Mammoth fossil find energizes Kenai geologist

By Brian Smith

Peninsula Clarion

Published: Friday, April 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"Nobody had any idea what was out there really," he said.

In 1975, Reger went to work for the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys as the first nonmineral, nonpetroleum geologist.

After 19-and-a-half years with the state, Reger's wife tried to get him to retire and move Outside. After spending a little time in Oregon, he couldn't keep his promise. It just wasn't the geologist's playground known as Alaska, he said, biting his lip and flashing a youthful grin.

He returned to Soldotna area in the late 1990s and began consulting for the state after the marriage fell apart. He was shocked when he returned to his hometown. When he left there were only 300 people in the entire central Kenai Peninsula area.

"I'd been gone 40 years and it took me about five years to get over the cultural shock of how this place had changed in response to the oil boom and all the influx of people and how people utilized the river," he said shaking his head.

Over the years, Reger has beefed up his resume to include 136 publications either authored or co-authored by him. He said he's never really bragged much about those reports, maps, book reviews, abstracts and other unpublished works.

"I gave a talk in Fairbanks several years ago and a woman got up and said I had 130 publications and I was shocked," he said.

In 2007, he and A.G. Sturmann, Ed Berg and P.A.C. Burns produced "A Guide to the Late Quaternary History of Northern and Western Kenai Peninsula." At $25, it's the best darn deal in town, he said.

"This kind of represented a culmination of my studies for the glacial history, but it also involved a lot of work by Ed Berg and some of his colleagues," he said flipping through the pages. "It shows landslides and vegetation and all kinds of things."

On the cover is a photo of huge hunk of granite with his brother Doug standing at the top, as small as a mouse, comparatively speaking. The rock had been carried by glaciers from the Talkeetna Mountains and landed just off Robinson Loop in the Sterling area about 18,000 years ago. Such rocks are also visible on the north beach of Kenai, he said.

"When you fly out over there, you can see a whole string of them," he said.

Research on glaciations on the Peninsula contained in the publication are also how Reger got wrapped up into the woolly mammoth discussions with Klein.

"When Janet first talked to me about this I didn't believe these animals were here," he said. "I had been studying the glacial history of the Kenai lowlands since 1976 and I just didn't see how any animals could live here during the last ice age for sure."

But over the years, as people came forward with fossil elements found between Diamond Creek and Homer but as far north as Clam Gulch, he started to change his mind. He even recalls a story of kid finding a mammoth tooth on the beach and selling it to a local merchant for $10.

"What's happening is these fossil remains are coming from beyond the old ice limit down the creeks down the canyons and they end up on the beach and are transported by the long shore current down the beach and they found them clear down to the Homer Spit," he said.

The hypothesis is that the mammoths traveled through mountain passes on to the Peninsula from the Interior and found an area — the Caribou Hills — that wasn't covered by glaciers, he said.

"It doesn't mean the animals lived there during the last ice age, in fact when we date them they are all older than that," he said. "They all date between 27,000 and more than 48,500 years ago. In a period of time between the last two major glaciations is when these animals were living in this area."

So far he and Klein have been made aware of about 15 different fossil pieces and have carbon dated — at $700 a pop — four of them.

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