Renovations underway at Eagle Rock boat launch

Boats entering the Kenai River this summer from Eagle Rock boat launch will have a wider ramp into the water, but the vehicles that bring them may still have to navigate a congested parking lot.

After the Alaska Department of Natural Resources finishes rennovating Eagle Rock, the launch will resemble that at the Pillars boat launch, which the department’s Division of Parks and Public Recreation also manages about half a river mile upstream, according to the division’s on-site engineer Roxanne Risse. That means the concrete ramp will be flanked with a new floating dock, and an elevated walkway will lead along the water with river access stairs.

Division of Parks engineer Rys Miranda, who is overseeing the renovations by Peninsula Construction, said the contracted completion date is June 15, though it may be pushed back. Risse said the soil’s higher than expected sand content would need reinforcement with firmer material, adding time to the project.

Work started when crews dredged the riverbed around the ramp in February, driving equipment on top the river ice. Since ice-out, they’ve expanded the ramp from two 12-foot-wide lanes to two-16-foot wide lanes — following the trend toward bigger boats and bigger trucks, Risse said. The one-lane downhill driveway into the parking lot is also getting an extra lane.

The parking lot itself is being regraded for better drainage. Risse said the Division of Parks may pave the lot and driveway at some point in the future.

The previously unstriped lot will be marked for 43 parking spaces, Miranda said, though it won’t be any larger than before. Traffic is often backed up during the height of the summer fishing season when boaters launching from Eagle Rock park alongside the nearby Kenai Spur Highway after the small lot fills up. Expanding the lot into the surrounding wetlands, however, would be legally difficult.

Eagle Rock was originally a homestead site established by the Poore family in the 1950s before the state purchased it in 2014 with funds from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council — a six-member group that distributes money from the $900 million criminal settlement for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill to conservation projects. The boat launch and parking lot takes up one corner of the mostly undeveloped 51.08-acre property, which is protected by conservation easements under the Trustee Council’s habitat protection goals.

The Trustee Council did allow a small incursion to the wetland: The construction includes a new graded pad to be used by Division of Parks’ boat launch host, who previously took up space in the parking lot. Otherwise, the surrounding land will be blocked with new concrete barriers to prevent trailers from backing over it.

Building more parking spaces on the higher ground to the boat launch’s east would require state and federal land negotiations. The property is owned by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s online parcel viewer.

By 2022, the Alaska Department of Transportation plans to have widened the Kenai Spur Highway between Kenai and Soldotna to four lanes and will be starting the first phase of the project — from Swire’s Road to Eagle Rock, around Highway Mile 5 — this summer. The department has no plans to include extra road-side parking in the highway right-of-way near Eagle Rock, spokesperson Shannon McCarthy said.

While the wider ramp and driveway may help ease the summer congestion around Eagle Rock, another new feature is meant to help people plan their time. Risse said the Division of Parks will install a publicly viewable webcam on top of Eagle Rock’s outhouse, aimed at the boat launch so boaters can see in advance how busy it is.

Reach Ben Boettger at bboettger@peninsulaclarion.com

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