A modest crowd attended the the Kenai Peninsula College Earth Day celebration, sacrificing an evening of fair weather to learn about the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s summer-long commemoration of this year’s 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
Park Ranger Leah Eskelin was the Refuge spokeswoman for the evening. She educated attendees about special programs and events the refuge will be hosting in honor of the evolving National Wilderness Preservation System.
The refuge has had an informational booth at KPC Earth Day events in the past. This year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with KPC to premiere the local plans for the nationally celebrated anniversary.
“The 50th anniversary is in perfect harmony, and jived with earth day,” Eskelin said. In the years since 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, the growth in people’s awareness of conservation is astonishing, she said.
Programs at the refuge will focus on reacquainting the public with the accessible wilderness areas around them, Eskelin said. Guided nature walks and hikes, boat trips and kids’ activities will take people to stretches of the refuge people rarely get to.
Two hours into the event, lights in the McLane Commons were dimmed, signaling the start of the presentation by Andy Loranger, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge manager.
Following Loranger’s brief history on the refuge and a virtual tour, he played the Academy Award nominated documentary “Wild By Law,” to a silent and engaged audience.
Representative for the Cook Inletkeeper, Kaitlin Vadla, discussed two of the regions major resources — water and salmon.
“If we want clean water and healthy salmon it starts with us and our choices right now,” Vadla said. “Alaskans have the right to healthy salmon now and 100 years from now.”
Dave Atcheson, KPC’s Night and Kenai Fishing Academy Coordinator, organized the Earth Day event, part of the KPC Showcase series, with Krista Timlin, Career and Community Engagement Program Manager.
Atcheson said this year’s event was more low key than in years past, but the information and importance on the celebration is no less relevant or critical.
The wilderness is a great resource Alaskans have access to, Atcheson said. It is also something that needs to be continually recognized as something to take responsibility for, Atcheson said.
Kelly Sullivan can be reached at Kelly.Sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.