It's customary to celebrate a birthday, but when it comes to celebrating a 100th birthday, only a big bash will do and that's exactly what the National Wildlife Refuge System did for its centennial celebration Saturday at the fairgrounds in Ninilchik.
"It's going great!" said Jim Hall, deputy refuge manager for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. "The impetus was we needed to do something for the people of Alaska to celebrate our 100th, and we wanted to have a good time and teach something, too."
America's refuge system began in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt set aside Florida's tiny Pelican Island to protect pelicans from poachers and plume hunters.
In that regard, the centennial celebration wouldn't be complete without Roosevelt, so he flew in for the festivities. Keith McGough, a professional Roosevelt impersonator, came from Pennsylvania to portray Roosevelt.
He gave an animated performance explaining the history of the refuge system and all that has been accomplished through it.
"Today, the system America's only network of federal lands dedicated to wildlife conservation consists of over 535 refuges and 3,000 waterfowl protection areas spanning nearly 1,000 million acres across the U.S. and its territories," the pseudo-Roosevelt said.
He highlighted the system's mission, which is to preserve wildlife and habitat for people today and for generations to come.
After his performance, McGough said what a privilege it was to attend and that he was happy to be part of it.
Educational opportunities abounded at the celebration with dozens of information booths and kiosks.
"We've got representation here from 12 of the 16 refuges in Alaska, with people here from the actual refuges," said Hall. "We've also got a diverse group of 27 refuge partners represented."
Throughout the day, experts gave talks on raptors, fish, caribou and bears. There were 11 movies shown on a diversity of wildlife subjects. Live music played to the crowd and free food was provided to the first 400 people.
Gale Norton, Secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior, joined by a cast of dignitaries, was the keynote speaker for the event. She also devoted several hours to mingling with the crowd and visiting the numerous information booths.
Norton took a turn at a puzzle, in which she was able to name nearly every species of salmon and trout in Alaska based on sight.
"She did great," said Nicole Johnson, a refuge employee working the fish identification booth. "She got most of them. She had a hard time with the Dolly Varden and the chum salmon, but they're tough to identify."
Norton got a kick out of her husband getting a paint-on tattoo. Shelly Dockins, a Student Conservation Corps intern, was doing the art.
"A lot of adults are hesitant about getting their face painted," Dockins said. "Her husband was hesitant at first, but his buddy talked him into it."
Dockins tried coaxing Norton into getting her face painted, but she declined.
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