The Port of Kenai is located on the southeast shores of Cook Inlet off the Pacific Ocean on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. Lying at the outlet of the Kenai River to Cook Inlet, the Port of Kenai is about 110 kilometers (69 miles) west-northwest of the Port of Seward and some 77 nautical miles (106 kilometers or 66 miles by air) north of the Port of Homer.
Named an All American City in 1992, the Port of Kenai is home to almost 8,000 people. The oil, natural gas, tourism, and commercial fishing industries are the base of the local economy. The Port of Kenai is easy to reach from Anchorage by a half-hour air flight or a relaxing three-hour drive. The Port of Kenai is a popular spot for visitors who want to enjoy wildlife and world-class fishing or local culture and arts.
The Port of Kenai gets its name from the local Dena'ina word describing a flat open area with few trees. While the local indigenous people call themselves the Dena'ina, they are also called by the Russian term for "people of the flats," Kenaitze. In the early 1970s when they were incorporated, the tribe adopted the name Kenaitze Indian Tribe.
Archaeologists believe that the Kachemak people lived in the Port of Kenai area as early as 1000 B.C. The Dena'ina Athabaskan people displaced them about a thousand years ago. The Dena'ina called their village Shk'ituk't, meaning "where we slide down."
Russian traders came to the future Port of Kenai in 1741, finding about a thousand indigenous people living in the village. They built Fort St. Nicholas, a trading post, in 1791 to exchange fur and fish, making the Port of Kenai the second permanent settlement by Russians in Alaska.
In the late 18th Century, conflict broke out between settlers and the natives where the Port of Kenai would one day grow. The Dena'ina attacked Fort St. Nicholas, and more than 100 people died as a result of the battle. When smallpox found the Port of Kenai in 1838, more than half of the native population were killed.
After the Alaska Purchase, the US Army built Fort Kenay in the Port of Kenai in 1869, but they soon abandoned it. When Alexander King found gold on the Kenai Peninsula in 1888, more settlers arrived at the Port of Kenai hoping for fortunes. However, the volume of gold found in area of the Port of Kenai was small compared to deposits found later in Fairbanks, Klondike, and Nome.
In 1894, the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, which is still used today, was constructed in the Port of Kenai.
In the early 20th Century, shipping companies created the Port of Kenai. Canning companies supported a boom in commercial fishing that was the city's main economic activity through the 1920s.
Construction of the Kenai Airport was started in 1937, and by the 1940s, homesteads began to open in the area around the Port of Kenai. A dirt road, which would not be paved until 1956, connected the Port of Kenai to Anchorage in 1951.
In 1953, the Wildwood Army Station was established in the Port of Kenai. After being converted to the Wildwood Air Force Station, it was transferred to the Kenai Native Association as a partial settlement of land claims. The State of Alaska initially leased the facility. Today, the State owns what is now the Wildwood Correctional Complex.
The first major find in Alaska, oil was discovered some 32 kilometers (20 miles) northeast of the Port of Kenai in 1957. In the 1960s, additional offshore discoveries in Cook Inlet led to a period of brisk growth in the Port of Kenai.
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