Kenai wildlife viewing platform gets new name

Jun 22, 2020

The tower viewer looks out over the Kenai River Flats from the Tarbox Wildlife Viewing Platform on Monday, June 22, 2020 in Kenai, Alaska.
Credit Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The platform next to the city of Kenai’s dock will get a new name—the Tarbox Wildlife Viewing Platform.

The name comes from longtime volunteers and wildlife enthusiasts Connie and Ken Tarbox, who helped coordinate the effort to establish the platform at the edge of the Kenai River Flats. Today, it regularly attracts bird viewers, who come to watch the Flats’ many seasonal winged visitors as well as the caribou that regularly crisscross the area.

The Kenai City Council passed a resolution officially naming the platform at its meeting last Wednesday, though not without some debate over what criteria it takes to name something in the city after a person. Vice Mayor Bob Molloy, the sponsor of the resolution, said there is precedent for naming sites in the city after people who helped to establish them.

"Since then it’s been a big draw for people to come to the area and was made part of the wildlife viewing trail and the festivals for the Kenai Peninsula and the City of Kenai," he said. "It’s been a site for what they call the big sit, which is where people will come and be there for 24 hours to enumerate all the bird species that come to the area."

The City of Kenai is full of buildings, parks, and other locations named for former community members, such as Erik Scout Hansen Park and Daubenspeck Pond. Council member Glenese Pettey opposed the resolution, saying she was concerned that the city doesn’t have any formal policy about naming city locations after people. She moved to postpone the resolution until the city could draft up a policy like that.

"I graciously appreciate all of his volunteerism, and his contribution to our community, but I wholeheartedly believe that there does need to be some kind of criteria and policy created for the naming of public places because there were many people that did make contributions into this viewing opportunity, and there just needs to be some guidelines put in place," she said.

However, the council moved to pass it now and consider working on such guidelines later. Council members Henry Knackstedt and Tim Navarre and Mayor Brian Gabriel said they thought the Tarboxes would qualify for the naming under any policy the city ended up drafting anyway.

The state process for naming lakes, mountains and other geographic locations requires that the person who the place is being named has been dead for at least five years. There is some value in naming city locations after living people, though, Navarre said.

"I think it’s important when people even visit our community and they can read about somebody and maybe even still call them up and talk to them," he said. "I remember the book ‘Once Upon a Kenai’ that was created and put together by living people."

Multiple people and organizations wrote letters of support for the naming. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Manager Andy Loranger wrote that naming the platform for them would be an appropriate thanks after the years of effort both people put into improving the community, and Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director Brandon Bornemann wrote that the couple’s work to improve public understanding of the environment helps support protecting it.

Molloy’s memo to the city suggests a minimal change, such as a plaque or additional sign, to note the name change on the platform itself.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.