A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Fairbanks: 55°/88°/Mostly sunny
Daily News archive 2004
A sow brown bear fishes for salmon trying to navigate the Russian River Falls near Cooper Landing.
On the trip from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula travelers will see many scenic attractions, but one often-overlooked sight as they speed south is the community of Cooper Landing.
SOME HISTORY: Visit the Cooper Landing Museum and find town artifacts and a full-size brown bear skeleton.
A TOUR: Take the Back Roads of Cooper Landing Tour with Bill Fort. Information is available at Princess Tours.
FISH: Like we had to tell you that. You are at one of Alaska's fishing hot spots.
MORE HISTORY: Tour K'beq and see how the Athabascans lived centuries ago.
LACE UP: Pull on those hiking boots and take a day hike on some of the 157 miles of maintained U.S. Forest Service Trails.
SADDLE UP: Take the paddle and saddle trip from Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures. The day-trip includes a two-hour horseback ride, lunch, gold panning and a three-hour scenic float trip.
Cooper Landing is located at the west end of Kenai Lake and has an approximate population of 350. The town was named for Joseph Cooper, a miner well known for discovering gold in the area in 1894. Cooper Lake and Cooper Creek were later named for the miner, and the community was first identified as Cooper Creek Landing in 1914.
Mona Painter is a historian and has been a resident of the tiny town since 1959. Ten years earlier she flew to Alaska to visit an aunt and uncle who lived in Seward. During the summer they made several trips to Cooper Landing for fishing and to go to the Kenai River. Visiting the town made a lasting impression on Painter as a little girl.
"In my scrapbook I wrote that Cooper Landing was the most beautiful town on the Kenai Peninsula," she said.
Cooper Landing makes up for its small size in the richness of its history.
One of Cooper's great-grandsons, Loren Leman, is Alaska's lieutenant governor.
One place to stop is the Cooper Landing museum, which opened in 2003. Visitors will find the skeleton of a 20-year-old brown bear killed on the highway near Soldotna and cleaned and put together by Cooper Landing schoolchildren and adult volunteers throughout an eight-month period. Other pieces of history include old newspapers and videotapes of early Cooper Landing residents.
The two museum buildings are the old post office, used for about 40 years, and the old schoolhouse used from 1955 to 2001.
Painter said many residents of the town consider the eight Forest Service trails to be some of the must-see stops.
The trails that cover nearly 157 miles are maintained and kept cleared for hikers.
Another way to experience Cooper Landing history is to see it firsthand.
Bill Fort has lived in Cooper Landing since the summer of 1996 after taking a job with Princess Tours. Fort named his tour Back Roads of Cooper Landing, and it covers most important places in the town.
Fort said the tour generally lasts about three hours, give or take.
"I don't try and rush it," he said.
He takes groups to the town's historical sites, including the cemetery where Fort tells stories about old-timers buried there.
According to Painter, the cemetery, established in the mid-1950s, is on several acres in a wooded hillside and not laid out in any order.
After a tour of the cemetery, the group is taken to an overlook of the Kenai River and then off to the Cooper Landing Museum.
A new feature of the tour this summer is a stop at the K'beq Archaeological Site, where Dena'ina Athabascans share their culture and traditions with visitors through interpretative walks and viewing artifacts more than 500 years old. There is also a small gift shop featuring local Native artists.
Fort then directs the tourists to The Shrew's Nest, a variety store that many in the community agree lives up to its name.
Cindy Romig and her husband, Karl, are owners of The Shrew's Nest. The store is filled with many everyday necessities for locals, but the Romigs make sure the unique and unexpected items are abundant.
The Romigs sell arts and crafts from many areas in Alaska, including Moose Pass and far northwest Alaska. She stocks the items because she knows the items are special.
"That is what people want. They ask for things made by Alaskans in Alaska," she said.
While the store is a part of Cooper Landing's present, the Romig family has deeper roots in the community. Karl's father and grandfather were both doctors in the community and their instruments can be viewed at the Cooper Landing Museum.
The building also is host to a Rolfing center and a tanning salon. Meghan's Coffee shop is housed in a separate outbuilding in the parking lot where fine chocolates and international newspapers are also available.
After 10 summers touring the same places, Fort said he takes pleasure in the experiences of his tour group.
"I like watching the folks on the tours having a good time. They go home and forever have a memory of that bear out there, or that moose," he said.
Alex Kime is owner of Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures in Cooper Landing. The business, located behind the Sunrise Inn on the Sterling Highway, has 25 horses and has been offering trail rides for nine years.
Kime offers full- or half-day ride trips, pack trips for real outdoor enthusiasts and horse-drawn carriage rides along Quartz Creek road to Kenai Lake.
Kime said the most popular trip is the "paddle and saddle." The day starts out with a two-hour horseback ride, then lunch and gold panning after which participants take a three-hour scenic float trip down the Kenai River in a big raft or kayaks.
"(It's) a really fun day that everyone has really enjoyed," he said.
Kime even gets little ones into the saddle with the kids trail ride. Each child is led through the woods on horseback on a 20-minute walk.
But people don't have to travel far to have fun.
"Quite often folks will spend hours around our fire pit just relaxing in the serenity of the mountains," he said.
The only gear Kime recommends people bring with them for the trips are layered clothing and boots of some sort.
Nine seasons of revealing Cooper Landing's beauty to tourists has not made Kime take the view for granted.
"Cooper Landing is one of the most beautiful spots I have seen. Combine our valley of mountains with the Kenai River, Kenai Lake, sheep on the mountains and you have one of the most serene vacation spots in the state," he said.
Painter agrees the scenic attraction makes Cooper Landing a great place to live, but she has found that the residents make the town truly unique.
"I love these mountains, the lake and the river ... but the friends I have here -- and have had -- and the spirit of the community is the best. This is a 'can-do' town. The amount of volunteerism and friends helping friends can't be beat," she said.
Freelance writer Sara J. Hardan-Smith lives in Nikiski.