Refuge repairing boat launch, trails, and cabins

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is replacing a boardwalk and boat ramp into the Kenai River at the end of Soldotna’s East Redoubt Avenue.

Crews are at work on the Refuge’s Salmatof Public Access Boardwalk and Public Use Boat Ramp and plan to finish by July 1, said Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Chief of Visitor Services Matt Conner.

“It wasn’t a critical need because people are still using it, but it’d be nice to take care of it before it gets worse,” Conner said.

The concrete slabs that make up the present ramp weren’t cabled together when they were installed.

“They’ve just been kind of sliding down into the river,” Conner said. “So the first thing we’ll do for the project is remove those so they’re not just more debris in the river. Then we’ll put in a proper type of launch where the concrete slabs are cabled together. It’ll last a lot longer and improve access.”

Crews are already at work replacing one of the boardwalks at the site, which Conner said had been warped by frost heave and no longer meets the Americans with Disabilities Act standards that require wheelchair accessibility.

“Now it’s like a rollercoaster,” Conner said.

The new boardwalk will be mounted on screw-like helical piers that distribute weight more broadly, making them less susceptible to frost heave and requiring less future maintenance. These are the most expensive part of the project, Conner said.

Funding for the Salamatof work — $950,000 for the boardwalk, $230,000 for the ramp — comes from the Department of the Interior, which announced on Thursday that it was giving $5.86 million to U.S Fish and Wildlife Service projects in Alaska — $4 million of which will be spent on construction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to prepare for oil exploration in the 1002 area. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is receiving most of the remainder — $1.53 million for maintenance on the Bear Creek, Pollard Loop, Drake Lake, and Moose Creek trails, and the Doroshin Bay cabin, in addition to the Salamatof boat ramp.

“You’ve got to keep up on these cabins, because they’re booked every day of the summer and most of the winter, so we’ve got to get in there and clean out the stovepipes for safety,” Conner said. “And we sand down and repaint the floors, make sure the nails are hammered down — we take a lot of pride in our cabins.”

The refuge is also planning to extend its boat launch into Hidden Lake in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation area, where Conner said trailers sometimes back off the end of the ramp, “which ends abruptly.”

“We put gravel there every couple of years, but it’s easy for that to wash away, and it can do so overnight,” Conner said. “We’re going to add some sections so it goes further and deeper into Hidden Lake so people, especially with bigger trailers, can comfortably back in and out.”

Reach Ben Boettger at bboettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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