Environmental Education and Visitor Services Intern Meredith Baker helps Blake Voss, 3, paint during Fish Week at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, July 18, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Environmental Education and Visitor Services Intern Meredith Baker helps Blake Voss, 3, paint during Fish Week at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, July 18, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Fish 101

Kids learn about species local to the watersheds of the central peninsula during Fish Week 2022

The visitor center at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was bustling with people of all ages Monday afternoon for the start of Fish Week 2022 — a time where kids are invited to learn about species local to the watersheds of the central peninsula.

Leah Eskelin, the refuge visitor center manager, said she’s excited to be back to semi-normal programming this year for the kids. The past two seasons have been disrupted and altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re still trying to give people the opportunity to sort of spread out and do some self-guided programs,” Eskelin said. “But I think it’s been healthy for all of us to start thinking about how kids learn and give them that access again.”

She said she has spoken with some parents of young kids born during the pandemic who are getting out of the house now for some of the first times in their lives.

“I think that’s what we do really well, is experiential learning,” Eskelin said. “I feel like it’s a good stepping stone, to come back to our traditional in-depth and interactive programs.”

Eskelin started Fish Week back in 2015. It began as a week of celebrating life on the central peninsula in between the two sockeye salmon runs, and has now become a week of daily educational activities for kids of all ages and skill sets.

Meredith Baker, an environmental education and visitor services intern at the refuge, said Monday that her favorite part of leading the kids in Fish Week programming is the way the kids connect with the activities.

“I just love how curious all of them are about all the different fish, and (how) they just rave about their experiences with seeing fish and seeing animals on the refuge,” she said. “It gives us an opportunity to learn about their connection with nature, which makes our job worthwhile.”

Jezra Epstein, another intern at the refuge this season, said he was guiding an activity at the bookmark-making table and was taken with one child’s affinity for the different animal stamps he was adding to his bookmark.

“He was maybe 3 (years old),” he said. “They’re just so cute, and enjoying the different parts that make up the ecosystems here.”

Fish Week continues through Saturday this week at the visitor center daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The full schedule of activities can be found on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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