Ben Meyer and Brandon Drzazgowski present to the Soldotna and Kenai Chambers of Commerce at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Ben Meyer and Brandon Drzazgowski present to the Soldotna and Kenai Chambers of Commerce at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Watershed Forum gives update on streambank restoration

The watershed forum and other organizations are working to repair habitat and mitigate erosion

An ongoing effort to rehabilitate degraded shoreline where Soldotna Creek meets the Kenai River was the focus of a presentation by the Kenai Watershed Forum to the joint Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce on Wednesday.

Ben Meyer and Brandon Drzazgowski spoke about the Mullen Parcel, land named for and formerly owned by the Mullen family but now owned and managed by the state. Under a conservation easement, the watershed forum and other organizations are working to repair habitat and mitigate erosion that result from “pretty serious degradation issues from trampling.”

In addition to foot traffic, the bank has seen accumulations of litter and “accelerated erosion” from high water velocity exacerbated by the loss of root systems.

Fish don’t like degraded streambanks, Meyer said. Vegetation provides stability that keeps soil from sliding down into the water and shade for the organisms living within.

“There’s a lot of reasons that you want a cover of vegetation all the way down to your stream,” he said.

Conservation efforts, Meyer said, are intended to ensure the area remains suitable and sustainable wildlife habitat — “even though it’s right in the middle of Soldotna.”

There are several elements to the restoration effort, Drzazgowski said.

The first is “spruce tree cabling,” which was initially performed in May. Cables and anchors are installed into the riverbank and then trees are affixed in the water — they slow the passing water, trap sediment and provide cover for juvenile fish.

“Not only is it protecting the riverbank there, but it also is helping to rebuild it at the same time,” he said.

Trees need to be replaced every three years, until vegetation is reestablished or the bank has been rebuilt far enough.

Because the area is under conservation easement bank fishing isn’t allowed in the area — on the bank or within 10 feet of it. Drzazgowski said that the degradation has occurred largely because of people who are “uninformed,” fishing on the bank and walking around on “sensitive vegetation,” which then can be washed away. That’s why another aspect of the restoration effort is improving signage — with at least four signs planned to be installed in the area.

There is also site monitoring, where photos are taken of the area each year to track growth. Drzazgowski said there is weekly monitoring of the area as well — “checking in is part of the process.”

Finally, education is a focus — telling people about streambank restoration so they can support the effort and know to avoid further impact to the area. There is room for people to volunteer and help, which Drzazgowski said is important.

“It helps them feel a connection to that project and it helps them want to protect it further,” he said.

Funding for the restoration project comes from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, they said, and the watershed forum is collaborating with several partners, including the Mullen family, Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, the State Department of Fish and Game and Alaska State Parks.

The watershed forum is looking to identify other stream banks in need of restoration and get additional projects off the ground.

For more information about the Kenai Watershed Forum and their ongoing projects, find “Kenai Watershed Forum” on Facebook or visit kenaiwatershed.org.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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