As a growing number of tourists travel to Alaska to experience the abundance of "the great outdoors" that the state offers, a growing number of tourism businesses are forming to cater to those interests.
These so-called "ecotourism" businesses can take many forms. Some rent equipment and supplies that allow visitors to get out and experience the wilderness on their own, while others offer fully planned and guided trips, including hiking, kayaking and snowmachining.
Cooper Landing is home to a popular and growing ecotourism business that allows clients to get out and experience Mother Nature while using a creature of Mother Nature for transportation.
Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures, owned by Alex Kime, has been offering guided horseback riding trips and carriage rides in Cooper Landing for seven years.
"I love working with the public and showing them Alaska, showing them the country," Kime said. "... I guess my best times are when I'm out in the wilderness and seeing country by horseback."
Kime started the business as an outgrowth of some of his other pursuits. He's been in the horse business for a long time, he said, ever since he bought his first horse, Cirano --which is still with him -- 28 years ago.
Kime also has a history in the packing business. He said he's been taking hikers and their gear via horseback to Tustumena Lake for more than 15 years.
Kime used to work as a real estate broker and a truck driver, among other things, and did horseback riding and packing as a hobby. He used to figure that he'd start a guided horseback business when he retired, so he finally decided to just retire early and get the business started, he said.
"I'm just doing what I like to do," he said. "I just like showing people Alaska wilderness by horseback. ... And also I'm a businessman, and I see tourism as becoming more and more an economic factor in Alaska."
Kime's motto is "true Alaska hospitality," he said. He and his daughter, Gretchen, who is now a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage, have built Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures around that theme.
"I'm really proud of the fact that people leave my business feeling really good that they definitely got their money's worth," Kime said.
He's built his stock of horses up to about 30, which are used to take clients on two-hour, half-day and full-day trips into the back country of Cooper Landing. He offers trail rides in the summer and winter, as well as carriage rides.
The business's headquarters on Quartz Creek Road has been set up to emulate an Alaska pioneer town. A cabin built in 1922 is used for the office. There's also a large log pavilion with a fire pit, a pioneer-style gift shop and plans for adding on-site lodging and gold mining.
Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures has been been named an outstanding business in tourism, and has been featured on several television shows, including "North to Alaska," the Fox network's "Bachelorettes of Alaska," and "Exploring Alaska."
It's not easy to get an ecotourism business off the ground, Kime said. There's the normal business concerns of having a good location and marketing, as well as the added requirement of getting and renewing the permits he needs to conduct his trail rides on government-owned property.
In Kime's opinion, one way for the state to encourage the growth of more ecotourism business would be to open up more government-owned land.
"There's so much government land in Alaska that is locked up, so to speak," he said. "... I'm sure not a tree-hugger by any means, but I do see where tourism is an important factor. And we need places for people to go and things for people to do."
Increasing facilities for tourists would be another way to encourage the growth of the tourism industry in Alaska, Kime said.
"They end up filling up the Fred Meyer parking lot and the rest areas and it gets awfully jammed up here," he said. "(The state) has done a fantastic job marketing this state. You could see twice as many tourists up here, but you don't see twice as many pullouts. We need something for the campers and motor homes and folks to stop and pitch their tents with their family."
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