The writer George Eliot said, “Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms,” which, if you think about it, makes a place like the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center a pretty meaningful experience.
Dedicated, passionate, and almost eerily in tune with their charges, staff and intern teams at AWCC feel a sense of mutual responsibility. They feed and enrich their four-legged or feathered-friends, and receive by turn an unspoken snort or chortle of gratitude, every day. I know, because AK Kid and I witnessed this, first hand.
In the company of former-intern-turned-Marketing Director, Scott Michaelis, we walked the two-mile pathways of AWCC, located at Mile 79 of the Seward Highway, about 15 minutes down the road from Girdwood, and an hour from Anchorage. Newish to his marketing director position, but not to the organization or facility, Michaelis caused second glances, turned ears, and slobbery greetings from several animals as we came by. A “family” of sorts to moose, bears, caribou, elk, bison, lynx, an owl, eagle, and a particularly toothy porcupine, AWCC strives to NOT to be an “wild animal park” or zoo. They are, instead, an organization fiercely committed to public education, conservation, and daily animal care for injured, orphaned, or, like the bison, intentionally-bred creatures for the good of the planet and, ultimately, us.
For example, a Wood Bison herd is on its way to successful reintroduction in Alaska after 100 years of extinction. Sub-herds are being chosen to establish themselves as a workable group, and soon one will be selected for release in a predetermined area of the state. Michaelis was excited to show me the expansive range land upon which the bison now graze, and it is powerful to watch a bull chase his chosen harem of cows over land that once was empty scrub brush and mud.
The center’s newest construction project, BEARS Boardwalk (Bear Education Awareness Research Sanctuary), recently opened after two years of construction, and takes visitors over an elevated walkway with black bears on one side, brown bears on the other. Grassy meadow space spreads out under the scraggly spruce trees left over from the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, left dead by the sudden drop of earth into sodden, salty Turnagain Arm. Now, the bears lounge or climb among the snags, or stand eye-to-eye with guests, not at all bothered by the snap of cameras or the exultations from excited youngsters. Families needing to teach kids the real facts of life should attend the “Brown Bear Banquet” at 6 p.m. each Sunday to witness the downing of authentically, er, dead creatures offered by staff. Never seen a bear eat a section of moose? Now’s your chance. (No, none of the animals on the property are utilized. Carcasses come from roadkill or other, safe sources). The boardwalk is the first of an impressive list of upcoming projects at AWCC, and Michaelis proudly showed off the posted signs of future expansions.
Visitors can choose to walk the property (recommended), or take the free shuttle and guide-led tour. Either way, do not miss an inch of the center’s land. Stroll the dirt road, take a time-out on the new estuary boardwalk and view Turnagain Arm from a completely different vantage point, or stand next to Snickers the Famous Porcupine and discover why he steals the show, every time. It’s peaceful, here. One almost feels the need to whisper, as if our presence might somehow disturb the quiet existence of animals who, for whatever reason, are behind the fence.
Michaelis knew every animal on the place, his or her history, habits, and little quirks, and they knew him as well, making a point to wander over and pay the three of us a little howdy. Michaelis speaks about them with affection and a dose of realism; he knows Nature can be fickle, and does what he can to help us understand the fragile, yet oddly beautiful balance. What a gift to offer visiting children; Michaelis affirms that more schools, camps, and touring families than ever are stopping by to absorb the center’s atmosphere, and with good reason. The facility is ever-evolving and growing into a place of learning, teaching, and maturation for everyone, animal or human.
It is a testament to hard work and compassion.
Read more about the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and other places to view animals in Alaska:
And, stay tuned for more upgrades to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, including a surprise, just for families!
We can’t tell you what, just yet, but it involves THIS, below…