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Refuge Notebook: Gary Titus honored with Sense of Wonder Award

Posted: December 12, 2013 - 3:08pm
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Kenai National Wildlife Refuge photo Led by Park Ranger Gary Titus, the Refuge Cabin Crew and YCC successfully restored historic Big Bay Cabin on Tustumena Lake in summer 2011.
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge photo Led by Park Ranger Gary Titus, the Refuge Cabin Crew and YCC successfully restored historic Big Bay Cabin on Tustumena Lake in summer 2011.

Gary Titus, a ranger at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, was honored as the 2013 winner of the Alaska Region U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Sense of Wonder Award. Gary was recognized for his outstanding achievement in the field of historical interpretation and preservation. The award recognizes Gary’s ability to foster a sense of wonder and stewardship for the historic heritage of the Refuge.

Since 2000, Gary is best known to the Kenai Peninsula community for his efforts to spearhead a comprehensive management plan to restore, preserve, and interpret Refuge historic cabins. Over the years, Gary has supervised cabin crews, Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), and community volunteers in the careful restoration of Refuge historic cabins and, also, in the construction of new log cabins for public use.

The Refuge Cabin Management Program that Gary directs maintains 24 cabins, of which 16 are available for overnight stays (14 by reservation and 2 “first come, first serve”), and the remaining are preserved for historical interpretation purposes and can be visited for viewing. 

The 16 cabins available for overnight stays provide rustic retreats on the Refuge enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Fourteen can be conveniently reserved on-line at recreation.gov. Fees generated from cabin reservations go directly back into maintaining and improving the cabins.

Gary has reached beyond the Refuge to assist in local community historical preservation projects at the Kasilof Historical Society and with Kenaitze Tribe at the K’Beq interpretive site near Russian River. His expertise is in great demand and he has been recruited to lead teams in historic structure restoration for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, U. S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Wildlife Refuges in the Lower 48.

Gary was also instrumental in creating a training course, “Stabilization and Preservation Techniques for Historic Log Structures” to help train others in accomplishing restoration work. Using historically appropriate hand tools and techniques, Gary demonstrated and taught his students a high degree of technical expertise in restoration work. The end goal is that their projects will be exactingly restored to how their original builders made them — right down to axe marks on the replacement logs.

Gary not only is a “hands on” project guy, he is also a dedicated researcher and writer. He has a passion for the history of Big Game Guide Era in Alaska (1880-1940). His extensive research has unearthed a wealth of information on hunting, game protection and conservation. Through this research Gary wrote and published a book with Catherine Cassidy entitled “Alaska’s No. 1 Guide: The History and Journals of Andrew Berg, 1869 – 1939.” He has other writing projects in the works that we can look forward to reading in the future.

Prior to Gary’s arrival at the Refuge in 2000, the historic cabins were in a highly degraded state and suffered a high incidence of vandalism. Through Gary’s efforts for over a decade, the cabin program has vastly improved, providing a rewarding recreation experience for visitors. The Refuge has noted a major decrease in vandalism to historic cabins and a growing stewardship ethic by local residents and visitors for these important cultural resources.

We have Gary to thank for this “sea change” through his dedication and tireless efforts to create and maintain a first-rate Cabin Management Program at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The 2013 Alaska Region U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service Sense of Wonder Award recognizes Gary’s achievements and is very well deserved.

Park Ranger Candace Ward has worked in the Refuge Information & Education Program at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge for twenty-nine years. She is honored to be Gary Titus’ colleague for thirteen of those years. To learn more about Refuge cabins, visit the Refuge website at kenai.fws.gov.

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