Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, FIle In this July 20, 2016 photo, a dipnetter walks along the southern bank of the Kenai River near the Warren Ames Bridge in Kenai, Alaska. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources' Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation plans to repair the riverbanks in the area and install elevated light-penetrating boardwalks to combat some of the vegetation and bank loss due to high levels of foot traffic.

Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, FIle In this July 20, 2016 photo, a dipnetter walks along the southern bank of the Kenai River near the Warren Ames Bridge in Kenai, Alaska. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources' Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation plans to repair the riverbanks in the area and install elevated light-penetrating boardwalks to combat some of the vegetation and bank loss due to high levels of foot traffic.

Parks plans riverbank repair work on Kenai Peninsula

Trampled riverbanks on several Kenai Peninsula rivers will get a $2 million cash infusion to help mitigate some of the damage.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council approved a number of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks of Outdoor Recreation projects on the Kenai River, Crooked Creek and Anchor River at its September meeting focused on riverbank restoration. The project areas include the Kenai River Flats, Eagle Rock, the pipeline crossing site, the site on Funny River Road known as the Kenai River Ranch, an area near the confluence of Crooked Creek and the Kasilof River and a site on the Anchor River near Slide Hole.

The trustee council, composed of the commissioners of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Law as well as Alaska representatives for the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior, oversees funds invested and disbursed from the $900 million criminal settlement after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. Funds go to restoration and conservation projects that affect the spill area ecosystems.

The department plans to plant vegetation and install elevated light-penetrating boardwalks in several of the sites to still provide access for anglers but avoid some of the impacts of foot traffic, said Jack Blackwell, regional supervisor for Parks and Outdoor Recreation on the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound.

“Our hope is that by providing the infrastructure … we can provide access to folks and allow these areas to restore, to (go back to) being productive areas,” he said.

On the Kenai River Flats, the money will go to additional infrastructure at the access site at the base of the Warren Ames Bridge, where dipnetters in July frequently cross the banks to access the river. The first step in the two-phase project will be to install elevated light-penetrating walkways on the bank and four sets of river access stairs.

The site is increasingly popular for dipnetting, according to Parks and Outdoor Recreation visitor counts — between fiscal years 2010 and 2013, total visitors increased from 10,332 people to 20,265, both residents and nonresidents. Concern about damage to the banks has prompted Fish and Game to ask the Board of Fisheries in the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet cycle to prohibit bank fishing from the mouth up to the bridge.

“The increase in use has led to more people trampling the riverbank to gain river access resulting in damage to its riparian resources and fish habitat deterioration,” a project description submitted to the trustee council in August 2016 states. “…this project will provide managed river access for this popular fishery and be proactive in preventing further deterioration of riparian resources along this section of the Kenai River.”

The project there is estimated to cost approximately $1.4 million, but most of it will come from a Federal Highway Administration grant, matched by Exxon Valdez Oil Spill funds, Blackwell said. Phase one would cover the area closer to the road, while the second phase would extend another 250 feet along the bank to the west, according to the plans.

The other projects are similar — replacing vegetation revetment to stabilize the riverbanks and installing more elevated light-penetrating boardwalks to protect the existing vegetation. The common trend among the projects is that visitor use has increased over the years and anglers have trampled down the existing vegetation on riverbanks, causing damage to fish and wildlife habitat.

One of the project sites is the Eagle Rock boat launch in Kenai, which the state purchased with Exxon Valdez Oil Spill funds. The site is one of the most popular boat launches on the lower Kenai River and had extensively damaged riverbanks when the state took over operations in 2014. The new project will add boardwalks and help preserve the riverbank, which will help restore the fish habitat and decrease turbidity in the stream, according to the project document submitted to the trustee council.

Another will not add any boardwalk but will restore some riparian habitat on an approximately 3,000-foot stretch of the river on the Kenai River Ranch property at approximately Mile 12 of Funny River Road. The state purchased the property with Exxon Valdez Oil Spill funds and sought public feedback on whether to develop the property, which is a former homestead. The commenters were divided on whether to develop a boat launch there because there are currently no boat launches on Funny River Road, which is a growing community, or to leave it as is for habitat protection. The department ultimately decided to do only habitat restoration and remove disused structures from the property. Separate from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill-funded projects, Parks and Outdoor Recreation is also working on two other access improvement projects — one at Bings Landing in Sterling and another along the Kasilof River. Bings Landing, which underwent construction to preserve the riverbanks and improve the boat launch and parking lot last year, will get a 66-foot floating dock this year.

That project will be mostly constructed in a shop this winter, but there will be a little construction at the site to prepare for it by next season, said Rys Miranda, the section chief for Parks and Outdoor Recreation’s Design and Construction office.

“There’s going to be a little bit of construction on site involved, but it’s going to be minimal,” he said. ”The idea is definitely to have it ready by next season.

The state purchased several parcels on the Kasilof River to develop a boat takeout several years ago. Known as the Trujillo’s Landing site, boaters had long used the site to take out without having to go all the way down to the Kasilof River Lodge and Cabins or to the mouth. Underground tanks and buildings remaining on the site will be removed this winter in preparation for the development of a new takeout system, Miranda said. The plan is to develop the takeout system concurrently with the cleanup efforts and obtain public input on the site, he said.

The department is still working on setting dates for public meetings, he said.

“Now that we’ve got the property, we just wanted to circle the wagons and remind people what we’ve got going on,” he said.

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

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