The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Military group experiences climate change, Seward's off-season gumption


A select group of 18 high-ranking U.S. and international military officers and civilian industry fellows visited the Seward area April 17 and 18, and learned important things at a time that is usually shoulder-season. While in town, they explored some of the more remote sites, and learned about some of the more exciting energy innovations, under the expert guidance of former Kenai Fjords naturalist interpreter and Seward historian Doug Capra, who now guides for Adventure 60 North, said its co-owner Rick Brown.

The group is taking a class on energy industries from the Dwight D. Eisenhower School, visiting Alaska and Hawaii to study those industries, the impacts of global climate change on them, and their possible future military implications. While in the state they visited representatives of about a dozen U.S. regulatory agencies, some tribal corporations, and business leaders in the fishing, oil and gas and mining industries, focusing on their relation to the changing environment. Each student will have to write and present a report on their findings, and share it with their classmates.

“The Dwight D. Eisenhower School prepares highly qualified military officers, civilian personnel and industry executives for senior leadership positions via postgraduate executive-level courses and academic research into the resource dimension of national power,” according to a brochure the school provided. “Its mission is to ‘prepare selected military and civilians for strategic leadership and success in developing our national security strategy and in evaluating, marshalling, and managing resources in the execution of that strategy.’ “

“We had a lovely time while in Alaska,” said Col. Jean Mahan, (US USAF ES FAC), who coordinated the trip to Seward with the assistance of Adventure 60 North, the only local organization that she could find online that was open during the winter, and that could take them on guided tours to remote glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park, such as Aialik and Holgate. Brown helped pave the way for the rest of their trip by connecting the group to many other willing local businesses and organizations such as Seward Military Resort for accommodations, Chinooks for two dinners, the American Legion Post, which provided breakfasts at the still-closed resort, Alaska Wildland Adventures, for water transport, and Kenai Fjords National Park and the Alaska SeaLife Center.

“While in Seward, Rick Brown arranged for locals to cook our breakfast since the (Seward Military) resort was out of season, and we had an early presentation on Friday and early departure on Saturday. We were able to enjoy dinner both nights at Chinooks, with a beautiful view of the bay. Monica who manages Adventure 60 North made an amazing turtle cake for one of our students so we could celebrate her birthday at dinner one evening,” said Col. Mahan.

“They were a wonderful group to guide, curious and intelligent,” Capra added. He accompanied them from Anchorage to Seward, providing historical and naturalist interpretation along the way. After making a few stops along Turnagain Arm to view the sights, including Dall sheep, and a tour and lunch at the Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage, they continued to Portage Lake where Capra pointed out some alpine glaciers to the visitors, many of whom hadn’t seen glaciers before although they were all well-traveled. They stopped at the pass, at Hope overlook, and again in Moose Pass before visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center for some behind-the-scene tours of marine mammals and seabirds. The most interesting part of the visit to ASLC, however, was learning from ASLC Operations Manager Darryl Schaefermeyer about the center’s innovative 180-ton seawater heat pump system, designed by Andy Baker of the Anchorage consulting firm YourCleanEnergy that has cut the facility’s heating costs in half.

The next day, many heartier members of the group took the time for an early morning walk of four or five miles along the paved Exit Glacier Road to the foot of the glacier, in a light rain. The full group also headed out Resurrection Bay into Kenai Fjords aboard the water taxi Weather-or-Not to visit both Aialik and Holgate Glaciers, viewing eagles, humpbacks, Orca and Dall’s Porpoise along the way. They were able to get ashore for a while stopping to pick up Kirk Hoessle, the owner of Alaska Wildland Adventures at his Aialik Bay lodge.

The trip so impressed the group that the college now plans to make Seward an annual field trip, and more than half of them vowed to return on their own with friends and family members, Brown said.

To Brown and to Capra, their visit was indicative of the important role that Alaska, and Seward area’s receding glacial fjords can play in understanding some of the effects of climate change. It also shows the ability of Seward to reach out to visitors during what has traditionally been the off-season, in turn promoting new local jobs and extending business opportunities. Adventure 60 North has seen an increase in its winter business, especially on water trips out to see whales and glaciers, even while mild weather prevented Snow CAT from taking skiers and snow shoe hikers to Exit Glacier, Brown said.“It’s all about connections that we make with each other,” he adds. “We all have to work together to make it happen. If we can all work together to make things like this happen, it’s planting a seed.”


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