Alaskans: Now is the time to explore your state

  • Author Jennifer Yuhas and her partner Paul Keech enjoyed an unprecedented isolated day on the Kenai River recently and she’s encouraging Alaskans to make the best of a strange year by making memories outside. (Photo/Courtesy/Jennifer Yuhas)

On July 2, my fella Paul and I flew down from Fairbanks to Palmer in his Cessna 170 so I could attend a brief meeting, then we continued on to Kenai.

We stayed in the guest cabins at Harry Gaines Fish Camp off Big Eddy in Soldotna. We had our own space, and a large deck, where we could grill our fish and talk in the sunshine with our hosts from much more than six feet away. We told stories and exchanged smiles. The fish counts were low, but so was the fishing pressure!

I have never fished the Kenai River without another boat in view up or downstream, 1991 to 2020, this was a first! We drifted all day, for two days, in peace. Mount Redoubt greeted us at sunrise. So did one jack salmon and a legal Dolly Varden. They provided a perfect lunch on the grill deck back at fish camp.

We Alaskans live here because we love our state. We tell ourselves each January that this is the year that we’re getting out there. We make a list of all the places we told ourselves, and some of our friends and family, we would explore right here at home.

We let our relatives know that they will need to take multiple trips because they can’t possibly see the whole state in one trip. We know our economy is partly dependent upon the tourism industry, but we feel entitled to avoid the crowds.

We want our own exploration to feel individual. We want more of a wilderness experience. We want to connect with the land. We want to touch it, feel it, taste it. We want to be weary from it. We also want to support small local businesses. Well, 2020 is our year!

For all the inconvenience the global pandemic has wrought, it has brought us some unique opportunities. Gas prices are low. Our schedules have largely been cleared of the unnecessary overcommitments we tell ourselves we have to do. We are re-evaluating our schedules.

We’re taking time to listen and be still. Some of us have had Lower 48 vacations, conferences, or house guest obligations canceled. We’re reconnecting with ourselves and our families, why not our state? We have the time and the space to explore locally. We can also do this safely and respectfully, and our small business owners are more than grateful right now.

This year’s 4th of July experience on the Kenai River still has me in awe. So much so that I couldn’t help but write this article to encourage others to take advantage of what our state has to offer. Our house has already made commitments to do more of it before that wormhole closes.

Opportunities are everywhere this year, take advantage of them while you can! Check ahead of time to see what is open, and how to comply with their protocols. Do you want to hike that trail, see the Sea Life Center, Large Animal Research Station, Botanical Gardens, or the Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage without others blocking your view?

We may have to experience some inconveniences, such as wearing masks, paying electronically, or making reservations; but we’ll probably find a parking space, get a much more personal experience, and cherish these memories.

On the river, our guide, Rick, practiced safe distancing. We were the only two people in his boat, and we had plenty of room. He was happy to guide locals. We didn’t need much instruction. He changed our tackle from farther than the end of our rods. We paid with a phone transfer.

Some people say hiring a guide is expensive, that real locals don’t do it. It sure is cheaper than a boat payment, or the medical bills associated with misinterpreting the channel on the river. There were reports that boats were headed down the highway, but they sure weren’t on the water. We still caught fish. Not a record king, but we didn’t get skunked, and that’s more than I can say for 29 years on that river when it’s been crowded and raining.

It was an easy day all around. The weather was perfect. We traded stories and made plans for future connections. We will never forget this trip, and we’ll probably never have another like it.

Unfortunately, Alaska’s loss of tourism, and therefore fishing license sales, especially in Southeast this year, means an enormous hit to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Sport Fish.

Without hunter and angler recruitment, our management professionals will be facing budget shortfalls for years to come, and that usually translates to less data, and lowered opportunity to harvest. But that’s an article for a later date. For now, take some timely advice from our late Uncle Ted: Get Out And PLAY, Alaska!

Jennifer Yuhas is committed to outdoor education and conservation of Alaska’s resources. She has been involved in hunting and fishing governance and regulation at all levels since 1995 and is a supporter of Explore Fairbanks. She hopes one day to write about her outdoor adventures as well as her inspiration, Ken Marsh.

Updated: 
07/15/2020 - 1:36pm