Nikiski is a community on the northwest coast of Kenai, Alaska, about 20 miles north of the city of Kenai. In 2020 the census population was 4,456. Nikiski began as Nikishka, a name applied to it as early as 1900. Homesteading began in Nikiski in the late 1940s. In the late 1950s, oil was discovered and exploration took place heavily in the 1960s, when a refinery was built in the community.
As oil platforms began to dot the ocean off the coastline, the Arness (now OSK) dock became the point from which the rigs and facilities on the west side of Cook Inlet were serviced. A heliport above the OSK dock is the take-off point for helicopters that carry supplies and personnel to Cook Inlet oil rigs. Three wharves near the industrial section of Nikiski serve the oil and gas industry.
The many miles of beach off Nikiski are popular for picnicking, shore angling, and searching for agates and concretion rocks. Captain Cook park, in the north part of Nikiski, provides camping space and beach access. ATV trails run alongside the Kenai Spur Highway, as do bike trails in some areas. The North Kenai Recreation Center offers a large pool and waterslide, as well as a frisbee golf and walking trail behind the center. The Nikiski Community Council maintains trails for walking, biking, and skiing in Nikiski Community Park, accessible from Hedberg Drive off the Kenai Spur, and the beach is accessible from Hedberg as well. The park's Hedberg Lake, stocked with trout, can be reached from a gravel driveway just south of Cherilyn Street.
(Photo at left by My Wild Alaska Photography)
The first mention of Nikiski was likely a study of the population, industries and resources of Alaska, conducted in the 1880s by Ivan Petroff, an agent for the US Government. In his report was a brief mention of an area called "Titulkilsk and Nikishka," with 57 inhabitants. In 1900 a proper census was taken, and in the area called "Nekishki" there were 8 inhabitants, all of whom were surnamed either Antone or Fyodor; the oldest resident was 40 and all hunted and fished for a living. The physical location of Nikishka or Nekishki was not described in detail in either document. A 1915 map had Nikishka located on the shoreline partway between East Foreland and Boulder Point, approximately where the OSK Dock is now located or a short distance southwest of that point.
By 1984, the question of the name of the community arose. Eventually a vote was held to decide whether the community's name should be Nikiski or Nikishka; ballots showed that local residents overwhelmingly preferred the name "Nikiski." Following the vote, the US Government changed the Post Office name to Nikiski; the school and fire department were already using Nikiski. However, it turned out that the Geographic Names Board has the final word in names that are used on maps for areas that aren't incorporated cities. The state decided to leave the designation "Nikishka" on official maps and documents. Local residents generally use the name "Nikiski."
While reference was made back then about the community being named for three brothers named Nikishka who once lived in the area, searches of early census and other records show no individuals by that name in Alaska. It is more likely that the name derived from the tiny shoreline area noted in those early census records and the 1915 map as Nikishka or Nekishki.
Nikiski is not a city, but efforts have been made to pursue incorporation as a city for many decades. In 1985, a measure was placed on local ballots as to whether Nikiski should incorporate as a city. According to newspaper articles at that time, the area would have provided a tax base of some $700 million. The measure was defeated, and Nikiski remained an unincorporated community.
The effort to incorporate as a city remained active, however, and in 2017 a petition was submitted to become a Home Rule city. That petition is stalled and is yet undecided.
The beach along Nikiski is itself a major source of recreation. People ride ATVs on the beach, shore fish for halibut or salmon, and search for agates and concretion rocks on the shoreline. With sterling views, the Nikiski beach area is a great place to picnic or just take a walk, with the ocean breeze keeping mosquitoes at bay. North of Nikiski is the Captain Cook State Recreation Area, where one can find a public campground and beach access. Anglers may enjoy fishing for rainbow trout and silver salmon in Swanson River as well as rainbows and arctic char in Stormy Lake (see state fishing regulations for details).
Nikiski is dotted with private lakes. In addition, the Nikiski Community Park's Hedberg Lake is stocked with trout annually, and is open to non-motorized boats such as canoes and kayaks. Trails within the park are groomed for hiking or mountain biking in the summer (including a bike pump track) and for cross-country skiing in the winter.
Nikiski is heavily invested in oilfield support. Since oil platforms were built offshore starting in the 1960s, many Nikiski residents work on those platforms, with much variety in the type of work performed there, and naturally the area has a number of oilfield support companies. A fuel refinery provides many local jobs. LNG has been produced here in the past, and a large LNG pipeline facility is planned for the future.
Nikiski is home to Homer's Electric's Combined Cycle power generating plant, which makes HEA independent from its wholesale power supplier, featuring a steam turbine in conjunction with an existing natural gas turbine to produce 80 megawatts of power.
Several gravel pits provide work for construction labor. In addition, many people work in the fisheries industry, and the local retail community includes a grocery store, several restaurants, coffee stands and shops, two service stations, bakery, beauty salon, martial arts studio, dog groomer and a growing hardware business located here.
In the ongoing effort to incorporate, a group called Nikiski, Inc. put together persuasive videos outlining Nikiski’s assets and the reasons for wishing to become a Home Rule City.