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Alaska has 17,243 square miles of inland water including both lakes and rivers. The area of inland water is greater than the land mass of Massachusetts and Vermont combined. At 73,437 acres* Tustumena Lake near Kasilof is Alaska's eighth largest lake and the largest lake on the Kenai Peninsula. With a maximum depth of 950 feet, Tustumena Lake is exceptionally deep; it is deeper than Cook Inlet. The lake is relatively isolated, and its beautiful deep water combined with the majestic backdrop of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge make Tustumena Lake a great Alaska wilderness getaway.
Tustumena is actually a mispronunciation of the native people's name for the lake. Originally called "Dusdubena," the name means "Lake with the Peninsula." "Dusdu" from the local Athabascan Dena'ina dialect means peninsula and refers to Tustumena Lake's Caribou Island. Tustumena Lake is a glacial lake fed by several clear water and glacial stream. The streams which include Nikolai, Fox, Crystal, Glacier, Moose, and Bear Creeks flow from the Kenai Mountains, the Tustumena Glacier and the Harding Ice Field. Tustumena Lake is turbid because of all the glacial silt, and light only penetrates the upper two meters of water. The lake is very clean, however, and it is classified as oligotrophic.
Oligotrophic lakes do not usually support large populations of fish, but the conditions in the lakes support the growth of very large fish. Tustumena Lake is home for all five species of Pacific salmon, but sockeye are most prevalent. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game began stocking the lake in 1974 as part of a sockeye enhancement program. Over the years millions of salmon fry have been released into Tustumena Lake. In addition to salmon, the lake also has healthy populations of rainbow trout, lake trout and Dolly Varden, a type of char. Tustumena Lake forms the headwaters of the Kasilof River, the second most productive fishery in the Kenai Peninsula. Beginning and experienced anglers will find truly large fish to challenge them.
At 23 miles long and 5 miles wide, there is plenty of room for boating. There is no road access to the lake, however, so boats must either be carried in or travel one of the waterways that feed it. Tustumena Lake is completely surrounded by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Dedicated in 1941 by President Roosevelt as the Kenai National Moose Range, the refuge was established to protect the wildlife including moose that inhabit the Kenai Peninsula. The size of the refuge was increased in 1980 to 1.92 million acres and its name was changed to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Today visitors can go horseback riding, hunting and hiking. The refuge is the perfect combination of accessibility and wilderness.
There are recreational and seasonal cabins around Tustumena Lake, and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources rents a public use cabin on Caribou Island. Nearby Kasilof has lodges and bed and breakfasts, and there are also restaurants and amenities in the area. With all the wildlife in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the beautiful glacial water of Tustumena Lake, it is a fantastic Alaskan getaway.
*Acreage figures are from the Alaskan Department of Hydrology. Shoreline lengths are not given, as most of Alaska's large lakes have ill-defined shorelines: water collecting in the lakes does not pass through the permafrost level and thus must either dissipate via evaporation or river drainage. Most shorelines are seasonal wetlands, and their size depends on the amount of snow-melt and precipitation. Many lakes have no outlet, so water simply continues to collect there, causing the lake to grow larger.
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