Todd Logan, the Anchorage-based regional chief for the National Wildlife Refuge System, speaks during Saturday's dedication and open house of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge's newly constructed environmental education center.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Although a lot of people said it couldn't be done with so many federal cutbacks, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge opened its newly constructed Environmental Education Center on Saturday.
"It's been a long process," said Nicole Johnson, environmental education specialist at the refuge.
The groundbreaking for the project began in 2003, and construction and landscaping were just completed this summer. Located not far from the historic Andrew Berg cabin, the education center itself is a 32-feet-by-44-feet (approximately 2,000 square feet) building made of white spruce logs from Tanana.
"We did as much of the work in-house as we could," Johnson said.
Although some of the more technical jobs were contracted out, much of the work was done by refuge employees to keep costs low for the project, which was funded through federal monies, grants and partners.
Todd Logan, the Anchorage-based regional chief for the National Wildlife Refuge System, came fresh from a camping trip on Hidden Lake to cut the ribbon to the education center during Saturday's dedication ceremony.
Kenyon and Colt Bowers of Kenai learn about differences in anatomy by viewing the skulls os mammal species found on the peninsula during Saturday's open house.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
"Environmental education is one of the primary purposes of the refuge system," Logan said, but added that lack of a facility has been a challenge for the refuge staff in this endeavor.
"This will change all that by allowing for year-round environmental education programs," Logan said.
Each year approximately 2,500 students from Southcentral Alaska participate in programs on a variety of topics, from kindergarten classes exploring animal senses to college students studying the history of snowshoeing as a low-impact form of recreation.
Logan said with the addition of the education center, the annual number served is expected be as high as 5,000.
"One of the big advantages is we can change themes and topics. We can change them daily, weekly, monthly however often it's needed," Johnson said.
The refuge had been limited in this capacity, since the visitor center's exhibits although all educational and informative are largely static from year to year.
"We will have a library and can do more programs for the home-school community. We're also hoping to meet the needs of more middle school, high school and adult learners," he said.
Saturday's open house for the education center brought in a mixture of young and old from the community.
Nicole Bowers of Kenai was in attendance with her grandchildren, Kenyon and Colt Bowers. She said she was excited by the open house.
"I've watched it being built and was anxious to see the inside. I think it's beautiful. Like the whole refuge, it will do a lot for the community," she said.
George Pollard of Kasilof has seen many changes to the peninsula over the 70-plus years he's lived in Alaska. He said the opening of the education center is another positive one.
"The human population has increased dramatically here. People are spreading more and more into the wilderness. That's why places like this like the refuge are so important," he said.
Pollard added that he is a bit bias, though, when it comes to refuge matters, because as he sees it, "The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is the finest piece of country in North America."
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