The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge trails in Soldotna, Alaska, are still covered with snow on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge trails in Soldotna, Alaska, are still covered with snow on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Refuge trails emerge from winter

It’s officially the end of the groomed winter trail season

It’s breakup season on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which means popular recreation trails will start seeing more traffic as both the sun and community members start to come out.

Leah Eskelin, the visitor center manager at the refuge, said Wednesday that it’s officially the end of the groomed winter trail season, but that many paths still aren’t in optimal summer condition.

“All that time that we try to keep up with ski conditions and things like that, that’s kind of passed,” she said.

There was more snow this year than last, Eskelin said, but some of the warmer temperatures have been causing breakup on the refuge.

Some of the most popular summer trails include Hidden Creek, Upper Kenai River Trail and Skyline, Eskelin said. These trails are all still pretty icy.

“There’s a lot of snow still on the Skilak trails, like all the Skilak area,” she said. “Because as breakup arrives, it arrives first at the lowlands and then kind of goes up the elevation.”

Although most of the refuge has a fair amount of snow and ice, Eskelin said people are still coming out to enjoy the trails.

“According to a couple reports we got this last weekend, it’s still really snowy, but beautiful (in Skilak),” she said.

Ice cleats or snowshoes are still recommended in this area, Eskelin said.

“Surprisingly, it’s kind of hard to remember that a lot of Skilak is kind of at that upper elevation,” she said.

Looking forward to this spring and summer, Eskelin said she’s excited to start bringing back some annual programming that has been altered or canceled altogether because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The visitor’s center will also begin to gradually open its doors to the public next month.

She said rangers plan to start guided hikes in June like last year, and also launch a new vista punch card program, which will encourage hikers to visit as many viewpoints on the refuge as they can.

“The intention of this program is not to get people to hike every single trail, but find the place that makes you stop and go ‘wow,’” Eskelin said.

Some of the sites on the punch card, she said, are newer viewpoints only visible after the Swan Lake Fire.

“I’m looking forward to having people who are out on the refuge, visitors and residents and hikers, go and kind of find those cool spots and share them with us,” Eskelin said.

More summer programming should be finalized in the coming months, but for now, she said she encourages people to use the refuge — including the multiuse trail near the visitor’s center — whether that be in hiking boots, cleats or snowshoes.

More information can be found on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge website at fws.gov/refuge/kenai.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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