You begin to feel the Russian influence strongly in this neck of the woods. Alexander Baranov’s first shipyard was somewhere along Resurrection Bay down from present-day Seward. Russians built a stockade near Kasilof in 1786 and a fort at Kenai in 1791. Other than these brief incursions, the land belonged to the Kenai Native Alaskans: part of the great Athabascan tribe on the north half of the Kenai Peninsula, while the Alutiiqs occupied the southern half.
During the gold rush, color was uncovered around Hope and Sunrise on Turnagain Arm, and at Moose Creek, halfway to Seward. At first, trails ran between the mining communities, then wagon roads, and finally the railroad pushed from Seward through Anchorage to Fairbanks in the early 1920s. The Seward and Sterling Highways were completed in 1952, opening the Kenai’s western frontier.
When Atlantic Richfield tapped into oil (1957) and gas (1962) off the west coast, the peninsula’s economic star began to twinkle. Oil and gas production has dropped steadily since the peak in the 1970s as the reserves are depleted, but new gas deposits are being developed near Ninilchik.
Today, the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s 50,000 residents are occupied with fishing, oil and gas, tourism, and services.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition