KENAI - Residents of Nikiski turned out to protest closure of a beach that many have used for decades.
Karen McGahan has enjoyed Nikishka Beach every summer since before Alaska Statehood but she's been denied this year by Offshore Systems Kenai, a ship-loading company following security plans required by the federal government.
A company spokesman said new access may be available within days, but members of the McGahan family and other Nikiski residents frustrated with the closure protested Saturday with homemade signs.
"We're getting our freedom taken away step by step and it isn't fair," said Nadine Gabbett, who has used Nikishka Beach since 1965.
Residents use the beach to fly kites, roast marshmallows and search for agates.
"We use this beach for education, recreation and relaxation," said lifelong Nikiski resident Leah Jackson.
Signs read, "We're not terrorists just rock collectors," and "We're not against security just the level of it."
Protesters marched from Nikiski High School to Offshore Systems Kenai. They shouted, "Free the beach," and stood at the company's gate and guard shack that blocks beach access.
Protesters moved aside for supply trucks. Except for filming the event with two video cameras, security guards acted as if no one was there.
Protesters also gathered at Nikishka Beach Road and the Kenai Spur Highway to shout out their message.
Company operations manager Mike Peek said he wants to see people allowed to used the beach again but he does not a choice under the federal mandate.
"I have to follow federal regulations or I'll be shut down," he said.
A lawsuit has been filed concerning beach access.
"If it can be taken away overnight, they can give us our access overnight," said Katrina Nelson.
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