This summer, there was no work in Southeast Alaska. As a primarily cruiseship-driven summer economy, work was hard to come by pretty much everywhere here in Southeast. These conditions among others, brought me back up to the Kenai Peninsula for a summer of work in Seward on Ressurection Bay, and in Kenai Fjords National Park. With a plethora of kayak guiding skills and comfort/love for work on the water, I was immediately excited by the opportunity to return to one of my favorite places and (regardless of Covid) have work for the summer.
I could (and will in other media) go on about what a pleasure it was to work for my outfitter up there this summer, but right now I'd like to focus on some of the natural wonders of the Kenai.
Everyone knows the Kenai for it's fishing. Whether you're referring to the River or the whole Peninsula, either one has been a must-go for anglers since the mid-90s. The Kenai River, Russian River, Moose River, and everywhere in between; most tout all 5 species of Pacific Salmon as well as other large prize fish. But where there's salmon, there's bears, eagles, and all sorts of other wildlife; and to me, the epicenter of this action is Skilak Lake Road.
This seemingly out of the way, dirt road is definitely a hidden gem, and even more so recently. Nearly every trail leads to salmon spawns and bears hunting. Ptarmigan and grouse roam the paths, as do bears, eagles, moose, and most other small wildlife you'd expect to find. But last year with the Funny River and Swan Lakes fires, the North side of the road all burned up. For countless acres on either side of the Sterling Hwy and Skilak Lake Rd, the old black spruce forests are gone and the fireweed has quickly moved in to take it's place until the regrowth. It's insanely beautiful in it's own way.
But this spring this burnt area became home to an almost infinite supply of morel mushrooms, a delicacy that grows best 1-5 years after a fire. If you didn't know this bloom was occurring, you'd simply see hundreds of cars parked haphazardly on the side of the highway and people laying face-down in the mud, but those forages really did pay off.
I was really curious about the burn area, since I was away last summer and didn't see the fires actually happen. So, I took quite a few hikes that overlooked the area and compared new pictures to those from 2017. Bear Mountain and Skyline Trail both led to their always stunning views, but with an endless wash of red and oranges, instead of the typical green of the conifers. I've posted side-by-side photos on my website and I encourage you to check out the difference.
From Homer to Seward, the Kenai is one of the most wonderful places on Earth to me, to all it's visitors every year, and to the wildlife that inhabits it. Whether you choose to fish, kayak, boat around, or just hike and tour the scenery (and breweries), I encourage everyone to get up there and truly experience Alaska's Playground.