Every year, Alaskans flock to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers for a chance to scoop up some of the sockeye salmon that pack the estuaries on their way upriver to spawn. Many peninsula residents have mixed feelings about these fisheries, but one thing that's pretty clearly unpopular is the mess the fisheries often generate.
A photo of overflowing dumpsters at the mouth of the Kasilof River, near the personal use dipnet fishery, touched off angry debates on social media this week. The photo, taken Monday morning after a busy three-day holiday weekend loaded with beautiful weather and a healthy sockeye run to the Kasilof, shows four dumpsters packed to the brim with trash and more scattered across the pavement nearby.
Two volunteers with Stream Watch, a citizen-run program that helps to educate anglers and clean up fishing areas, helped to pick up some of the mess. Branden Bornemann, the executive director for Kenai Watershed Forum, which houses the Stream Watch program, said they're proud of the volunteers for taking that on.
"Very, very proud of those volunteers," he said. "There's many of them, almost 100 of them that are Stream Watch ambassadors. A lot of them have been doing it since 1994, so the start of the program that started at the Russian River and has moved its way downriver, to the Kenai and eventually to the Kasilof in 2016. We're very, very proud of those folks; it's kind of the Stream Watch spirit to take it upon themselves to clean up where others aren't."
The frustration with the photo goes beyond just the mess and to the heart of the management of the area. While the Kenai River dipnet fishery is managed by the City of Kenai and replete with fee shacks, dumpsters, beach raking and pumped outhouses, Kasilof is … well, a little more wild. The area is technically called the Kasilof River Special Use Area and is under the supervision of the Alaska Division of Mining, Land, and Water, which is part of the state Department of Natural Resources. It's not a park, and so doesn't have park rangers, and the division has about $50,000 annually to provide some port-a-potties and trash service.
That $50,000 is all they have to manage the area every summer, said Ben Hagedorn with the Southcentral Land Management Office. In response to the concerns called in this week, they have been working with the contractors to make additional visits to empty trash and pump the outhouses, but the budget is limited. He said the Division of Mining, Land and Water has done that before as well when citizens call in that the trash or lavatories need service.
This isn't the first time there have been trash problems at the Kasilof dipnet in the past--similar issues related to use prompted citizens to ask for the state to make it into a special use area in the first place back in 2010. It's also not the only place with trash issues this year-- the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation recently announced an indefinite closure at Lake Louise Public Recreation Area in the Mat-Su Borough due to "misuse," describing trash and no staffing or contractor available to service the area.
Bornemann said the Stream Watch program has been taking care of the Kasilof Beach for the past few years, trying to help educate anglers there about how to care for the environment and cleaning up trash from the beach. Since 2011, volunteers have cleaned up more than 11,500 pounds of trash from the Kasilof Beach, with about 2,900 cleaned up in 2019. At the beginning of the 2020 season, volunteers with Stream Watch also helped remove two junk cars that had been sitting on the Kasilof Beach for years.
He said the trash on the Kasilof beach is upsetting for Alaskans, and should be.
"It should sadden everybody, it should frustrate everybody, but I hope there's hope when you hear about Stream Watch ... if you're willing to pack it in and not pack it out, it should warm your heart that somebody is willing to take time out of their personal and professional life to go volunteer to clean up after those types of folks," he said.
Stream Watch is always looking for volunteers, and more information is avialable on the Kenai Watershed Forum's website. The Kasilof Dipnet fishery is open 24 hours per day until Aug. 7, or if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closes it sooner.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.