Encompassing more than 600,000 acres, the Kenai Fjords National Park covers a lot of land, ice and sea. The latest renovations to the park’s visitor center near the Seward harbor promises to bring the beauty of the vast park closer to home.
“The park is such a dynamic place with wildlife, glaciers, landscapes and a deep cultural story,” said Kenai Fjords National Park Chief of Interpretation and Education Shauna Potocky. “There is a lot to be amazed and inspired by.”
On Saturday, the park celebrated the grand opening of the visitor’s center and years of work that went into renovating the Fourth Avenue building with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours of the new facilities.
“Previously, the visitor center functioned as a contact station without a lot of content. Now we really hope it will become a hub for visitors and the local community,” Potocky said. “We’re excited for the community to come visit and see the changes. For visitors, this is a great way to learn about the park. If they don’t make it to Exit Glacier or don’t have a chance to go to the outer coast, we’ve tried to bring those resources to them in the visitor’s center.”
The exhibits in the renovated visitor’s center cover the spectrum of the park, from a life-size humpback whale statue in front of the building to a chance to experience the smells of Kenai Fjords National Park.
“We have exhibits here that engage the senses, the sights and the sounds of Kenai Fjords,” said Park Ranger Griffin Plush during a tour of the new facilities Saturday. “They transport people out into the fjordal part of the park … cover the early history of Kenai Fjords and there are different notes and opportunities to start dialogues, start conversations to really bring people into the park and engage more.”
The visitor center also highlights the cultural history of the land. There were representatives from multiple Alaska Native villages and corporations with ancestral ties to the area at the grand opening.
“What’s being done by the park is amazing and it gives us peace of mind to see all that can come and enjoy while having the land be protected, watched over and taken care of for future generations. Our tradition, our culture, everything is protected now,” said First Chief of Nanwalek Village John Kvasnikoff during the ceremony.
Now that the visitor center is renovated and open, Potocky said she hopes it will become a resource for the community, visitors and students for years to come.
The theater, which shows a movie detailing the park throughout the summer, will be converted into a distance education space in the off season and can be converted into a studio space.
“One of my goals is to start hosting First Fridays in the theater… so we’re looking at that for next year,” Potocky said. “I also hope that eventually we can open for special events during the winter to support the community.”
The Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center is free and open to the public daily during the summer from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.