Copper River Record December 2016
By Robin Mayo
Right behind Kenny Lake School is another hidden gem, a beautiful little trail complete with interpretive signs with student poetry, stories, and artwork. There is no signage on the highway, but everyone is welcome to explore this trail which winds through textbook Boreal Forest then connects with the trail along the brink of the Tonsina River bluff.
Kenny Lake School is located at Mile 5 of the New Edgerton Highway. Park in the school parking lot, then follow the fire lane around the playground to the large field behind the school. At the SouthWest corner of the field, there is a small kiosk with trail information and a sign-in sheet. The trail is rustic, with some gentle ups and downs, and rough patches. Although it is less than a half mile to the bluff, you will want to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the signs. It is especially fun if you know any of the kids who worked on the project as elementary students, and are now doing impressive grown up things like graduating from college and holding down real jobs.
Where the school trail meets the bluff trail, there are comfy benches where you can sit and enjoy the sage-scented air and great views. Take a good look at the dirt of the trail for fresh tracks, bear and moose sign are common. If you head West on the bluff trail you will come to an outdoor classroom on a scenic point. Continue west and veer right to circle around back to school via the gravel pit, or veer left for a nice gradual descent down to the river.
My favorite destination in this area is about a half mile East on the bluff trail, where there is another interpretive sign and a great place to view a dramatically eroded cutbank with interesting layers of volcanic deposit from long-ago eruptions. Please take care, the banks are constantly changing, and in many places are undercut. What looks like solid ground may be a matt of roots and topsoil hanging in the air. When we take youth groups to this area, the rule of thumb is don’t go near the edge unless you can see the solid slope below it.
You can also connect to the trails on Wellwood Nature Preserve, which we will explore in a future armchair hike. In any season, this network of trails provides lots of options for hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing. The Tonsina River Bluff always has surprises in store, including the first Pasque flowers of the season, abundant wild roses, and even juniper berries. In summer there is almost always a breeze to chase away the mosquitoes, and on a wild wintry day it can be very exhilarating.
A group of WISE hikers at the lahar overlook with the Tonsina River in the background. Janelle Eklund Photo
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.