It was so delightful to hear my Travelgram cohost, Scott McMurren sloshing his way around Ketchikan during yesterday’s show. Lamenting the fact that he was weathered in and couldn’t go kayaking, even. Come now, Mr. McTravel, you know better than that; it’s Ketchikan, for gosh sakes, and everybody who goes there knows (or should now, because they are reading this) that, as heard in the Winnie the Pooh song, “The rain, rain, rain came down, down, down….”
Seriously, though, both Scott and I beat the drum of southeast Alaskan preparedness, so much so that if I hear of any AKontheGO or Travelgram readers/listeners going there not prepared and then griping about the weather, they are on their way to a big “stinks to be you” lecture from both of us. Scott, in fact, gave a very nice clothing testimonial yesterday; XtraTufs (rain boots), gloves, hat, high-quality rain pants/jacket. He was all set for an outdoor adventure in the wee village of Ketchikan.
But for all our head-thumping about gear and getting outside no matter the conditions, it is sometimes pain in the proverbial booty to keep the kids outdoors when the rain is coming down like fishhooks and hammer handles. Fortunately for all of us, Ketchikan offers one of my most favorite places to relax, learn, and enjoy a bit about the natural and cultural wonders of the southeast region.
The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is so conveniently located to the cruise ship docks that I almost weep for its lovely accessibility. One block from the ramps at 50 Main Street, the Center is one of four Alaskan Public Lands Information Centers around the state (we’ve talked before about the one in downtown Anchorage on 4th Avenue). Home to eight public land-managing agencies like the USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, and the State of Alaska Division of Tourism, among others, the Center is designed to provide visitors and residents alike with practical information and a bit of hands-on learning at the same time. Heck, Alaska has more than 300 acres of public land available to us; an amount that would, if stretched end-to-end, reach from coast to coast in the Lower 48. Whoa.
The southeast facility is divided up into five exhibit areas, all unique and all attractive to both kids and adults. The Totem Pole area of the lobby features three huge totems representing styles of each of the three southeast Native groups; Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian, and kids all seem to be silenced for at least a moment upon first meeting the legendary animal-people featured on the poles, running their hands up and down to feel the textures and shapes.
The Native Traditions section takes visitors through a span of time with Native groups who set up fish camps and told incredible stories of survival and valuable life lessons. One can almost smell the salmon smoking on the poles, and hear the songs of elders as children crowd closer to hear the spoken traditions.
The Ecosystems and Alaska’s Rainforest exhibits offer an incredible connectiveness for our kids to Mother Nature, with active and passive ways to engage and learn how we as humans can care for our earth, and why. The Rainforest exhibit was a particular favorite of mine, so realistic I would have sworn the hemlock trunk I was leaning against was real. See if kids can spot the creatures hidden inside the forested areas, using the clipboard and scavenger hunt papers available at the front desk. In the Ecosystems room, explore an intertidal habitat, use a spotting scope, and count ribs on an Orca skeleton. AK Kid had a blast with the “now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t” sort of way the room is laid out, with lots of dials and levers to push and pull. Nice for busy little boys.
Our family’s uber-fav exhibit, though, was the Natural Resources hall. Beautifully laid out, richly adorned above, below, and between us, was every valuable industry in southeast Alaska; from timber products to mining to fishing, and it was gorgeous. Press cool buttons to hear real voices talk about how and where each industry thrives, and see the tools, clothing, and materials they need to operate. Don’t miss the mining exhibit, where one can spin a conveyor belt to spot gold and other minerals in big old rocks.
Oh, and don’t miss the equally lovely Theater, where 150 people can watch and listen to a multimedia presentation, “Mystical Southeast Alaska,” displayed on an enormous 27-foot screen, with scenes so clear and music so touching, it brought tears to my little mommy eyes. So incredibly cool, even for wiggly little ones.
Hit the bookstore and info desk on the way out, picking up maps, hiking trail information, critter safety handouts, and some great kids’ books. Allow a few hours, at least, to see everything in this full-service facility. The building is laid out for wheelchairs and strollers, very nicely, in fact.
Hours May-September are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. October-April the center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday.
Admission is $5 for everybody May-September, with a Group/Season Pass for $15. NOTE: Admission is FREE October-April. Contact number for the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is 907-228-6220.
Gee, this might make it worth braving a windy, rainy day, right? After all, these centers belong to all of us, it behooves us to introduce them to our children.