Soldotna videographer brings Great Land to the living room

Posted: Friday, April 26, 2002

Television viewing has a spotlight firmly set on one of the Kenai Peninsula's own. Well, more appropriately, one of Kenai's own has the spotlight, and a video camera focused on Alaska outdoor life.

Paul Gray's TV show, "Exploring Alaska", has been showcasing the wonders of the state's wilderness for five years on the Alaska ABC affiliates KIMO in Anchorage, KATN in Fairbanks and KJUD in Juneau. And Gray said he wanted his show to give Alaskans a view of the state most normally don't get to see.

"I just saw there was a need at the time for showing the rest of Alaskans the interesting aspects of Alaska," he said. "It's such a big state, but there was no vehicle to show people everything."

Gray lives with his wife Nancy in Soldotna, where he edits his programs in studio facing the Kenai River. From bear watching on the west side of the Cook Inlet to chasing snowmachines up the Yukon River in the Iron Dog 2000, from kayaking at Bear Glacier near Seward to following Yukon 800 boats from Fairbanks to Galena and back, Gray has put his videographic stamp on much of the Alaska outdoor culture.

Included in his visual forays are several peninsula locations and activities, such as a horseback trail in Cooper Landing, and following Alaska Department of Fish and Game officers as they collar bears to track with Global Positioning Systems, to name just a few. Most recent are his depictions of the river rapids run down Sixmile Creek near Girdwood and an outing at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge across the inlet from Kenai.

Lodge owner David Coray was featured in Gray's bear exposition. Coray has run his lodge in the heart of brown bear territory -- and often guided his guests as close as 40 feet from the furry giants -- for 14 years, he said, "and I haven't' had anything close to a negative encounter."

Coray said Gray's treatment of the habitat through his filming reflected a professional attitude and a respect for the habitat of Silver Salmon Creek.

"A hallmark of Paul's approach to his work was a degree of patience that lent itself to quality shots," Coray said. "He wasn't an intruder into the mechanics of our business. He worked along side us, but didn't steal the show.

"The bears that we have are semi-acclimated to humans and the noises that they make," Coray continued. "Paul didn't have a problem with that. He deferred to our level of expertise."

Gray described himself as an outdoor enthusiast and said regardless how the activity is tempered, he enjoys it more if it is outside.

"I like doing fun stuff," he said.

"Motor stuff, and the quiet stuff. I like the beauty of drifting down the river and I also like the thrill of speed."

Gray said his hope is to portray more than just beautiful places in Alaska.

"It's kind of recreational show," he said. "It's more about interesting destinations in Alaska and also interesting people and what they've done. By going to different places, you find interesting people."

And his goal is to take is one-state-show Outside for an even larger audience. He said he's approached several cable companies in California, including the Fox family of networks, but he anticipates the need for an adjustment to his format to sell.

"I've found some interest," Gray said. "I'll be going for more of an adventure-type of show for that. You pretty much have to go for one market or the other.

"Because what's of interest to an Alaskan audience may not mean as much to people Outside. The more people are from cities, the more limited they tend to be to being inside, and not going outside the box."

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