National Wildlife Refuge System

New Visitor Center at Kenai Refuge, AK

Local resident Kenneth Brown won a contest with his name for the bronze bull moose in front of the visitor center: Majesty of the Kenai.
Credit: Leah Eskelin/USFWS

May 26, 2015 – The new visitor center at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge opens the door to Alaska in miniature. The theme – Icefields to Ocean – tells visitors that Kenai Refuge is a microcosm of the many habitats in Alaska, from icefield to alpine tundra to lakes and streams, boreal forest and ocean.


About 400 people attended the grand opening, when the new name of the visitor center's bronze bull moose was announced.  Local resident Kenneth Brown won a local naming contest with "Majesty of the Kenai" and received a commemorative replica.   The moose was sculpted by Utah artist Stan Watts.  Before the grand opening,  visitor services chief Matt Connor shared his excitement with the Peninsula Clarion newspaper: “I always appreciated going to visitor centers where you weren’t greeted with ‘no.’ What this does is say ‘hello.’ I’d rather people touch it, feel it, experience it, and feel welcomed, versus having to tell them ‘no.’”  Indeed, refuge ranger Leah Eskelin said the only complaint since the visitor center opened unofficially earlier this month comes from mothers who can’t get their kids to leave. “Visitors are staying significantly longer than I expected.”


Kenai Refuge was originally called Kenai National Moose Range when the refuge was established in 1941.
Credit: Leah Eskelin/USFWS
Visitors are greeted near the entrance by a huge 3D map, with buttons lighting everything from the refuge boundary to the salmon route through the Kenai River.
Credit: USFWS

Try on the Orange Field Vest
Visitors are greeted near the entrance by a huge 3D map, with buttons lighting everything from the refuge boundary to the salmon route through the Kenai River. There are tactile exhibits where kids can imprint animal tracks or crawl into a model beaver lodge with a flashlight.  A career dress up trunk includes firefighter and pilot gear as well as a very popular orange field vest with pockets filled with a compass, a journal on waterproof paper and a whistle.  This trunk happens to be right across from a web cam with short video clips of bear, coyote, lynx and wolves: perfect for all those parents waiting on children who want to try on every outfit.


Just outside, an historic fishing cabin from the 1930s has been reconstructed and the exhibit also addresses climate change in descriptions of ice fields and wetlands. “As the habitat shifts and changes,” explains Connor, “we’ll see wetlands turning into meadows.”


Visitors are invited to post their answers to the question, "How Are You Connected to the Kenai Refuge?"
Credit: USFWS

Knowing the Dena’ina
There is cultural information about the indigenous Dena’ina, with identification plaques for mounted animals in both English and Denai’ina. 


Refuge manager Andy Loranger says the building was constructed to meet LEEDS Silver energy and environmental certification. The $9.3 million building is recessed into a slope, with some walls below grade. Ten percent of the energy used in the building is generated by solar power. Portions of the roof are made with sod.  Outside, a bioswale – a small wetland sculpted into the landscape – will capture run off from the parking lot and other areas.


There is an amphitheatre as well as a large soapstone fireplace that will be used in the winter, and images of salmon set into the concrete floors.


“It’s the kind of facility that will become a destination visitors don’t want to miss,” says Loranger, “as well as a place where local residents will want to come to and come back to.”



Last updated: June 8, 2015