Solstice snowshoe

Celebrating 80 years of refuge

“Did you feel an earthquake?” Lisa Dehlbom asked as she snowshoed down the Keen-Eye Trail with her granddaughter, Drew Slegers, near the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters just outside Soldotna on Tuesday.

The question quickly faded into a journey down the trail and onto Headquarters Lake as a brilliant, solstice sun illuminated snowcapped trees. The seismic event was nearly forgotten as the snowshoers navigated overflow under the sifty powder on the lake backdropped by rolling hills and mountains.

As Dehlbom and Slegers prepared to leave the lake, Dehlbom got a call from her husband.

It had been an earthquake. It had rattled his shop so vigorously he had stepped outside. Dehlbom checked her phone, discovering the 5.9-magnitude shaker had originated near Port Alsworth.

All it had done on the Keen-Eye Trail an hour ago had been to knock the snow off a few trees and raise a few curiosities. Once again, the refuge had been a refuge, and that’s what Dehlbom and Slegers were celebrating.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge held a series of self-led snowshoe walks Tuesday for the winter solstice as part of the celebration of its 80th anniversary. The nearly 2 million-acre refuge, then the Kenai National Moose Range, was established Dec. 16, 1941.

The 4 p.m. walk that was lit by ice and paper luminaries was by far the most popular, with 11 reserving snowshoes. The 11 a.m. walk did not draw anybody, while Dehlbom and Slegers did the 1:30 p.m. walk.

Dehlbom, who has lived in the area since 1982, had seen the event on Facebook and seized the chance to spend time with her granddaughter in the refuge.

“I used to be a school secretary and organize the trips out here for the kids,” Dehlbom said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to introduce kids to taking care of the environment and seeing what’s out here rather than sitting inside and being on computer games.”

Dehlbom’s attitude toward the refuge has clearly rubbed off on Slegers, a fourth grader at Soldotna Elementary. Slegers said she’s not the type to sit indoors and play computer games. She recoiled when asked if her grandmother had dragged her out to snowshoe.

“Dragged me out here?” she said. “I love to go.”

Slegers showed it by kicking up pristine powder on the lake, freezing her gloves solid while still somehow managing to report warm hands, and investigating overflow that was 6 inches in some spots.

“That’s definitely not solid,” she said after sloughing off a large chunk of ice into a pool of slush.

“We’re just thankful to be healthy and outdoors,” Dehlbom said.

Amber Kraxberger-Linson, a park ranger, said attitudes like that are the exact reason the refuge held the Tuesday event, which also gave snowshoers the opportunity to take in the latest StoryWalk, the book “On the Shortest Day,” written by Laura Sulentich Fredrickson and illustrated by Laurie Caple. StoryWalk allows trail users to read a book at regular points while walking on the trail — one page at a time.

“With COVID still going on, we’re doing the best we can with having an event that is safe to the public,” Kraxberger-Linson said. “We can really just let people go out and celebrate this area.

“Eighty years of this being Soldotna-Kenai’s backyard is pretty darn special. I’m born and raised in this area, spent some time Outside, and not everybody has this — the things you can do on the refuge.”

Kraxberger-Linson said the refuge is eager to do more to celebrate the 80th anniversary. So far, Tuesday’s snowshoe event is the only happening set in stone due to the uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic.

“If it wasn’t for COVID, we’d be doing a big old party,” Kraxberger-Linson said.

Lisa Dehlbom and her granddaughter, Drew Slegers, snowshoe on Headquarters Lake near Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Lisa Dehlbom and her granddaughter, Drew Slegers, snowshoe on Headquarters Lake near Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)