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To celebrate the 25th birthday of KWF this year, on the 25th of each month we share thoughts and memories from founding, former and current board members and staff, as well as from partners we have worked with over the past 25 years. 

This month we hear from our 2022 Summer Interns! Keep scrolling to read each Intern's individual story.

Meet Sara Aamodt, Summer Hire Environmental Scientist / Summer Camp Assistant

Coming to the Kenai Watershed Forum, I knew I was going to love it. When I moved to Alaska, I wanted to work outside every day and make a positive impact; KWF was exactly what I was looking for.  

I was thrown into the Kenai River Festival during my first week here, and there couldn’t have been a better way to start. During this event, I got to interact with people in the community and see how much they appreciate what our organization does. Even if people don’t know what our current projects are, they understand that we are here to protect and support the environment and resources that locals and tourists enjoy every day. 

Additionally, I've had the opportunity to work with the kids at summer camp this year. It’s awesome to see how each of the children experiences Alaska and its environment differently. Some kids are way more excited than others, but they all love living here. Summer Camp Director Meg Pike and I got to do everything from teaching kids about macroinvertebrates and water chemistry testing, to seeing bears and baby salmon in the creek on our hike. Every kid was fascinated by something different, and it was inspiring to know that KWF offers such fulfilling experiences to local children.

Through both of these experiences and my work here this summer, I am getting to see the influence that KWF has in the community. We get to show adults and kids alike the importance of Alaskan resources, and renew their appreciation for the local environment. 

~ Sara appreciated her time with KWF so much that she is staying on board as full-time staff following her internship ~

Meet Burke Haywood, Water Quality Intern

As a Virginian, I am often asked what brought me to the town of Soldotna, and why I work for an organization nearly 3,500 miles from home. People wonder how I could possibly be so interested in the landscape and the fish here that I would choose to be so far from my family and home. At first, I didn’t really have a good answer. All I knew was that I was in my early twenties and was filled with a burning wanderlust and a deep appreciation for nature. With no real specificity, I wanted to do work that immersed me in nature and gave me a role in protecting it. When I came to work for the Kenai Watershed Forum (KWF) I quickly realized that this organization and the Kenai are so much more than a chance for me to get paid while satiating my desire to explore and protect nature. At KWF I found friends and mentors that are among the most self-motivated, hard-working and caring individuals I have ever had the pleasure to work alongside. My coworkers have served as role models and have demonstrated to me how to channel one's deep-seated affinity for wild things into a vision for meaningful work that has profound impacts on the future of our precious wild salmon. 

Before I ever had the pleasure of catching, or even seeing a salmon, I became acutely aware of how special of a river the Kenai is. At first glance, I was awestruck by its brilliant glistening blue hue and, as I spent more time around the river and chatting with locals, I began to feel the profound reverence this powerful and bountiful river demanded of those around it. Now, just over a year after that first glance, after numerous floats, polar plunges, and fish caught, I can’t look at the Kenai River without feeling emotionally moved by it. 

I am both proud and grateful to be a part of the KWF family; because of KWF, I feel like I have finally found my answer to why I came all the way out here. I came to learn from the best in class about how to really care about an ecosystem, and then turn that care into action.

Meet Kevin Duffie, a Stream Watch Intern

When I was first hired as a Stream Watch Intern, I had no idea what the title meant or how to explain to my family what I was moving to Alaska to do. I knew that the work was centered on river health and that was enough for me. Everyone chooses internships for their own reasons, and my goal was to experience as much as I could in terms of wildlife, culture, and career interests.

KWF was and continues to be a great place for me to grow as a professional. Within our organization, we have teams involved in invasive species, hydrology, education, and river restoration. This allowed me to spend time within each, and gifted me the opportunity to find out what I am passionate about. I found true joy in sharing my knowledge with others and helping people experience everything this beautiful state has to offer. Without this internship I would not have been exposed to as many environmentally based career paths or been able to network with outdoor professionals on a daily basis.

My final words -- beware, those who say you may fall in love with the place and never leave. I came here with a one way plane ticket, and I’m staying until they kick me out!
Meet Alexis McDonald, a Stream Watch Intern

My internship began when the Russian River ferns were no more than six inches tall. I watched as these plants sprouted taller each week till eventually, they stood taller than me. Being only five two it doesn’t take much to be taller than me but even so, their growth was drastic! In three short months I also witnessed the growth of many other things: baby moose, water levels in the Kenai River, number of salmon fillets in my freezer, and most notably myself.

This summer I moved across the country to join KWF’s team as a Stream Watch intern. I couldn’t have been more excited to get started but still I was nervous to be living in an entirely new environment. As I met the KWF staff my concerns began to dissipate. I received the warmest of welcomes from each and every one of them. They made me feel at home and comfortable in my new surroundings. Throughout the entire summer I received endless support and plenty of guidance from them all. In this environment that they had created, I myself was able to grow in many aspects, except vertically. I gained the much-needed job experience specific to my field of study. My knowledge in conservation, public education, even invasives and hydrology were expanded upon in this time too. Most important to me was my growth in confidence and the formation of amazing new friendships. I truly loved every minute of my time in Alaska and I cannot thank KWF enough for the opportunities and memories. 

Meet Ana Maria Oliynyk, Multimedia Production Intern

I have had the honor of coming to work with KWF this summer through a fully funded opportunity with the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, and in doing so, have had the opportunity to live a wildly unimaginable version of my dreams.

