Winter visitors enjoy the northern lights in Wiseman, a town near Coldfoot, Alaska. Photo by Jack Reakoff
Kristen Reakoff, Interpretive Park Ranger at Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, is no stranger to being off the beaten path. Kanuti Refuge straddles the Arctic Circle. But they do get visitors, and now have a new way to share information with them.
Blazing trails — that’s something we Alaskans and visitors to Alaska know a lot about. We love to traverse far and wide through wilderness, skiing, mushing or hiking. Why? Out there in the quiet and solitude of nature — we feel like we are the first ones to have explored an area — and we actually might be. The expression “blazing trails” was first used in the late 18th century to mean marking a forest trail by making blazes, or notches, in bark. Today, the term refers to breaking new ground or doing something with a pioneering spirit. It’s that pioneering spirit that is both fed by and helps protect Alaska’s unique wilderness and places like Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge.
But blazing trails isn’t just about being out in the wilderness — it’s about finding creative ways to connect people to the wonderful wild places of Kanuti Refuge. In the past few years, Kanuti Refuge staff, along with partners, blazed a special trail — providing winter-time visitor services in remote Coldfoot, Alaska.
Coldfoot Field Station covered in snow. Photo by USFWS
Two years ago, as winter visitation was sharply increasing in the Brooks Range — an area near to our Coldfoot Field Station — our team realized the growing public need for winter visitor services. We could provide services such as information and interpretation about the nearby public lands (Kanuti, Yukon Flats and Arctic National Wildlife Refuges, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Dalton Highway Corridor).
We identified and carved out an underused area in the Kanuti Coldfoot Field Office, no bigger than a tiny Alaskan dry cabin (for us non-Alaskans, think an episode of Tiny House Hunters), and transformed it into a vibrant one-stop spot that provides winter visitor services—for the first time ever. Though the center is small, the vision behind it isn’t. Kanuti staff, partners and volunteers created the new center almost exclusively by recycling resources, using them in fresh ways to provide most of the visitor services any new visitor center would —just without the cost! Now in the second winter of being open to the public, our little center continues to see increasing visitation, and a growing need for additional public services.
Winter adventurers express their appreciation for the winter visitor center in Coldfoot, Alaska. Photo by USFWS
The winter visitor center will soon close as springtime takes hold, and we prepare to open the nearby Arctic Interagency Visitor Center, which is open from late May to early September. Before we open again next winter, we will complete improvements that will increase heating and electrical efficiency and provide visitors with a little more room. Until then, Kanuti Refuge staff will keep “blazing trails” for the conservation of this special Refuge. We look forward to seeing visitors next year at the winter visitor center and helping them blaze trails of their own.