I spent some time this week researching the history of the Seven Lakes Trail on the Kenai Peninsula …
In the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Reflections visitor guide it says…” Skilak Lake Road was originally built as part of the Sterling Highway around 1947. Many of the campgrounds along this section of road were built as camps for the construction crews that built the highway. Trails such as the Seven Lakes Trail were created to link the new highway to the Moose River so people could access new areas for hunting and fishing. Later, the Sterling Highway was straightened, bypassing Skilak Lake Road and creating a 19 mile loop off the present Sterling Highway .”
In the 1952 annual Governors report to the Secretary of the Interior it mentions the Seven Lakes Trail, so we have a year for the actual construction…”As a positive measure to disperse fishermen to additional waters, the Seven Lakes Trail was completed on the Kenai Pensinsula.”
…the “Seven Lakes” were known by that generic name prior to the early 1960’s when the lakes received individual names from the Kenai National Moose Range, the land manager at the time, for administrative purposes. In 1963 the Seven Lakes individually became Hikers, Kelly, Petersen, Egumen, Watson, Imeri, and Afonasi. Some present day maps show both the individual lake names and the group name spanning across the lakes.
Clark Fair with the Redoubt Reporter tells us how most of these lakes were named: “Watson Lake and Petersen Lake — Part of the Seven Lakes Trail system, these two bodies of water were named for former Kenai National Moose Range employees, Gerald H. “Gerry” Watson and James D. “Jimmy” Petersen, who were lost in Skilak Lake in September 1955. Watson was a federal trainee from Portland , Ore. , working at the time under Peterson, who was the assistant manager of the moose range and the son of former area marshal, Allan Petersen. Although their bodies were never found, officials, who did find an oar and a gas can from their boat, believed that the two men drowned. Egumen Lake — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service named this lake in the early 1960s, using a word sometimes spelled “Igumen,” a Romanian title for a monk or the father superior of a monastery. The name applied to the peninsula’s Russian Orthodox history, particularly to Father Igumen Nikolai, the priest who founded the current Kenai parish in the 1840s. Kelly Lake — Another of the bodies of water along the original Seven Lakes Trail, Kelly Lake was named for Morris Kelly, the first head of predator control in Alaska territorial days and into statehood. Afonasi Lake — Located near Watson Lake , this body of water was named for an Athabascan chief, whose name was sometimes written as “Ephanasy,” and who reportedly acted as a trailbreaker for Antone Aide, who was a mail carrier between Seward and Hope in 1903.”
Eventually the Sterling Highway was rerouted, straightened out and paved in the mid-1950’s and its new path crossed the old Seven Lakes Trail. Things change, and the trail that eventually became maintained and used and is commonly known today as the Seven Lakes Trail begins at the original location of Engineer Lake trailhead, passes near Hidden Lake but is connected to it by a spur trail, then routes past Hikers Lake, and ends at the Kelly Lake trailhead.
David Nulsen in Trailering To Alaska published 1969 documents that at least by that time the northern trailhead was at the Kelly / Petersen Lake campground area: Kelly Lake Campground USFW : This campground site along the Sterling Highway is in a partially burned area. Less than one mile from the busy highway, Kelly Lake , Petersen Lake and the Seven Lakes Trail are reached by an access road at mile 68.
But the exact route and destination of the original Seven Lakes Trail north of the present day Sterling Highway is a mystery to me. How far did the 1952 trail reach, all the way to the Moose River or just somewhere along the East Fork, or even shorter like Afonasi or Watson Lake ? Perhaps the answer lies in period aerial photograhs if they exist for that location. Or personal knowledge or some old dusty government report from the 1950's. Using google earth was inconclusive. I do remember many years ago they used to mark the path of the original trail where it crossed the Sterling highway with yellow paint like a miniature highway as a no passing zone for hikers. Then one time it was painted to look like hikers yellow footprints crossing the Sterling . They haven’t done that for a very long time now.
If you can add to this information or make corrections to what I’ve posted here please share and tell us what you know about the Seven Lakes Trail.