Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion Dan Pascucci, the education specialist for the Kenai Watershed Forum, treats the crowd to a rendition of "Sea Stars Are Not Starfish" on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016 at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. After 10 years, Pascucci will leave his position with the local conservation organization to take a job in Kentucky.

Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion Dan Pascucci, the education specialist for the Kenai Watershed Forum, treats the crowd to a rendition of "Sea Stars Are Not Starfish" on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016 at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. After 10 years, Pascucci will leave his position with the local conservation organization to take a job in Kentucky.

Kenai says farewell to conservation activist

KENAI — Thousands of kids who went to school in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will never mistakenly call a sea star a “starfish” again.

When you ask a local fifth-grader about why the familiar sea creature isn’t a starfish — after all, that’s the name most people call it — she may burst out into song: “Sea stars are not starfish. Sea stars are not vertebrates. Starfish? Never heard of it!”

Somewhere across the room, an adult may chime in another verse. The educational songs, written and performed for a decade by Kenai Watershed Forum Education Specialist Dan “Dirty D” Pascucci, have found traction among listeners of all ages and interests. Pascucci, who’s been a local fixture with the Kenai Watershed Forum since 2006, has tromped around streams teaching school groups about water quality monitoring, lit up classrooms with kids singing along about staying off the dunes and led hikes in the Peterson Bay area across Kachemak Bay.

Nothing lasts forever, though. Pascucci and his family plan to soon move to Kentucky for another job, and in farewell, the Kenai Watershed Forum and community feted him Friday at Soldotna Creek Park with performances, memories and a barbecue.

“Who are we going to turn to when someone says ‘starfish’ now, Dan?” sang Mike Morgan jokingly from the stage in an impromptu tribute.

A dozen attendees walked around the rainy park sporting yellow and orange tie-dye shirts adorned with a cartoon image of Pascucci in his famous full-body starfish suit, complete with enraptured kids around him. Several local musicians performed and Pascucci himself took the stage for an encore of a few favorites, including a rap admonishing people to get off the dunes — “without the dunes the bluffs will be screwed, and you will too” — and a bouncy number with riddles about local animals, complete with corny jokes.

The programs Pascucci brought to the Kenai Peninsula will make a lasting change for the kids who went through them, said Terri Carter, a teacher at Soldotna Montessori Charter School. Many of the kids who have gone through programs with him are learning how to take ownership of their environment, whether they go on to careers in environmental work or not.

“He just has this gift. The kids who have gone through his programs have already been doing work on (improving the environment),” Carter said. “I can’t wait to see the impact it has.”

Outside his work with the schools and the Kenai Watershed Forum, others may know him for colorful roles with the Kenai Performers or through his voice on the local radio station KDLL during his show “Musicology.” Sally Cassano, president of the Kenai Performers board, said her favorite memory of Pascucci is during a scene in the Kenai Performers presentation of “Oliver!” when he danced on stage in the play tavern The Three Cripples.

“He’s contributed hours upon hours to Kenai Performers,” Cassano said. “Performing, in setbuilding, in all that … his absence will be felt.”

Pascucci has been recognized for his work over the years, but several others added their own praise on Friday night. Soldotna Mayor Pete Sprague made a resolution honoring Pascucci for his work on the Kenai River watershed, which Sprague read on stage.

The Kenai Watershed Forum added its own lauding as well. Water Quality Specialist Branden Bornemann said he used to joke with Pascucci that people probably have to die to have something local named for them, but “we don’t want Dan to die.” So instead, the future attendees to the Kenai Watershed Forum’s summer camp will know the organization’s yurt as the “Dirty D” Yurt.

The Kachemak Heritage Land Trust also named Pascucci the first recipient of the “King Maker” award Friday night. He is the first recipient of the award on the peninsula. A new award, the program recognizes individuals in communities whose actions contribute to better habitat conditions for salmon over time. The program is administered by all the land trusts in the various areas of Alaska, but Pascucci is the first to receive it locally.

“His love for all things salmon is evident in his work,” Kachemak Heritage Land Trust Communications and Development Coordinator Denise Jantz wrote in an email. “His ability to translate science into plain language makes it accessible to all. Thousands of children and adults have benefitted from his work as a teacher/naturalist with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and as the Education Specialist at the Kenai Watershed Forum, planting the conservation seed for many as future stewards of our lands.”

Representatives from the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust presented Pascucci with the award Friday, nodding to a printed proverb on a shirt they presented him with: “Small actions make big salmon.” He doffed his characteristic neon orange Carhartt hat for a moment to try on the black hat they presented him with.

However, the orange hat soon resumed its place.

• Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Kenai Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at

More in News

The Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore docks in Juneau in October, 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for t​​he Week of Sept. 17

Here’s what to expect this week.

Jordan Creek flows over a portion of a footbridge behind a shopping center Thursday evening. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for Jordan Creek, Montana Creek and Auke Lake until 10 a.m. Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Flood warning for Jordan Creek, Montana Creek and Auke Lake issued until 10 a.m. Friday

Glacier Highway, structures near Jordan Creek may inundated, according to National Weather Service.

Soon-departing Assembly member and Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski smiles for a photo at her seat in the Assembly chambers Thursday afternoon. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Q&A: Deputy Mayor Gladziszewski prepares for departure, shares advice to candidates

The long-serving Juneau Assembly member nears the end of her final term.

Participants in the 38th Annual International Coastal Cleanup carry a fishnet to a boat on a coast near Sitka in August. (Ryan Morse / Sitka Conservation Society)
Resilient Peoples and Place: Coastal cleanup removes 1,400 lbs. of trash from Sitka’s beaches

Effort by wide range of groups part of global project that has collected 350 million lbs. of waste.

Cars drive past the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation building in Juneau on Thursday. This year’s Permanent Fund dividend will be $1,312, the state Department of Revenue announced. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
This year’s official Permanent Fund dividend: $1,312

Distribution of payments will begin Oct. 5.

Albino Mbie, a Mozambique-born musician whose band is now based in Boston, performs during a youth jam at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Wednesday night as a prelude to the Áak’w Rock Indigenous music festival that starts Thursday. His band is scheduled to perform at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Áakʼw Rock ready for full-fledged opening as ‘monumental, historic event’

Youth jam Wednesday offers preview as only Indigenous music festival in U.S. makes in-person debut.

This is a photo of the front page of the Juneau Empire on Sept. 21, 2005. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Empire Archives: Juneau’s history for the week of Sept. 24

Three decades of capital city coverage.

Photo of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Jarvis, date unknown. (Courtesy of Jack Hunter/ All Present and Accounted For)
Of things Jarvis, heroic men and reindeer

Author Steven Craig giving a talk on David Jarvis and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Jarvis

Eleven of the 14 candidates seeking four seats on the Juneau Assembly in the Oct. 3 municipal election answer questions during a forum Friday night at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Assembly candidates challenged to offer plan of action, not just talk, at Tlingit and Haida forum

11 of 14 contenders for four seats get extra time to respond to some tough questioning.

Most Read