Nestled in a secluded valley, shadowed by craggy peaks of Chugach State Park, Eagle River Nature Center is a quiet reminder of Alaska’s access to wilderness. Originally a public visitor center for the park until budget crises led a group of dedicated fans to establish a non-profit to turn things around, ERNC (as it’s affectionately known) has blossomed since the 1990’s into a stalwart figure for nature play, education, and access into Chugach State Park’s fantastic network of trails, including a section of the Iditarod National Historic Trail.
ERNC was where we first learned about bear safety after moving to Alaska in 2005. When visiting friends or family arrive, we walk the scenic boardwalks overlooking a serene lagoon where fish splash and a wealth of winged creatures spend their summer. We’ve marched the trails carrying a lantern, and visited a “haunted forest” at Halloween. Eagle River Nature Center is part of the community fabric, teaching legions of kids and parents what they need to know to become part of Alaska’s varied and beautiful landscape.
Typically, summer programs at the center involve hands-on, naturalist-led activities that range from edible plants to tracks and scat. But, like most organizations, ERNC staff have had to adapt in-person group projects to those with a more individualized approach. For the summer of 2020, families will of course be welcome to the center’s grounds (following all the protocols outlined by Anchorage and the State of Alaska), and staff have created a series of wonderful self-guided opportunities that frankly have me ready to lace up my hiking boots and join in.
Here’s what Ute Olsson, head naturalist (and all-around amazing steward of ERNC) told me:
“While the ERNC main building is still closed due to COVID19, the trails are open and cabin/yurts available for rent. In normal times, we have Jr.Naturalist programs on weekends and during the week in summer, and children can earn their J.Nat badge and a fanny pack with goodies after attending 12 programs.
Since our closure, we have made Self-led Jr.Naturalist activities available online — they can be printed out and activities done on their own. Currently there are 6 different activities, and we continue to add more. Find them HERE.
For pre-schoolers, we normally have a Friday Explorers walk, and during COVID we’ve changed that to a Facebook Storytime every Friday at 11am. Find the link to preschool programs HERE.
ERNC is looking at possibly re-opening in June in some form, but we will continue to offer Jr.Naturalists and E-plorers virtually this summer.”