By Marsha Wassel
Photographs by Marsha Wassel and Jim Wassel
Visitors to Alaska seek ultimate wilderness experiences. The challenge is how to balance two million visitors a year with conservation ethics and sustainability practices to protect this special wilderness home. Adventure Green Alaska (AGA) is doing just that.
I recently checked out some of the AGA-certified businesses dedicated to promoting specific standards of economic, environmental, social, and cultural sustainability.
Denali Education Center (DEC)
Denali Education Center is a non-profit educational partner of Denali National Park and Preserve. I asked Jodi Rodwell, Executive Director, why DEC joined with AGA. “It was a natural fit and connected seamlessly to our mission: promoting understanding and appreciation of Denali through informative and inspirational programs. Everything we do creates connections to and, hopefully, stewards for the park; but beyond that we extend to a person’s home place and to communities where people live, so that the message received here may become action and caring globally.”
Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge (Fox Island)
I met with Dee Buchanan, Director of Marketing for CIRI Alaska Tourism, to learn about Kenai Fjords Tours and the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge, currently certified by AGA. “Sustainability and ecotourism is vitally important in the tourism industry today. Our businesses pay attention to the smallest details.” I asked her for an example. “At the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge on Fox Island, we deal with a remote location where shipping items, even food, is a challenge. We looked at our menu and switched out corn on the cob for another vegetable, so cobs don’t have to be transported off the island. We are mindful of what’s good for the environment and strive to make our operations as energy efficient as possible. On Fox Island we installed new solar panels and run solar-powered generators two hours a day. We hope visitors can connect with the land and seascapes, unplug and find renewal in this special place. Someone once told me, be true to the land; be true to the story of the land. That’s what we do.”
Kenai Fjords Tours
I took the National Park boat tour, sailing on one of the most recent additions to Kenai Fjords Tours’ fleet, a custom-built, environmentally sound catamaran using 40 percent less fuel than older vessels. Captain Tiffany Thomas sailed through Resurrection Bay and the waters of Kenai Fjords National Park. Her eagle eye and patience gave all on board incredible views of harbor seals; whales: orca, humpback, and fin; puffins; eagles; gulls; cormorant; sea otters; and Steller’s sea lions. Kids aboard completed the Kenai Fjords Junior Ranger program and received a ranger badge and certificate upon completion. Dinner at Fox Island included a brief history talk by an NPS ranger. Recycling efforts included the reusable boarding passes collected at the gate and all products used on board.
Alaska Wildland Adventures (AWA)
From the minute I started talking with Amy LaHaie McCarthy, General Manager at Alaska Wildland Adventures, I knew this experience would be special. Each AWA employee was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, not only about his or her job, but about the mission of the company and the desire to share it with their guests. When asked about ecotourism and AGA, everyone was committed to protecting remote wild areas, treading lightly, and setting limits on human use. This vision and commitment is top down and bottom up. Kirk Hoessle, the CEO (or Chief Exploration Officer, as the staff refer to him), interviews employees in depth, making sure it’s a great match for the company and for the individual. AWA evaluates all operations and minimizes its impact on the environment through their Greenworks Program.
I rafted down the Kenai River Canyon to the Kenai Backcountry Lodge on Skilak Lake. In this remote setting, surrounded by the 1.32-million-acre Kenai Wilderness, AWA has taken measures to limit its footprint on this former homestead. Matthew Hennigan, Property Manager, showed me the hydro-electric system powered by a nearby creek. Water is channeled through a series of pipes, through a turbine, to charge a bank of batteries, providing all the electrical needs in the kitchen, main lodge, and bathhouse. Generators are operated three to four hours every two to three days. Hennigan said, “We are always encouraged and empowered to look at how we can make this better.” This comment was repeated by everyone I met at AWA.
Sustainable tourism is one of the most progressive, responsible, and growing movements in the travel industry. A research report from Sustainable Travel International (May 2016) revealed sustainable practices are driving destination choices for a majority of travelers. “Sustainable tourism means respecting and enhancing local community; helping to conserve heritage, nature, and wildlife; minimizing damage, waste, and all types of pollution as a result of their travel.”
Adventure Green Alaska businesses support eco-friendly tourism. If you are planning a trip to Alaska, go to http://www.adventuregreenalaska.org to connect with businesses that care for the environment, are sensitive to Alaska’s Native cultures, and are good community citizens.
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