lots of other places, too. On the Peninsula, countless volunteer hours have been spent building and maintaining local trails, but infrastructure investment for bike and other multi-use paths is happening, too.
Just this week, the Chugach National Forest put out a call for comments on a plan for a new paved path up by Ingram Creek that will run seven miles onto the Peninsula. But tracking just how popular the Kenai has become as a biking destination is kind of tough, especially compared to other popular activities.
“There’s no license necessary for biking. Fishing is easier to track because there’s fishing licenses attached to it. Certain hoops that have to be jumped through to fish, so that’s easy to track," said Summer Lazenby, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council. She says biking and other more athletic recreation activities are growing in popularity across the board.
But what, if any effects that popularity may be having on the local economy are anecdotal at best.
“I’d have to become familiar with all the bike rental organizations on the Kenai. That’s not a problem. But then all of them would have to agree to share their data with me; we rented X number of bicycles. We’d have to agree on a tracking system. And then you have to compile the data and when you want to look at small subsections of the tourism industry, that takes time and money.”
And even for those renting bikes to visitors, they aren’t exactly taking detailed surveys to find more out about their customers. Mark Beeson is the chair of the Tsalteshi Trails Board of Directors and he also works in the family business at Beemun’s Bike and Ski Loft. He says 2018 has been a banner year for their bike rental operation. But those numbers alone don’t say if it’s because the biking is so popular, or people just had time to kill.
“I would say this was probably our best year for rentals. I don’t know if that might have been fish-related. There were certainly a number of folks who needed something to do with fishing shut down. But we rent full-suspension mountain bikes and we rent fat-tire bikes. We did a lot of those this year. We also do road bikes and hardtail mountain bikes and town bikes, but the fat bikes and the full-suspension bikes were a lot more popular this year.”
And that may suggest more experienced and adventuresome riders looking to take in some of the trails that really are unique to the Kenai, be they alpine singletrack in the Chugach or an ocean-side beach cruise by Cook Inlet. Whatever it is, the ever-expanding range of bikes and equipment along with the continued dedication of local trial lovers will likely continue to attract more biking tourists to the Kenai Peninsula.
This week’s number: 1,034,771
That’s the final tally for sockeye salmon up the Kenai river through Alaska Department of Fish and Game sonar counters. Counting ended for the season on Tuesday. Simply cracking the million mark took some extreme measures from the state this year, including shutting down sportfishing for reds entirely at one point, before reopening last week. If you were on the river, August 7th, that would have been your best chance to land some sockeye, as that was the single biggest day for passage at around 55,000 fish. The cumulative number for the year is just barely within the department’s inriver escapement goal range of 900,000 to 1.1 million. Low though those numbers are, it’s not much worse than last year. At last count in 2017, sockeye into the Kenai totalled 1.3 million