Some visitors willing to settle for only a small slice of Alaska life

Tourists don't always get it

Posted: Monday, August 04, 2003

Alaska is doing a great job to assist visitors in becoming better acquainted with this awesome state, and to make a trip to America's Last Frontier a memorable experience. New interpretive markers appear every year at strategic points. The welcome and visitor's centers are well staffed with knowledgeable and helpful people. These places are also well stocked with publications to enlighten and inform.

I do get amused, however, when I see a sign that says "scenic view" ahead. You mean where I just was, was not picturesque?

One of the best spots in Southcentral Alaska to gain a feel for the habitat, to get some perspective on the terrain, and to acquire an appreciation for the rugged life in Alaska for all who live here, plants, animals, and humans, is the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at Portage. My first trip to Alaska was right after this facility had been renovated and expanded. Following the recommendation of The Milepost, I drove down and spent an hour or so absorbing what this center has to offer. I have returned several times, and often recommend this stop to my friends.

I overheard something at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center the other day, however, that left me laughing out loud as I walked away. It is no secret that this station is a favorite stop for tourists who have cruised the Inside Passage. Most of these individuals get to see what they can of the panhandle, mostly from the crowded ship, and then they are whisked away to Anchorage for a flight back home (or vice versa), thinking they have seen Alaska.

On this particular day the parking lot was full of busses with their diesels idling as the passengers were taking a break. Tourists were inside the center elbow to elbow wearing their telltale little badges. One group was huddling like ducklings giving the appearance that if anyone wandered away they might get lost in the wilderness forever.

It was right in the middle of this mass that a young man, taller than the rest, spoke. "Wow!" he said, "After coming here we do not even have to go to the Kenai Peninsula." Welcome to virtual Alaska.

Well, the visitor had a point. He had seen a life-size mock up of a moose. He had heard recorded sounds of wildlife. He had seen the display on glaciers. His group might have even had time for the film "Voices from the Ice." He had even seen a scale model of the area from Prince William Sound all the way to Kodiak. What more could you ask?

Perhaps there is one more thing that the tourism folks might want to consider. Ever think of putting a Fred Meyer parking lot at the Begich,Boggs Visitors Center? Then, all of those motor homes could just park there. They would not even have to go to the Kenai Peninsula.

Larry G. Johnson is a resident of Georgia, but he spends enough time in Alaska to claim being part sourdough. Johnson writes a weekly column for The Carroll Star News in Carrollton, Georgia.

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