A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Fairbanks: -23°/5°/Mostly cloudy
Daily News archive 2004
The morning sun lights the dome of the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai. The church was built in 1894 and is still used today. It is one of the oldest Russian Orthodox churches in the state.
Kenai is known for being a village with a past and a city with a future. The town is the largest on the Kenai Peninsula and has roots in Kenaitze Indian and Russian cultures.
TAKE A WALK: Roam the vast sandy beaches in Kenai or take a drive farther north to Nikiski, where large boulders said to be from prehistoric times protrude roughly from the landscape.
EAT WELL: Treat yourself to a fresh seafood dinner at one of Kenai's best restaurants. Many dishes are made with fresh Alaska seafood from local waters.
GO FISHING: The mighty Kenai River flows into Cook Inlet here. This is where the salmon start returning "home." Go hook one.
COMFORT: Stay the night at a local bed and breakfast after a day of fishing or sightseeing.
TAKE IN SOME ART: Enjoy the "Alaska 2005: Native Arts Now" exhibit at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.
LEARN SOME HISTORY: Take a trip though Old Town Kenai, sip tea or coffee at Veronica's Cafe and then take a walk down to the beach.
-- Lisa Strother, who moved to Kenai from Montana in 2004
Any trip to Kenai is best started at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, which has brochures of local businesses and videos on many Alaska topics.
Visitors will find the "Alaska 2005: Native Arts Now" exhibit as well as the Natural History Museum, with Alaska animal mounts, and the Cultural History Museum, with more than 3,000 Russian and Athabascan artifacts.
Interpretive programs are offered at 3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Each program is free and focuses separately on art, science and Alaska heritage.
A self-guided walking tour through Old Town Kenai is great for exploring the town's history.
The tour starts at the visitors' center and features American and Russian landmarks, including the century-old Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, as well as homesteads and commercial and civic buildings.
According to "Alaska's Kenai Peninsula: The Road We've Traveled," a history compiled by the Kenai Historical Society, the church was built in 1894 with $400 worth of materials provided by the synod in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It has been in continuous use and is one of the oldest standing Russian Orthodox churches in the state.
Veronica's Cafe, across from the church, is a log cabin that was built in 1918 by a Native family. The cozy restaurant was named after a former owner's dog and is an interesting place in which to sit and enjoy an Alaska moment.
Rebecca Lambourn and husband Stan Coleman bought the cafe in September 2004. Both were regular customers, and the couple decided to buy it to keep it open.
But Lambourn also was aware of the history of the building and its location.
According to Lambourn, an adjunct anthropology instructor at Kenai Peninsula College, the cabin sits on top of or near to the area where the first Russian fort, Redoubt Saint Nicholas, stood. The battle for Kenai, a battle between the Dena'ina Athabascan Indians and the Russians, occurred in the immediate area in 1797. Russians with the two fur trading companies left shortly after.
Also, at least three countries, Britain, Spain and Russia, sent expeditions to Cook Inlet.
Lambourn said the cafe has many maps on the walls, and she educates visitors about Kenai history.
"People just mix here from the different towns and the different schools in the area," she said.
Charlie LaForge, a cook at the cafe, said the establishment has a beautiful view of local waters.
"It is cute and quaint and overlooks the Kenai River and has a view of the Alaska Range," he said.
The restaurant is open daily and serves homemade soups and desserts as well as sandwiches, quiche and lasagna. Dinner is served Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
The ambience of the shop is cool, made more so by the frequent live music by local musicians that can be heard most nights.
The Kenai Fine Arts Center, also located in Old Town Kenai, is another popular stop. The building held Kenai's first jail and firehouse in 1955. It was later renovated and is now the home of a pottery studio and a sales gallery that exhibits the artwork of some of Kenai's best artists.
Bird watchers can view geese, swans, ducks, widgeons and cranes on the Kenai River Flats on Bridge Access Road just south of Kenai. The best viewing is in the spring and early summer months.
The majesty of beaches in Kenai and North Kenai is astounding. While the beaches in Kenai are sandy and easy to stroll on, the North Kenai beaches, as far out as Captain Cook State Park, have gigantic boulders that have withstood the tides for countless years.
After beachcombing or bird watching, a good night's sleep at an area bed and breakfast would be perfect.
The Log Cabin Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road offers visitors a vacation with all the perks.
Carol Titus and her husband, Ted, both retired teachers, felt they needed a business to help fund their retirement, and they're glad to work side by side.
The log cabin, originally built 11 years ago, caught fire soon after construction was finished. Carol Titus said the community helped the couple rebuild it.
Some charred wood remains in the ceiling of the home, adding a different kind of touch.
"It has a lot of character," she said. "It looks like an old building that was rebuilt, very unique, very beautiful."
Another great thing about the lodge is the full hot breakfast served every morning from 3 to 8 a.m., depending on the needs of the guests.
Carol Titus serves an all-you-can-eat breakfast that changes daily. In fact, she said, she has been told her sourdough pancakes bring some customers back year after year.
After a filling meal, patrons can make themselves comfortable in several of the sitting rooms throughout the home.
"They don't feel like they are going into someone's house and intruding," she said. Customers also have access to the kitchen and barbecue facilities as well as the indoor hot tub.
The lodge has a spectacular view of the Kenai River and the river flats from the mouth of the river to three miles upstream. Caribou, coyotes and fox are often spotted on the flats as well as the occasional bald eagle. Belugas are sometimes seen following salmon schools upriver, and seals and sea otters have been spotted. The lodge has a viewing area for great photo opportunities.
"The setting is just perfect," Carol Titus said.
The front of the lodge has an up-close view of an active beaver pond, and beavers are out early in the morning.
She said the lodge was built with the help of her six children. Some of them, and her grandchildren, work at the lodge.
"It is a family business," she said.
Freelance writer Sara J. Hardan-Smith lives in Nikiski.