- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

PORTAGE VALLEY, Alaska — Travelers interested in taking a good look at Alaskan wildlife without taking a trip into the wilderness can find grizzly bears, musk oxen, moose, caribou and much more at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Just an hour’s drive south of Anchorage on scenic Turnagain Arm, the center is spread over 140 acres and provides a more natural setting for viewing wildlife than many zoos.

“We are trying to create more of an experience,” says Mike Miller, AWCC’s director.

The center is set up so that visitors can see the animals by either walking or driving around the park.

All the animals at the center were taken in because they were injured, ill or orphaned. They wouldn’t survive if released into the wild, so the center adopts them and uses them in its educational programs. A nonprofit organization, AWCC generates its operating funds through admission fees, gift-shop sales, grants and donations.

One of the biggest draws at the center is a female grizzly bear named Hugo. An encounter with a porcupine left Hugo with hundreds of quills embedded in her skin. She is doing well and has an 18-acre section to herself.

Mr. Miller says it’s the largest bear enclosure in North America.

Also of interest is the herd of wood bison, a species that once ranged across a vast region of northwestern Canada and Alaska. Like their smaller cousins on the plains, wood bison were nearly extinct by the early 1900s because of hunting and loss of habitat.

Wood bison are being bred in captivity, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is exploring population-restoration possibilities in the interior part of the state.

“Eventually, there will be herds of wild wood bison in Alaska,” Mr. Miller says.

The center also has its share of young critters. AWCC’s newest animals are seven coyote pups found wandering on an airstrip after their mother was hit by a plane.

A moose calf arrived at the center after a collision with a car killed its mother.

Except for a donated Siberian wild boar, all the animals at AWCC could at one time be found naturally in Alaska. The animals rely on the center’s habitat for much of their food and are adapted to cold weather.

The center is open through the winter, giving visitors an idea of how Alaskan wildlife lives in snow and ice.

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is at mile 79 on the Seward Highway, about an hour’s drive south of Anchorage.

Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children 4 to 12, seniors 55 and older and members of the armed services on active duty with ID; maximum charge per vehicle is $20.

Daily hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 11 through Sept. 20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 21 to April 4 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 5 to May 10. For more information, call 907/783-2025 or visit www.alaskawildlife.org. The address is PO Box 949, Portage Glacier, AK 99587.

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