On Saturday May 30th the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR), with a host of local, state and national dignitaries on hand, officially dedicated the new Visitors Center that has been several years in the making at the KNWR headquarters at the top of Ski Hill Road in Soldotna. The new Visitor Center sits tucked into the hillside surrounded by boreal forest.
The building features a sod roof, solar panels, cozy fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows offering sweeping views of the Refuge. A state-of-the art exhibit hall welcomes visitors new and old to explore the Refuge from “Ice field to Ocean.” Representing the nearly 2 million acres of diverse habitats found on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the exhibits are designed to be experienced. You can climb into a beaver lodge, test your hand against the size of a brown bear’s paw, and listen to the calls of local birds, the answer the question “How are you connected to the Kenai Refuge?” “I’m sighing with relief that it’s finally here,” said Visitor Center coordinator Matthew O’Connor, “With over 300,000 visitors a year that go on the Refuge we’ve never had a way to draw them in to a place where we can then tell a larger story about the Refuge. Now we do this visitor center will serve as a beacon to draw visitors in. Maybe they came just to catch a sockeye but now when they come to the visitors center, they spend more time in Kenai and Soldotna and learn that there is more to the significance, purpose and importance of the Refuge and that is a very good thing,” O’Connor told the Dispatch.
“The visitor center is like a portal or soft entry into the Refuge. Think about trying to experience almost two million acres of wildness; where do you start and the visitor center can help prepare you for that and explain what’s out there and how you can go out and experience it on your own terms and we are happy to offer that service now at the new facility.
Additionally the center serves as hub for those interested in volunteering. This is just the beginning of our grand opening, every Saturday at 1:00 pm through Labor Day we will offer a Saturday showcase that will focus on how to experience the Refuge and develop skills.