Karla Hart, Watchable Wildlife program director shows Kenai Rotary Club members an example of a Wildlife watching trail
After returning from his first visit to Alaska in 1899, geographer Henry Gannett cautioned, “If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, stay away.... The scenery of Alaska is so much grander than anything else of the kind in the world ... it is not well to dull one’s capacity for such enjoyment by seeing the finest first.” Since that time the primary reason for people of all ages to come to Alaska has not been for gold or the world’s largest sport fish, but to share Gannett’s awe of the Alaskan scenery.
Karla Hart of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation was on the Peninsula last week to meet with civic organizations and chambers of commerce to pitch a program that would create a wildlife watching trail on the Kenai Peninsula. Hart is the Watchable Wildlife program coordinator and now says that data shows that the number one reason visitors come to Alaska is for sightseeing, “The number of wildlife viewers coming to Alaska is expected to double between now and 2020, so increasing capacity and information for people to have successful wildlife viewing experiences is important to the overall visitor industry in Alaska,” said Hart.
According to Hart wildlife and bird viewing trails are not physical trails but listings of locations, “They are thematic itineraries not paths you walk on, they are basically a driving itinerary that takes you between different points that have good wildlife viewing opportunities. So we will be identifying sites throughout the Kenai Peninsula that have great wildlife viewing opportunities and then interpreting those so that they tell a story so that people will come to the Kenai and travel from one wildlife viewing opportunity to the next spending more time and therefore money then they would otherwise,” Hart told the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.
Wildlife viewing trails started in 1996 in Texas and Hart says that 30 states now have wildlife viewing trails, “Here in Alaska we are just getting started and the Kenai Peninsula will be our first highway based trail. We are currently working on a viewing trail with the Alaska Marine Highway System.” Hart’s department recently received a grant through U.S. Senator Ted Stevens and the Alaska Trails initiative to get the Alaskan project started that links the economics of wildlife viewing with increased opportunities for visitors. The first step is to reach out to residents of the Kenai Peninsula for their participation in the project, “Our hope is that this will be a project with a lot of ownership, although Fish & Game may be the lead agency, we want it to be a project that every community feels is theirs, so we hope local people will share their favorite viewing spots with us,” said Hart. To be included in the wildlife trail the location must be safely accessible to the public and not cause disturbance to the wildlife or local residents. Hart will be doing outreach for site nominations over the next few months in the local area and may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org . Economic survey results on the visitor industry including hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing are also available by going to the Fish & Game website at www.adfg.state.ak.us
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