A group of Funny River residents committed to seeing additional public access to the Kenai River along its south side is resurrecting the topic after potential plans to create a boat launch were passed over.
The Funny River Boat Launch Coalition hosted a meeting Friday night at the Funny River Community Center to go over pros and cons to opening up more public access to the river and what effects including a boat launch on Funny River Road might have.
The Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game jointly manage a piece of property at Mile 12 of Funny River Road, known locally as the Kenai River Ranch or the Hansen property, after the couple that bought it from homesteaders Glen and Bertha Moore. The parcel has been under state management since the 1990s when it was bought with Exxon Valdez Oil Spill funds.
Fish and Game and DNR proposed to residents three plans for developing the site in 2015: one that would do noting other than repair riparian habitat on the bank, another that would include a boat launch and parking area, and a third that would provide no boat launch but would allow bank fishing and include public use cabins and trails.
Ultimately, the first option of no changes to the property was chosen. Now, the coalition is still working to pursue getting a boat launch on the Funny River Road side of the river.
Jim Harpring, a Funny River resident and co-chair of the coalition, said the nine-member group supports a public boat launch at either the Hansen property or the existing Funny River State Recreation Site, managed by the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.
At the meeting, residents made comments and asked questions about the intricacies of putting in a public boat launch at either of the two properties. Representatives from Cook Inlet Region Incorporated, the Kenai Peninsula Association of Realtors and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association were also there to give their perspectives on what a boat launch would mean for the area.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Dale Bagley was there representing the realtors association and addressed the notion that property values on the Funny River Road side of the river are lower because there is less public access to the river. Bagley said property values will likely always be lower on the Funny River side due to the fact that people in Anchorage and the Mat-Su buying property on the river have a shorter trip to make if they buy it on the Sterling side, regardless of the presence or absence of a boat launch on Funny River Road. At the same time, he said those in the recreational market from those areas of the state and from Outside are always surprised when they learn there is no public boat launch on Funny River Road.
“Other than the subdivisions that have boat launches in them … there really isn’t a good alternative and I know from the realtor perspective we would love to see … a boat launch out here, where we can tell people, ‘Yes, here’s your access to put a boat in,’ and it would certainly help,” Bagley said.
Benjamin Mohr, CIRI’s manager of surface estate land and resources, spoke to issues CIRI has been having with people using the corporation’s uplands in the area to access the river and damaging the habitat. Mohr notified the dozens of people gathered at the community center that CIRI will be enforcing stricter oversight regarding its uplands, but encouraged Funny River residents to apply for the free land use permit offered by the corporation.
Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease attended the meeting and said equitable access is one of the things the organization focuses on.
“This is one of the thorns in my side, when you look at the Kenai River, is that, from a sportfishing perspective I don’t think people along this river on the south side of the river have equitable access to this great resource,” he said. “You live here, and if you’re from here, why does a person who lives in Nikiski have closer access to the Kenai River than you do?”
Friday’s meeting was meant to collect input from other Funny River residents also in support of a boat launch, Harpring said. The next steps for the coalition, which Harpring said was formed about 2 1/2 years ago, will be to take the comments made Friday and use them in putting together a policy in regard to pursuing a boat launch, he said.