Kepler Park: The History, The Future & The Fish
by Anne Sanders
A quick history of one of the most popular summer destinations in the Matanuska Valley, Kepler Park.
Jesse “Kep” Kepler and his wife, Harriet, lived through a lot of firsts and new beginnings during the pioneering and colony days in the Matanuska Valley. They moved from Illinois in 1925, and spent time living in Anchorage when it was still a tent city—when the parkstrip was the main airport instead of the long expanse of grass, tennis courts, and softball fields it is today. After Jesse moved his family from Anchorage to the railroad town of Matanuska, he spent approximately three years driving the first school bus in the Matanuska Valley. Those were the days when the hardship of transportation was not the rush of commuter traffic making its way to and from Anchorage, or the inconvenience of a delayed flight. People used to spend days and even weeks travelling from place to place within Alaska, and commuting on a daily basis from the Matanuska Valley to Anchorage would have been inconceivable. When Jesse’s “school bus” (a Ford Model A) arrived on the shores of Knik, it got stuck in the mud, so a team of horses had to rescue it. Those were the hardships of settling an area off the beaten path during a time when every step required forethought, preparation, and a lot of hard work.
In 1952 Jesse opened to the public the fruits of his hard work in the form of Kepler Park. Located just outside of Palmer, Jesse decided to create a place where families could enjoy a portion of the 146 acres he had purchased years before. Jesse built a small fleet of flat bottom wooden boats which he rented along the shores of Echo Lake to local families and visitors seeking a place to relax, fish, and enjoy the outdoors.
Echo, Kepler, and Bradley Lakes formed a trio, and Jesse owned property on the shores of all three. After Jesse Kepler passed away in 1960, the triad was split by the construction of the New Glenn Highway in 1965. Kepler Park was moved to the shores of Kepler and Bradley Lake, where it has existed to this day. Kepler and Bradley Lake are separated by a small channel that was covered by dense marsh until Jesse cleared the area and built a bridge allowing easier access to more of the land surrounding the lakes. He did not live to see the relocation of the park to Kepler Lake, but his hard work paved the way for his family to continue his vision and expand the park in order to accommodate even more eager recreators.
In the late ‘50s those who frequented the park could buy season passes for only ten dollars, which gave them access to the park for the entire year. With their season pass, boaters were given a key to unlock the boats whenever they wanted. Jesse’s son, David, with his wife, Lois, eventually took over operation of the park. The park was expanded in the ‘70s with the development of more campsites on the hill above Kepler and Bradley Lakes. Although the park is primarily visited by those angling for trout known to reach over 24 inches, it is also an access point for the Matanuska Greenbelt Trail System which consists of over thirty miles of trails for mountain bikers, runners, and hikers.
Kepler Park has been passed down to the care of Patti Kepler-Goossen, Chris Kepler, and his wife, Susan Kepler. Chris, Mark, and Patti are the sons and daughter of David and Lois. The three grew up with Kepler Park as their playground and have watched their own children, and grandchildren, work, play, and love the land that began with Jesse and Harriet Kepler.
When Jesse Kepler passed away in 1960 he left behind a legacy that would bless his family and our community for generations to come. Even with the construction of a major highway and the passing of over fifty years, the park has retained its original vision to this day. Jesse’s descendants continue to share their inheritance of warm campfires, lakes teeming with fish, and a beautiful landscape with all who desire a safe and peaceful retreat. They wish for visitors to view Kepler Park as a refuge; a place where kids learn to fish, adults clear their minds, and families share quality time surrounded by a cherished piece of Alaska.
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Last Frontier Magazine.
Looking for more where that came from? Check out this story on Portage, the sunken Alaska ghost town that nature is reclaiming. Also, check out the Matanuska Glacier: Visiting One of Alaska’s Most Amazing and Easily Accessible Places.