The mother-and-daughter team Kaylee Fenn, left, and Julia Hanson, right, navigate through one of the course challenges in the 2018 5K Clam Scramble, held June 16, 2018, in Ninilchik, Alaska. The fun run is held during low tide on Ninilchik beach. (Photo by Sabrina Ferguson)

The mother-and-daughter team Kaylee Fenn, left, and Julia Hanson, right, navigate through one of the course challenges in the 2018 5K Clam Scramble, held June 16, 2018, in Ninilchik, Alaska. The fun run is held during low tide on Ninilchik beach. (Photo by Sabrina Ferguson)

Ninilchik 5K scramble honors clamming tradition

An unprecedented die-off of razor clams in 2010 led to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shutting down the harvesting of razor clams that once fed Ninilchik residents and attracted bivalve-hungry crowds to its beaches.

The spirit of clamming didn’t die, however. It lives on with the Clam Scramble, a 5K fun run begun in 2015, sponsored by Ninilchik Chamber of Commerce and Ninilchik Emergency Services.

“It was to bring awareness to the plight of our natural resources and the declining stability. Since the start of it, we’ve seen not only our clams, but also the king salmon runs decline,” said Debbie Cary, this year’s Clam Scramble coordinator. “Our main objective is to get people out, be with family and enjoy the weather.”

This year’s Clam Scramble starts at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Deep Creek Beach Campground in Ninilchik and ends at the Ninilchik View State Park Campground.

The fun run is scheduled during one of the year’s lowest tides. The course begins on the south side of Deep Creek and entrants are immediately confronted with a log hurdle, one of several challenges included in the event. Once through that, runners and walkers cross the cold, knee-deep water of Deep Creek. The course continues north along the beach, with more challenges like a mud crawl adding to the fun. After crossing Ninilchik River, entrants wind through Ninilchik village and along Mission Road before facing the final challenge, the “Staircase to Glory,” a 115-stair climb to the finish line at the Ninilchik View State Park Campground.

The first year, 75 brave athletes completed the course. By the second year, the event’s reputation attracted 112 runners and walkers, with 206 signing up the following year. In 2018, weather proved a challenge to both organizers and registrants.

“If we wanted an extreme event, that was it,” said Michael Schuster, organizer of the Clam Scramble’s first four years, recalling the last-minute struggle to set the course in the midst of heavy rains. Only 130 entrants actually completed the 2018 run, but “oh my gosh, they had a blast. That was the thing, they had a blast,” Cary said.

Most of those tackling the course are from the Kenai Peninsula, with a sprinkling of participants from out of state and two French entrants, Jean Philippe and Pierre Morel, who have carried the flag of their homeland each of the run’s four years.

There are six categories: ages 12 and younger; 13-19; 20-29; 30-39; 40-55; and 56 and older. Registration is $25 for ages 6-12, $35 for ages 13-55, and $25 for 56 and older. Prizes this year total $1,000. Registration done online prior to June 14 includes a T-shirt, fun swag bag, and educational information about the area’s natural resources. Athletes can park at the Inlet View Bar and Restaurant, across the Sterling Highway from the finish line, and take a shuttle to the start. Snacks for all finishers will be provided at the finish line.

“It’s fun and it’s family-friendly,” said Cary of the event.

An added attraction this year is the “Little Rubber Ducky Race,” a fundraiser for both sponsoring organizations. It follows the Clam Scramble and is held in Ninilchik village. Ducks sell for $5 each or $20 for five, and can be purchased at Inlet View Bar and Restaurant, the Peddler, Twin Rivers Liquor, and the Health and Wellness Club.

Register in advance at ninilchikchamberofcommerce.com. Register on race day from 7:30-8:45 a.m. at Deep Creek Beach Campground

McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Homer. She can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@gmail.com.

Runners in the 2018 Clam Scramble leave the starting line on the south side of Deep Creek and encounter their first obstacle: driftwood logs organizers of the 5K fun run laid across the course. The 2018 5K Clam Scramble was held June 16, 2018, in Ninilchik, Alaska. The fun run is held during low tide on Ninilchik beach. (Photo by Sabrina Ferguson)

Runners in the 2018 Clam Scramble leave the starting line on the south side of Deep Creek and encounter their first obstacle: driftwood logs organizers of the 5K fun run laid across the course. The 2018 5K Clam Scramble was held June 16, 2018, in Ninilchik, Alaska. The fun run is held during low tide on Ninilchik beach. (Photo by Sabrina Ferguson)

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