Visitors to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center have been delighted by boisterous bear cubs, belugas swimming in Turnagain Arm, and climbing porcupines. However, the 220,000-plus visitors that come yearly have not had much room to hunker out of a howling wind or explore the habitat and history of wood bison.
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is building a large indoor educational center for that purpose with plans to open the facility by the summer of 2017.
“We have raised the roof on Bison Hall. Now we are working on opening the doors,” reports Eileen Floyd, Director of Development at AWCC.
Once completed, the nearly 6,000 square foot space will provide a large indoor educational hall, a food service area, space and technology for year round programs, office space for staff, and additional restrooms.
Raising the rafters of Bison Hall has been a community effort thanks to support of individual, corporate, and foundation contributors. Major sponsors of the $1.86 million dollar project are Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, Atwood Foundation, BP, Kenai Mountain Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area, M.J. Murdock Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Nordstrom, Rasmuson Foundation, Salmon Berry Tours, Tauck Tours, and Wells Fargo. $1.3 million has been raised so far. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center has invested much of its own budget to construct the new building and continues fundraising to cover the remaining cost.
Bison Hall pays tribute and tells the tale of the collaborative wood bison restoration project and the AWCC’s integral role as the breeding and holding center to raise an Alaskan stock. Prior to reintroduction in the Lower Innoko-Yukon Rivers area in 2015, wild wood bison were last seen in Alaska in 1900. They were believed to be extinct for decades until a small herd was found in Canada in 1957. Discussion began on the possibility of wild reintroduction.
In 2003, thirteen providential Canadian wood bison were brought to AWCC to begin a captive Alaskan heard. Safely shipping out 130 wood bison from Portage to western Alaska a dozen years and a few legal preparations later was no small feat. Bulls weigh an average of 1800 pounds, larger than their southern cousin, the plains bison. The wood bison herd has now born healthy calves in the wild. A small herd remains at AWCC.
The AWCC website describes both the wood bison restoration project and the progress of Bison Hall at alaskawildlife.org. The Kenai Mountain-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area supports community projects that promote the natural and cultural history of the region. KMTA awarded a $25,000 grant towards construction of Bison Hall. Learn more at kmtacorridor.org.