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KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA
The Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is the only accommodation on offer in the vast 700,000-acre wilderness of Kenai Fjords National Park. The park was established to protect the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in North America and is the ancestral homeland of the Alutiiq people. The lodge is to the east of the Pedersen Lagoon Wildlife Sanctuary — a 1700-acre site created in partnership with Alaskan natives to protect wildlife including harbour seals, otters, black bears and bald eagles.
Operated by Alaska Wildland Adventures (AWA), a tour specialist dedicated to sustainable tourism, the ethos behind the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge has always been to connect people to ecologically and culturally significant landscapes in Alaska. In partnership with the National Park Service, the lodge assists conservation efforts including marine debris clean-up and seabird surveys. The lodge is supportive of the Port Graham community by promoting sustainable tourism as a viable business opportunity and sharing their cultural heritage.
Staying at the Glacier Lodge is designed to be an environmental and cultural education programme for adults — to garner respect and understanding for the area’s natural and human history. Groups are kept small, to minimise environmental impact, with only 18 visitors arriving each day. The Lodge was built following strict ecotourism guidelines and cabins were strategically arranged using a ‘peekaboo’ effect within the forest. Future sustainability plans include harnessing solar and tidal power.
Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge joined The Long Run in 2017 and committed to a holistic balance of the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture, and Commerce – as a means to contribute meaningfully to the biodiversity and the people of their local region.
Following strictest eco-tourism guidelines, Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge was built with the highest care for the environment. Protective tundra mats were used during construction, and guest cabins were strategically arranged using a “peekaboo” effect within existing forested areas to minimise environmental impact.
In partnership with National Park Service and other key agencies, Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge assists and supports various ongoing conservation efforts, including marine debris clean-up, invasive flora species eradication, seabird surveys and oystercatcher nesting oversight and reporting.
Each year, AWA contributes $25,000-35,000 in trip services to non-profit organisations through fundraising events, such as auctions and raffles. AWA also encourages guests to contribute $2 a day, which is then collected and evenly distributed to four or five specified organisations that work to protect the surrounding areas. This tends to amount to $8,000-$12,000 in funds collected annually.
The Lodge also ensures the surrounding habitat; when walking trails are laid out they re-grow moss and other vegetation in areas that needed restoring. By day the Lodge operates on the propane generator and surplus power charges a bank of batteries. By night, the Lodge operates strictly on battery power, reducing fossil fuel use and eliminating generator noise for 10-12 hours a day. Future plans include solar and tidal power options, as they become practical in this remote locale. All appliances in the cabins are energy efficient and the cabins themselves are designed to maximize daylight savings.
AWA and Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge are very involved in the greater community. Kirk, AWA’s president, serves on the board of the Alaska Travel Industry Association and is an advisor and founding member of Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association. Other key staff are board members of Onward and Upward, a non-profit that provides outdoor education for local youth at risk in Alaska, and the Alaska Avalanche School, a non-profit dedicated to providing avalanche awareness education and outreach across the state.
The Glacier Lodges operates in harmony with the surrounding natural environment and local Alutiiq community. Following the ecotourism philosophy, the Glacier Lodge has pledged to recruit locally whenever possible and offers internships and job opportunities to local college students and graduates. Existing staff receive regular training workshops that revisit new eco-practices.
Seward has benefited economically throughout the construction and operations of the Lodge. Local businesses were and continue to be hired to transport materials to the site, and most of the building materials were purchased through an Alaska-based company which had a branch in Seward. The Glacier Lodge makes a concerted effort to hire employees from the Seward area.
One of the biggest impacts the Glacier Lodge has on the surrounding community is helping the people of Port Graham reduce their reliance on consumptive industries by promoting sustainable ecotourism as a viable business opportunity.
The Alutiiq are hunting and fishing people for whom the gathering of plants is a secondary but important pursuit. One of the goals of Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is to work with the residents of Port Graham to share their rich cultural heritage with all visitors.
The Glacier Lodge has created special interpretive programs and activities to honor authentic Alutiiq traditions, such as kayaking and group canoeing. Future programs are in the works with Alutiiq elders and scholars to educate guests on the importance of oral traditions, through occasional gatherings at the lodge where Port Graham residents may share stories and plant lore with guests.
The Glacier Lodge is currently growing its cultural component to increase engagement of the Alutiiq community, to allow them to tell their story as they’d like to have it told.
Through Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge’s partnership with Port Graham Native Corporation, a small visitor fee is set forth based on the length of a lodge stay. These funds are passed through to the Corporation each summer for direct benefit to the local economy and traditional inhabitants of the lands and waters.
The visitor fee application allows for an open dialogue with and education for travelers from the Lodge’s staff, thereby creating an incentive for community support and preservation of wild areas and cultural traditions.
Guests are also provided an opportunity to participate in a voluntary “$2 a Day for Conservation” Fund, with monies donated directly to location Alaskan conservation groups, such as Alaska Center for the Environment, Alaska Conservation Foundation, and others.
In addition to funding conservation efforts with profits, Glacier Lodge also contributes to local non-profit organizations that work to protect the area, with a portion of the annual contributions going to the Alaska SeaLife Center, the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, Cook Inlet Keeper, and Kachemak Heritage Land Trust.
From as early on as 1987, the founders of AWA pledged to not only operate in an environmentally conscious manner but to commit to pledging a portion of profits to both employee profit-sharing and cash contributions to non-profit organisations that work to protect wilderness in Alaska, upon which the company depends.
Twenty years ago, Seward was a struggling fishing and logging community with dwindling resources, disappearing jobs, and few prospects for the future. With the arrival of Kenai Fjords National Park, the economy grew and stabilised as it shifted towards a travel and tourism economy blended with remnants of commercial fishing and other economic opportunities.