July 16, 2009
We drove into the town of Kenai and stopped at their visitor center. We next went to the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church which was constructed in 1894. It is one of the oldest standing Orthodox churches in Alaska and is a National Historic Landmark. Church services are still held regularly. The resident priest gave us a tour of the small church and told us about its history. He said he is now retired and only serves this one church; he had served 4 other churches in the area. He was quite a character and we enjoyed listening to him. The interior was beautiful with an ornate chandelier and portraits of saints, which all came from Russia.
We had lunch at Veronica’s, which is in one of the original houses in Kenai. It was a very weather beaten house and had beautiful flowers and plants all around. The food was excellent. After lunch we went to Scout Park to a scenic overlook of the mouth of the Kenai River. You can sometimes see Beluga whales and the volcanoes across Cook Inlet, but once again the fog was too thick. We did get a good view of the dip net fishing they have here. Standing almost shoulder to shoulder, they hold huge nets with long handles (about 10-12 ft long) in the water and wait for the fish to swim into them. Across the river about 50 people were walking in an oblong circle with their nets – the water side of the circle were shoulder and neck deep in the water and the inside group was on the shore. They continued this circuit the entire time we were watching. Not Rex’s idea of fishing!
We drove to Soldotna to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which covers nearly 2 million acres and was originally set up to protect moose. The refuge now exists to protect wildlife populations and the habitats they need to survive. At the visitors center we saw a very interesting film on polar and grizzly bears. We learned that polar bears are descended from grizzly bears – forced to change in the last ice age. The visitors center also had very nice displays about the wildlife in the refuge. We hiked a nature trail down to a beautiful lake and came upon a loon family. There is a fire in the refuge southeast of here that is currently burning 128,000 acres. The information board at the visitors center said they did not expect the fire to be out until October 10th. We are not getting much smoke here but that is the fire that was causing some smoke in the Homer area.