A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Fairbanks: 55°/88°/Mostly clear
The city of Kenai attracts visitors from every corner of the world, with summer being the busiest season. Though fishing may be the first thought in the minds of anglers, the area is rich in history and culture.
A great place to visit when arriving in Kenai is the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, on the Kenai Spur Highway. The facility strives to excite and educate visitors as well as residents.
The center has several displays and exhibits featuring Athabascan, Aleut and Russian culture. The collection of items from homesteaders, miners, commercial fishers and those in the oil industry paint a picture of early life in Kenai. The natural history room that houses Alaska wildlife exhibits is steps away.
"Sticks & Stones: Alaskan Structures" is the summer exhibit, with guest curator and Anchorage artist Don Mohr. It will be on display May 11 to Sept. 8; the cost is $8 for adults, and children are free. Natasha Ala, program and exhibit coordinator at KVCC, said Mohr has selected nearly 75 of Alaska's top contemporary artists to participate in this summer's show.
"We are excited that many of the artists are new, up-and-coming artists to the state of Alaska. We also have many artists from the Fairbanks/Ester community participating this year, and we are thrilled to have that region of the state well-represented," she said.
Mohr worked with the center to develop the Alaska structure theme. "My interest in this exhibition is to encourage artists to think about their relationship to Alaska in a very particular way," Mohr wrote. "I hope that all invited artists will consider this theme in the broadest possible way. I only ask that each contemplate how they fit in the Alaska landscape, or how people in general fit. It is this point of contact - this place where humans have touched the land in some way - that will, I hope, provide the connection between very different artists."
The parking lot of the KVCC is transformed at the end of each week for Saturday Market. Booths are set up, rain or shine, to sell products made or grown locally. The market is a great place to find unique souvenirs and tasty fruits and vegetables.
The center also is the starting point of the self-guided walking tour through Old Town Kenai. In less than an hour, visitors can learn the history of the little fishing village nestled on the mouth of the Kenai River.
The cabin of Moosemeat John and the century-old Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Orthodox church are on the route, as is Veronica's Coffee House, inside a log cabin built in 1918.
Another great historic building on the route is the Kenai Fine Arts Center on Cook Avenue. While the building is presently home to the Peninsula Art Guild, an organization of visual artists and supporters of the visual arts on the Kenai Peninsula, its original purpose was as a firehouse and jail.
A great place to unwind after a long day of touring Alaska is the Kenai Community Library. Patrons can find an array of books, a large DVD collection of PBS and nonfiction films and an eclectic mix of 130 magazines from hunting to Oprah.
Library director Mary Jo Joiner said visitors also have access to wireless computers and printers, making work and correspondence possible on vacation.
"If they have their own laptops, they can come in and surf away," she said. Another perk, for those visiting Kenai for a while, is a nonresident library card so that visitors can check out books. "It is nice when you're on vacation," Joiner said.
Another attraction the library is known for is its collection of Jean Anderson Graves dolls.
"It is kind of unique. Just a little something to come and see," she said.
While the interior of the library is serene and quite, chirping birds and the warm sunlight beckon visitors to sit outside and enjoy a bit of an Alaska summer day. The facility's landscaping is thick with multicolored perennials and annual flowers as well as raspberry and strawberry plants and trees that provide colorful foliage throughout the summer.
"It is nice to have the green space," Joiner said.
Those with close ties to the library pitch in to keep the grounds immaculate.
"Primarily, it is done by the Friends of the Library and the library staff," she said.
No vacation is complete without taking a moment to enjoy nature. Birding can be a relaxing excursion, or an entire trip can be planned around the activity.
The KVCC has information and brochures for visitors interested in birding. Another resource to view is www.birding.alaska.gov.
Ken Marlow operates Marlow's on the Kenai with rental cabins on the Kenai River, fishing charters and birding tours.
"I've found that it depends on where the birder is coming from that determines which birds are of the most interest to them," he said. He said his customers' birding interests often dictate the group's focus.
"I always ask the client and design their birding based on their specific wants as to the birds we will concentrate on," Marlow said. An upcoming book on the subject, "Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Guide," is slated to come out this summer. The guide, created with the help of a team of volunteers, selected 64 viewing sites on the Kenai Peninsula and will include descriptions of what to look for at each site as well as the best times to visit, a seasonal wildlife- viewing calendar and safety tips. It was edited by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The guide will be sold in bookstores and visitor centers and be available from some tour operators.
For some who visit Kenai, summer festivals and celebrations are highlights of an Alaska trip. Those in Kenai make the most of the summer weather in early June with the Kenai River Festival. During the free event, residents celebrate the Kenai River's contribution to the community and their lives. The festival extends well into the bright evening while the smell of barbecue fills the air.
Another annual event that creates excitement is the Fourth of July parade that starts at 11 a.m. Local businesses are represented by grand floats, whose riders throw treats to the crowd. There are food booths, crafts and games after the parade.
Freelance writer Sara J. Hardan-Smith lives in Nikiski.
- Walk through history: Old Town Kenai is worth an hour or more of your time. There is a nice walking tour, and the view from the bluff out over Cook Inlet is outstanding. The historical buildings are among the oldest in Alaska, some dating from the 1880s.
- Follow the dipnetters: As a visitor, you can't share in the annual sockeye salmon harvest at the mouth of the Kenai River. But the neoprene-clad dipnetters hauling fish after fish to shore in oversized nets are worth watching. Dipnetting takes place in late July.
- See some art: The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center's annual art display is always outstanding. There also are several art galleries in town; enjoy what the locals create.
- Cannery row: Kenai Landing is just across the mouth of the Kenai River from town and was formerly the Wards Cove Packing Co. cannery. It is steeped in 90 years of history. Today, it is a vibrant waterfront community off Kalifornisky Beach Road, where visitors can dine in a restaurant in a converted cannery, stay in rooms that once housed workers or mill around 40 shops featuring local art, food and crafts.