Upper Kenai River closure comes at worst time for drift guides

Aug 29, 2019

While fire and smoke across the Sterling Highway near Cooper Landing has occasionally forced road closures to motor vehicle traffic, when the Swan Lake Fire reached the Upper Kenai River, it was closed to boat traffic, and has yet to reopen.
Guides who work the Upper Kenai are usually very busy this time of year, according to Dennis Randa because it’s when the trout are feasting on sockeye salmon eggs.
“The egg drop was just starting and that's when just hundreds of people coming from Anchorage. Everybody that fancies themselves a fly fisherman and likes to catch trout show up, and the parking lots get overwhelmed and that's when a lot of our business comes in,” he said. “A lot of bookings are people just focusing on coming here for the trout.”
Randa, owner of the guide service that bears his name, has drifted the upper river for decades. He says the gross income that his hired hand has lost this month is in the neighborhood of $27,000. Multiply that by the number of guides not working this month, and it’s approximately a half-million dollars in lost revenue for August alone.
Randa says guides have talked with Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest officials who manage the Upper Kenai, but have not come to a workable solution.
“‘The road is too crowded. There's too much fire traffic. There's just no way that we want to have to worry about people on the river. We understand losing your your businesses. This is really hurting you but public safety etc. has priority,’” he said, quoting what the officials told the guides. “So I don't know what we're going to hear back on that, but that information was well received by the authorities and they basically left me with an impression that they would consider that. Whether they're going to do it or not, I don't know.”
The Kenai River Special Management Area between the Cooper Landing state boat launch to Skilak Lake is closed to all boating activity. Also closed are Jim’s Landing, Sportsman’s Landing, Russian River Ferry service, and the Russian River Campground.