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New Kenai Watershed Forum director reflects on his CIAA experience

Trent Dodson got his start in Alaska as a CIAA summer technician and crew leader at Tustumena Lake.

by | August 3, 2023

Trenten Dodson
New Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director Trent Dodson. Courtesy photo

Over two decades ago, I began my career as a summer technician with Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA).  What began as a short-term learning experience, turned into a test of leadership, responsibility, and cooperation when I found myself as the crew leader for CIAA’s largest and arguably most important sockeye salmon egg collection project on Tustumena Lake. 

The month-long endeavor is an experience I will never forget. More importantly, the lessons I learned have stayed with me to this day and no doubt shaped the way I have approached my career and to some extent my life. 

CIAA launched lifetime of community service

While field work was certainly a huge draw to work in the fisheries field and for the Association, as I moved into a more permanent position with CIAA, the administrative side of the job was thrust upon me and budgets, reports, and permits soon dominated my day-to-day.

Working with a board of directors also became a common occurrence and the process fascinated me. These individuals, many with different interests and perspectives, were tasked with leadership, responsibility, and cooperation to ensure that CIAA could flourish and, in turn, salmon fishing could flourish.

While enduring the trials of setting up weirs and running field camps certainly teaches valuable lessons like persistence and patience, it was attending CIAA boarding meetings and working with different committees that made an indelible impression on me.  To that end, I started serving on boards and committees and thus, began my journey toward volunteerism and community service.

Trent Dodson at Tustumena Lake
Trent Dodson, right, retrieves a salmon from the holding pen at Bear Creek on Tustumena Lake in summer of 2001. SMOLTS

Early volunteerism

The first volunteer opportunities that came to me were serving on the board of directors for Cook Inlet Salmon Branding and Cook Inlet Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council (CIRCAC) as the commercial fishing representative. 

Drawing upon my observations and experiences working with the CIAA board of directors, I now had the opportunity as a board member to implement the leadership, responsibility, and cooperation to assist those organizations along the way.  It was these experiences that triggered in me a civic-minded switch that I never knew I had.  Through the post-CIAA years (working for CIRCAC and Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association), I continued to volunteer and serve on boards in both the Kenai/Soldotna and Kodiak communities. 

How these experiences add up

All of these career and community experiences have culminated to where I am today…the Kenai Watershed Forum. KWF is the prime example of a community-based organization that exemplifies leadership, responsibility, and most prominently, cooperation. 

Cooperation is at the heart of everything we do at the Kenai Watershed Forum and it flows through the three tenets of the organization: Education, Restoration, and Research.  And it is these tenets that are woven through each and every one of our programs.

Programs like Stream Watch rely heavily on cooperation with other agencies and volunteers.  Our invasive species work could not be done without the collaboration with soil and water conservation districts and other invasive species cooperatives. And perhaps our longest and most storied project of all, the Kenai River Baseline Water Quality Project, is a 20+ year testament to teamwork and partnership.  

Looking ahead

As I move forward in my career at the Kenai Watershed Forum, I look back fondly at my time at CIAA and am thankful for the opportunities I had there; and, appreciate all of the people involved with the Association that afforded me those opportunities.

In fact, I can reflect on all of my past work fondly and know that each organization I worked for (CIAA, CIRCAC, and KRAA) all do profoundly important work and they do not do it alone.  Each strives to build partnerships and to work cooperatively with the community to accomplish their respective organizational goal. 

Likewise, the many volunteer organizations I have had the privilege to be a part of looked to improve their respective communities.  

As I move forward into a new chapter of my career and the new opportunities I have to make, in some small way, the Kenai/Soldotna area a better place to work, play, and live, I cannot help but think back to Tustumena Lake and CIAA. It was there and with the Association that those lessons of leadership, responsibility, and cooperation were not lost on me, but became woven into everything I do.  For that, I am grateful.

Learn more about the Kenai Watershed Forum

If you would like to learn about ways you can volunteer for the Kenai Watershed Forum, or become a member, please visit our website.

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