A sign indicates the future site of the Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails on Marydale Avenue on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign indicates the future site of the Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails on Marydale Avenue on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Community seeks to weigh in on peace garden resolution

A resolution encouraging the state to approve a grant application for the project was up for consideration by the council.

The City of Soldotna will withhold a vote in support of local efforts to acquire funding for the development of the Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails after several community members testified in opposition to the legislation.

A resolution that would have encouraged the state to approve a grant application for the project was up for consideration by the council during their Wednesday night meeting.

If approved, the grant would be used to cover the costs of leveling trails and installing gravel for the paths, according to previous Clarion reporting. The Kenai Peninsula Borough agreed to enter into a 20-year lease with Shimai Toshi Garden Trails, Inc., which is the organization driving the project. The group was also given authorization to turn the site, which is about 7 acres and tucked discreetly behind Soldotna High School, into a community garden.

While supplementary documentation provided by Shimai Toshi Garden Trails, Inc. included multiple letters of support, eight comments in opposition to the resolution’s approval have been submitted as well. The council also heard testimony from members of the public who attended Wednesday’s meeting in person.

Those in favor of the park said the project is a worthy endeavor that would benefit the community, while those in opposition said they were left out of the public process and questioned the logistics of things like parking and maintenance.

“Individuals living in adjoining neighborhoods were not notified of a plan for the park until after the borough had already agreed to the lease,” wrote Larry Nauta, of Soldotna. “I am not apposed to a well planned park, but when the adjoining neighborhoods have not been involved and when funding is in question, it does not seem justified to proceed.”

“While we are encouraged to see this type of development being proposed for the land (there could be much worse), we strongly suggest all public concerns be adequately addressed prior to further funding and development,” wrote Brook and Jennifer Carver. “We would assume a group this organized should be well prepared to address these concerns.”

Council member Linda Farnswoth-Hutchings said that while she thinks the park would be an asset to the community, the public should be given the opportunity to more directly participate in the process and moved to postpone voting on the resolution. The council voted 4-3 in favor of postponing the vote, with Mayor Paul Whitney casting a tie-breaker vote.

Efforts to make the project a reality have been underway for months. Volunteers spent time clearing brush and dead trees from the site over a weekend last October. A public notice posted at the site of the project says the project would start in July 2021, to be completed in November of 2022.

The idea for the project, like many gardens, started with a seed. Specifically, it started with seeds harvested from the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, that remained uncontaminated and were gifted to Shimai Toshi Garden Trails, Inc. Board of Directors President Sarah Pyhala.

“Against the odds, one gingko seed and three hackberry seeds sprouted into saplings,” the project website says.

While the group waits to learn the results of a grant application submitted to Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Recreational Trail Program, they’ve sought support from the community.

Letters of support have come from State Sen. Peter Micciche, the Central Peninsula Health Foundation, Odie’s Deli, the Central Peninsula Gardening Club, Peninsula Community Health Services and residents in the areas surrounding the site.

“The Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails will be the only Japanese public trail within the state of Alaska, and once complete, will be a draw for locals and tourists alike,” Micciche wrote. “The construction of the trails will be a welcome addition to Soldotna, the Kenai Peninsula, and Alaska.”

A letter from Peninsula Community Health Services voiced support for the grant and commented on the calming benefits the trail would provide.

“The health benefits to those with stress-related disorders have been well documented,” wrote PCHS Interim Executive Officer JC Rathje. “We envision this trail and garden space incorporated with retreats for those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and being of great benefit to all community members with a need for a calming, healing atmosphere.”

Signage posted at the future site of the trails state that the trail will be handicap accessible and up to 8 feet wide, with a stairway located on the eastern corner and three ramped access points. Public comment in favor of or opposition to the development of the trails can be submitted until April 20 to cranegardentrails@outlook.com.

More information about the Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails can be found at akjapanesegarden.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

A sign indicates the future site of the Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails on Marydale Avenue on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign indicates the future site of the Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails on Marydale Avenue on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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