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KODIAK:If You Can’t Come to the Visitor Center Then We’ll Bring It to You
Alaska Region, May 1, 2012
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The research vessel Ursa Major II brought the Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center to the remote villages of Akhiok and Old Harbor (approximately 600 miles round trip from Kodiak City.)  More than a quarter of everyone who lives in the villages turned out to tour the boat and view the exhibits.
The research vessel Ursa Major II brought the Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center to the remote villages of Akhiok and Old Harbor (approximately 600 miles round trip from Kodiak City.) More than a quarter of everyone who lives in the villages turned out to tour the boat and view the exhibits. - Photo Credit: Jeff Lewis
Every inch of the customized weather port on the back deck of the Ursa Major II was dedicated to communicating the Refuge’s mission, research and career opportunities.
Every inch of the customized weather port on the back deck of the Ursa Major II was dedicated to communicating the Refuge’s mission, research and career opportunities. - Photo Credit: Hans Klausner
One of only two teachers in the village of Akhiok, Jeremy Voorhees studies mountain goat distribution and population data collected by Refuge biologists.
One of only two teachers in the village of Akhiok, Jeremy Voorhees studies mountain goat distribution and population data collected by Refuge biologists. - Photo Credit: Hans Klausner

The Kodiak Archipelago is not an easy place to get around. None of its six villages are connected by road, and travel from village to village requires a boat, airplane or strong motivation to hike over unforgiving terrain in the presence of Kodiak’s famous brown bears. This makes it a challenge for the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge to connect with its neighboring communities. Yet many villages border Refuge lands and most residents subsist on Refuge resources puting a high priority on communicating the Refuge’s mission to these communities.

 

The Kodiak Refuge operates a very popular Visitor Center in downtown Kodiak City where staff interacts annually with over thirty thousand people (mostly tourists and city residents), but village residents don’t make it to the VC very often. Recognizing this, the Refuge has made a commitment to bring the VC to each village in the coming years. And so, on May 1st staff packed up exhibits, movies, maps, brochures, research posters, etc., and boarded the research vessel, Ursa Major II, bound for the villages of Old Harbor and Akhiok. Jeff Lewis, Captain of the vessel, assembled many of the exhibits and constructed a weather port on the back deck to house them. “This way they get a traveling VC right at their dock.”

Of course, that’s if they have a dock, which Akhiok does not. Instead, this village of about fifty residents took boat rides from the beach to visit the Ursa Major II anchored offshore. Hans Klausner, Visitor Services Manager for the Refuge, said visitation was outstanding. “We had all of the school-aged kids in Akhiok come out… many of their older brothers and sisters, too.” Of the fifty residents in town, twenty took a boat ride out to the traveling VC.

In Old Harbor, Mayor, Rick Berns welcomed the Ursa Major II to its small harbor. Once tied up the traveling VC was opened to visitors. Forty six of the town’s approximately two hundred fifty residents were welcomed aboard. School groups, local fishermen, and curious passersby stopped in, as well as a team from the U.S. Air Force who were inspecting a proposed expansion of the village’s airstrip.

Migratory birds provided a focus for the on-board exhibits and presentations. Avian surveys are a primary duty of the Ursa Major II, and the timing of these village visits coincided nicely with arrival of migrating species. Tonya Lee, Refuge Information Technician, drew everyone’s attention to the great distances birds travel in the spring by mapping the migratory routes of individual species. There were countless observations from villagers about which birds had already arrived, where they were and which species were still expected. Yet, learning where they come from and just how far they travel was a surprise to many.

More than just a courtesy visit, this traveling VC has truly evolved into a forum for the exchange of information and ideas. Residents learn about Refuge priorities and research efforts, and the Refuge gains an understanding of local knowledge, observations and sentiments regarding the land and species that it is entrusted to protect. This was the second voyage of this kind and three of the six villages have now been visited. Ports of call at the villages of Karluk, Larsen Bay and Ouzinkie will occur in coming years, and the interactions that staff have with Refuge neighbors continue to highlight the value of these exchanges.


Contact Info: Hansel Klausner, 907.487.0248, hansel_klausner@fws.gov



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