PORTAGE Travelers interested in a good look at Alaska wildlife but not interested in hiking or camping out can find grizzly bears, musk oxen, moose, caribou and much more at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Just a couple of hours north of the Kenai-Soldotna area on the Seward Highway, the center is located on scenic Turnagain Arm on more than 140 acres and provides a more natural setting for viewing wild-life than many zoos.
''We are trying to create more of an experience,'' said Mike Miller, AWCC's director.
The center's area is readily navigated and set up so that visitors can see the animal viewing areas from their cars. Walking around the park also is an easy option.
All the animals at the center were taken in because they were injured, ill or orphaned. They can't be released to or survive in the wild, so the center adopts them and uses them in its educational programs.
A nonprofit organization, AWCC generates its operating funds through admission fees, gift shop sales, grants and donations.
One of the biggest draws at the center is a female grizzly bear named Hugo. An en-counter with a porcupine left Hugo with hundreds of quills imbedded in her skin. She is doing well now and has an 18-acre section to herself.
Miller said it's the largest bear enclosure in North America.
Also of interest is the herd of wood bison, a species that once ranged across a vast region of northwestern Canada and Alaska.
Like their smaller cousins on the plains, wood bison were nearly extinct by the early 1900s because of hunting and loss of habitat.
Wood bison are being bred in captivity, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is exploring population restoration possibilities in the interior part of the state.
''Eventually there will be herds of wild wood bison in Alaska,'' Miller said.
In addition to mature animals, the center has its share of young critters. AWCC's newest animals are seven coyote pups found wandering around on an air strip after their mother was hit by a plane.
There also is a young moose calf that arrived at the center after a collision with a car killed her mother.
Except for a donated Siberian wild boar, all the animals at AWCC could at one time be found naturally in Alaska. The animals rely on the center's habitat for much of their food and are adapted to cold weather.
The center is open through the winter, giving visitors an idea of how Alaska wildlife live in snow and ice.
If you go ...
LOCATION: The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is at Mile 79 Seward Highway.
ADMISSION: Adults, $5. Children 4-12, seniors 55 and older and active military with ID, $3. Maximum charge per vehicle, $20.
HOURS: Open daily May 11 through Sept. 20, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (no entry after 7:30 p.m.); Sept. 21 through May 5, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (no entry after 4:30 p.m.)
CONTACT: (907) 783-2025
ON THE NET: www.alaskawildlife.org
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