Everything I do revolves around the desire to be in, work with, advocate for, and preserve Nature, and unite people in conservation efforts. In the past few years I have been diving deep into using visual storytelling as a tool to move these efforts forward. It was my greatest hope for this summer that I might be able to apply my work in multimedia to a meaningful internship experience with an environmental organization whose values would align with mine. Finding KWF purely by fate in my search for such a match was the best that could have happened. Not only did I get to immerse myself in the gift of an Alaskan summer, but I have been continuously fulfilled by the opportunity to contribute to KWF’s work with Stream Watch, Invasives, Water Quality, community outreach and more. It has been tremendously impactful to experience such a variety of environmental work; I have been able to go out into the field in the swamps with my camera, meet dedicated members of KWF volunteer community, design graphics for distribution and public education, and collect both written and visual stories to highlight KWF’s unfaltering efforts to preserve and protect the health of the waters of the Kenai Peninsula. 

I am eternally grateful for my time at the Kenai Watershed Forum, and for KWF being such an incredible example of what working together for betterment of the environment should look like. Within KWF I have found a flourishing spirit of community, a true reverence for the landscape, wildlife, and people, and a persevering attitude of inclusion that strives to unite all with the common goal of protecting the health of the Kenai Peninsula’s waters and resources. The genuine appreciation of the natural landscape and its resources that Alaskans and the KWF hold is greatly inspiring, and I am excited to take that perspective with me and apply it to my future work. Thank you, KWF, for this once in a lifetime opportunity dream come true!

Meet Nathan Davis, Invasive Species Technician

KWF has provided me with an amazing Alaskan experience; from flying in to camp in remote areas, overnight 4-wheeling trips, putting on the Kenai River Festival, to rafting the rivers for aquatic surveys. To say I’ve stayed busy this summer is an understatement. 

I’m also thankful for the people I’ve had around me at KWF. Whether it was showing me the ropes in Alaska or having me over for Easter dinner (Thanks, Rhonda) the full time staff has gone above and beyond to make me feel at home. Also, having interns for the summer is a wonderful part of what KWF does. We were fortunate to have such a good group of interns and I really enjoyed getting to know them all and seeing how much they enjoyed working to preserve the Kenai Peninsula. 

Conservation work is hard work anywhere you go, but for me it is easy to do in Alaska. Everywhere you look there is a beautiful mountain, forest, river, etc. that someone like me can’t help but feel compelled to work towards preserving.

Meet Derrick Via, Invasive Species Intern

How do I sum up the Kenai Watershed Forum? A group of cooperative individuals who are motivated to work together amongst each other and with the community for the betterment of all the Kenai Peninsula. It is incredibly encouraging to see so many different agencies and members of the public all working together with KWF. I was often left with a feeling of hope and accomplishment after our days with the public, seeing the passion that our volunteers have. All were full of a drive to learn, make a difference and protect the rivers and lands they call home.

Kenai Watershed Forum was a welcoming and productive work environment, offering me a once in a lifetime intern experience. Most of the summer my coworkers and I would only see each other in passing as there is always much fieldwork to be done, but I always knew that if I ever needed advice or help it was there. There were many long days in the field as the invasive species intern, but I was always eager for the next. Surveying, spraying, cutting seed heads, and pulling invasives were all great times spent with passionate professionals and the public.

One memory that will stick with me forever is going to do an Elodea survey at King Lake. Elodea is a highly invasive aquatic plant likely to be spread to remote lakes primarily by float planes. My co-worker Nathan and I went out on a float plane with around 70lbs of gear each and were dropped off in a massive bog in the rain. Before the plane even left, we realized we were surrounded by bear scat and other signs of bear activity. We kept our bear-spray close as we began to hike to the highest ground we could find. Each step went deeper into the squishy, soaked vegetation more than it went forward. Finally finding a spot higher than the swamp surrounding us, we set up camp in the rain. All things said, once we made a fire it was rather cozy in the wilderness. We ate a hearty dinner in the field by the fire. That evening, we took advantage of the amazing location and went fishing. After cleaning trout slime from ourselves to prevent any bear issues, we warmed up once more by the fire before getting some much-needed sleep.

The next morning, we relit the fire and had a hot breakfast to knock the night’s cold from our bones. We packed up camp and once again began the most arduous ¾-mile hike of my life. We put all our gear in our pick-up location and began our survey. We spent hours paddling through nature so gorgeous it felt it shouldn’t be real. Identifying vegetation, thankfully all of which was native, and observing the wildlife made the survey not even feel like work. As we reached the point in which we had to begin our paddle back to the pick-up location, the wind had completely shifted, and the overcast sky opened with a torrential downpour. We paddled for nearly an hour before our plane, which arrived an hour early, made splashdown. The pilot picked us up and explained that two rainstorms were about to converge over us as we taxied to our gear. After grabbing our things and making the flight back to Kenai, we unloaded. We were soaked and tired but had smiles on our faces as we waited to be picked up by a coworker. My partner and I looked at each other and agreed we would do it all over again in a heartbeat!  

I have to say thank you to KWF for the incredible memories and experiences I have gleaned from my time there!

Anniversary donations can be mailed to: 
44129 Sterling Hwy, Soldotna, AK  99669
or donate online:
Celebrate 25 Years with a donation!
Do you want to support this work?
A tax-deductible gift to Kenai Watershed Forum is a great way to support the local community and the health of rivers systems throughout the Kenai Peninsula. Thank you for your support! 
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