Animals play a valuable role in Alaska’s visitor industry. Big or small, land or sea-based, critters are the numero-uno reason a lot of people want to make the journey up north. AK Fam’s most popular questions from visiting family and friends center not around our health and well-being, but on the potential for spotting wildlife during their stay. Lucky for us, there’s a way to appease and please visitors, and you can, too, with the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center just down the road.
Located in Portage at Mile 79 of the Seward Highway, the AWCC is a non-profit organization “dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through public education”. Taking in injured animals is its major mission, with medical care, large enclosures, and ultimate release back into the wild being the top priorities. If an animal is deemed unfit to survive in its natural habitat, the Center will provide a permenant home and thus, further educational opportunities for the public as they witness and appreciate the true essence of Alaska’s creatures.
With 250,000 visitors a year to the facility, school groups, cruise line passengers, RV’ers and campers, and a healthy number of Alaskans towing our own visiting family and friends, the AWCC has become one of the most popular attractions in the state. Open 7 days a week most of the year (January and February are the only exceptions, and then it is weekends only), the Center is a ton of fun regardless of the temperature outside.
Indeed, AK Fam found this out as we took advantage of a Sunday afternoon filled with sunshine and rainbows to visit a place we had only driven by previously. For $10 admission for adults and $7.50 for kids 4-12, we found the admission prices comparable to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. Alaska residents can receive an even better deal by purchasing an Annual Membership for $60, meaning that if you bring a carload of family next time, you’ve more than paid for your tickets, and begun helping out the Center with its many objectives for care.
Fall is a wonderful time to visit; the mountains are yellow and red, the leaves shiver on the branches with every whisper of breeze, and oh yes, there is animal activity everywhere. Every critter on the place; elk, deer, bison, bear, moose, caribou, even the porcupine, is readying itself for the upcoming winter. We watched the big, bulky brown bears chow down on a carcass provided for them by thoughtful staff, saw a moose eat the remnants of the garden cabbages grown on-site, and witnessed the biggest bull elk we have ever seen bugle and snort and stalk his way around his enclosure, antlers aloft, in the hope of finding a harem of cows before the mood left him.
Visitors have a choice to either drive in their own vehicles around the Center, helpful if mobility is an issue, or walking around the dirt roads and pathways. We chose the latter, given the weather and desire for some photographs. AK Kid found it amazing that he could be nose-to-nose with a young bull moose who found him intriguing, too, but was a bit nervous about the bear family (understandable, from an Alaskan kid who knows better). We walked the site with the help of a very informative map that described with both words and pictures the story of the animals. We were pleased to see the herd of Wood Bison, the only herd in the United States, by the way, thriving on the meadowlands of Portage. The largest land mammal in North America, the bison’s return is a major step in maintaining the long-term survival of this important species.
Our visit wrapped up with a short stop in the Gift Shop, located in the center of the animal activity. Visitors can ask questions, buy a postcard or a snack, and catch further glimpses of animals outside the window. After a few hours of walking among the wildlife, we were happy to take a break and share our experiences with staff inside.
A scenic drive southward leads you to the place. An hour provides some insight. A few dollars cares for an animal. What’s not to like?