Kenai Watershed Forum seeks program funding

The Kenai Watershed Forum’s Adopt-A-Stream program will have to seek new sources of funding this year to continue operating.

The program, which educates central Kenai Peninsula students about watershed health, has received funding in the past through the federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program. That program will sunset in December 2016, and the current funding is expected to expire by Nov. 30, 2016.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which administers the program, passes 65 percent of the funding directly to the state and 35 percent directly to coastal political subdivisions, one of which is the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The borough has passed that funding directly to the Kenai Watershed Forum in the past. That support has allowed the Adopt-A-Stream program to continue running.

“The (Adopt-A-Stream program) has been an important tool for teaching young students sound ecological principles and demonstrating good stewardship of the lands and streams within the borough,” wrote River Center Manager Tom Dearlove in a memo to the borough assembly, urging them to pass a resolution to support the Kenai Watershed Forum’s efforts to secure funding the future.

However, now that the program will sunset, the Kenai Watershed Forum will have to apply for other sources for funding. The borough passed the resolution at its Feb. 23 meeting to support the Kenai Watershed Forum’s efforts to obtain other funding.

“The borough folks had been giving us a tremendous amount of money over the last few years,” said Jack Sinclair, the executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum. “(The resolution of support) was sort of a parting gift.”

The Adopt-A-Stream program began in 1994 and reaches an average of 500 students per school year. Education specialists visit classrooms once a month and take field trips to streams to teach the students about water quality monitoring.

This year, the Kenai Watershed Forum has enough funding to be able to run the program the same way it has in the past. However, the organization will have to begin looking elsewhere for operating funds beginning next year, Sinclair said.

In the past, the program has received sponsorships from corporate sponsors, such as ConocoPhillips, which has donated money to the Kenai Watershed Forum’s projects in watersheds like Crooked Creek and in the Gray Cliffs area north of Nikiski.

There are other grant programs that include education and conservation work that would be applicable to the organization’s work in the Kenai River watershed, Sinclair said.

The Kenai Watershed Forum’s summercamp is also in need of more sponsors. Set to begin June 20, Sinclair said the summer camp is “just eking by” on the budget staff and does not have enough scholarships to meet the demand.

“We’ll be sending out letters to some of the bigger organizations on the peninsula (asking for support),” Sinclair said. “We’re going to be putting out the word that it would be great to support this.”

With the Frozen River Festival two weeks ago a marked success, the Kenai Watershed Forum is focusing on gathering sponsors for the Kenai River Festival, its main summer event.

The proceeds from that event go to fund the education programs like StreamWatch and Adopt-A-Stream as well, Sinclair said.

Several major donors have already made commitments and more are signing on daily, he said.

One of the changes the organizers would like to make is to encourage more activities targeted toward older kids, Sinclair said.

In the past, there have been plenty of events for smaller children, but he said he’d like to see more complicated activities for older kids to engage with. He said he’s not sure right now what those activities may be, but the organizers are open to suggestions.

“We’re still looking for people … if they haven’t ever participated, it’s a great time to get a hold of us,” Sinclair said. “All of that helps to provide education, activities, to a wide range of kids out there.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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