Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion 
The Kenai River can be seen from the Funny River Campground on Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Funny River, Alaska.

Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion The Kenai River can be seen from the Funny River Campground on Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Funny River, Alaska.

State seeks funding for Funny River boat launch

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is working to secure funding for the construction of a boat launch on the Funny River side of the Kenai River, a state employee said Friday.

DNR is eyeing the end of Fisherman’s Road as a potential site. That’s according to recommendations published by the Funny River Boat Launch Selection Committee under the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board last November.

Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation Kenai/Prince William Sound Superintendent Jack Blackwell, who also toured potential launch sites, said Friday the ultimate goal is to have two boat launches above and below the rapids. He added the committee pays such close attention to the rapids because they pose a navigational hazard.

In looking to move ahead with a launch at Fisherman’s Road first, Blackwell said that an examination of launches on the other side of the river show that Bing’s Landing, which is above the rapids, has “significantly more use” than Izaak Walton Campground, which is below the rapids.

Blackwell said Friday that DNR is looking into potential funding sources for the project, but that the department has “not actively been focused on” the project while they focus on broader state park operations.

“We’re looking into it at this time,” Blackwell said.

The recommendation is the latest installment of a yearslong debate over the construction of a boat launch on the south side of the Kenai River in Funny River. Currently, people in Funny River must travel to Soldotna, about 10 miles away, or Kenai, about 25 miles away, to access a boat launch.

The Kenai River Special Management Area is part of the Alaska State Parks system and was established in the 1980s as a way to protect fishery and wildlife resources and to manage recreational use and development activities in and around the Kenai River.

The management area created a committee to select a site for a boat launch in Funny River after the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution in 2019 formalizing its support for public access to the Kenai River for recreational purposes from the road network system in Funny River.

“Although the economic development plan addressed these needs some fifteen years ago, little to no improvements to accommodate public access to the Kenai River from this traffic corridor have occurred,” the legislation says.

The legislation also outlined the problems that have arisen due to a lack of a designated public access point in Funny River, including overcrowded parking, trespassing on private property and public safety issues near the end of Mykiss Street.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce reiterated those challenges during the assembly’s July 6 meeting and said the community has traditionally been divided on the issue.

“The borough has never ever endorsed it to be utilized as a boat launch,” Pierce said during that meeting of the boat launch near the end of Mykiss Street. “The problem with it is it’s very narrow, it’s steep and there’s private properties on both sides of the right of way going down through there.”

To put the launch at the end of Mykiss Street, Pierce said, would “encourage or promote” trespassing onto private owners on both sides of the rights of way, which has already been reported.

“Mykiss is not the solution,” Pierce said, adding that he was surprised Kenai River Special Management Area recommended the Fisherman’s Road site.

Assembly Member Bill Elam, who represents Sterling and Funny River, said during the same meeting that a safe option for people to access the river in Funny River would be a good thing.

“It would be really nice to get some traction and have a safe place for people to launch a boat on the south side of the river,” Elam said.

Kenai River Special Management Area’s Funny River Boat Launch Selection Committee, which included board members from the management area, fishing guides and representatives from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Game, toured potential boat launch sites in October 2020 and published their conclusions the following month.

Ultimately, the committee recommended two sites: one located at the end of Fisherman’s Road, north of the Naptowne Rapids, and on Mykiss Street, south of the Naptowne Rapids.

“The Kenai Peninsula Borough should improve the MyKiss Street right-of-way which is currently used as a boat launch,” the report’s executive summary says. “The site would also provide emergency egress and access via the Kenai River for residents off Funny River Road downstream of the Naptowne Rapids. The right-of-way should be fenced to reduce conflict with neighbors.”

Other locations considered by the committee included different mileposts along Funny River Road and at the Funny River State Recreation Site, with attention paid to the site’s acreage and ownership. Reasons for not recommending a piece of land ranged from steep topography to the limitations of existing management plans.

In recommending the Fisherman’s Road site, the committee cited topography that is “conducive for development” and a riverbed that drops off such that it would be good for the installation of a boat launch. Potential downsides include navigation and visibility issues around the hairpin bend in that section of the river and its proximity to a local subdivision.

“Property managed by the Department of Natural Resources at the end of Fisherman’s Road, is suitable for developing a boat launch that would provide access to the middle section of the Kenai River above the Naptowne Rapids,” the committee wrote.

More information about the project can be found on the Department of Natural Resources’ website at dnr.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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