Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

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Urban encounters: Finding wildlife in town not hard if you know where to go

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Around Anchorage

Some visitors to Alaska are surprised to learn that moose and bears actually do wander through Anchorage neighborhoods. Others arrive expecting to see wildlife on every street corner in Alaska's biggest city.

"That's a little hard to arrange," jokes one of the volunteers who works at Anchorage's downtown log cabin Visitor Information Center. Moose and bears certainly don't hang out regularly on city sidewalks, posing for visitors. But if you know where to go and are willing to spend some time looking, chances are good that you will see at least some wild animals during your visit - and not just at the zoo. While more exotic places in Alaska offer stunning scenery and greater concentrations of wildlife, Anchorage is unique for the wild animals that live near homes and businesses and also for the wild salmon that spawn in the city's creeks.

Where else in the United States can workers on their lunch hour fish for king salmon? And what other city this size boasts bears - both brown and black - and moose that roam through neighborhoods?

Laura Reynolds, owner of a tour company, Alaska Two Legged Tours, said her clients enjoy viewing wildlife in places close to where people live and work. Part of what makes that possible, she said, is Chugach State Park, which is adjacent to the city, plus ample city greenbelts and other wild places in and around Anchorage.

"You're more likely to find wildlife here than in any other city this size in North America," Reynolds said. "You can expect to find wildlife in the most unusual places."

Chris Smith, a park ranger at the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, said most people ask about viewing birds, salmon and moose. Some visitors have already been to Denali National Park or other places around the state but still haven't seen a moose or another animal on their list. Anchorage is often their last stop for wildlife viewing before they leave the state, he said.

Anchorage isn't just home to bears, moose and salmon. It's also a good place to view eagles, beavers, whales, Dall sheep, sandhill cranes, other migrating birds and even loons.

So let's say you're in Anchorage just for a few days, or even a few hours. Where should you go? That depends partly on what you hope to see. Here are a few of Anchorage's wildlife viewing areas, many of which are detailed in "Anchorage Wildlife Viewing Hot Spots," a local wildlife viewing guide published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

- Moose: Kincaid Park: Just about anywhere is a good bet, but the Mize Loop is a nice short hike where moose are often seen. Powerline Pass: Drive to the Glen Alps parking lot in Chugach State Park, then hike about a quarter-mile to the Powerline Pass trail. Head toward the pass to the Middle Fork Loop trail. In the fall, rutting moose can often be seen in this area on both sides of the South Fork of Campbell Creek. Point Woronzof: This is one of the more reliable places to see moose in Anchorage, as they get squeezed into a narrow corridor between the airport and Knik Arm.

- Salmon: Ship Creek is the local place to watch people catch fish. Also on Ship Creek is the Elmendorf State Hatchery, located at the corner of Reeve Boulevard and Post Road, which is a good place to see salmon struggling upstream. At Potter Marsh, visitors can see spawning salmon swim beneath the boardwalk that parallels the Seward Highway. - Beluga whales: To catch sight of these ghostly white whales, head to the aptly named Beluga Point or to Bird Point, both south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway overlooking Turnagain Arm. Be warned, however, that belugas have become harder to spot in recent years as the population has declined.

- Arctic terns: These long-distance fliers spend summers here and winters as far south as the tip of South America. Terns are common at Potter Marsh along the Seward Highway from May through July.

- Dall sheep: Windy Corner along the Seward Highway of Turnagain Arm is said to be the only place in the world where Dall sheep can be seen at sea level from a nearby road. Sheep can be seen here year-round. Beware of traffic jams when sheep are near.

- Bears: There are no regular bear viewing areas in Anchorage, so seeing an urban bear is mostly a matter of chance. To learn more about bear viewing in Alaska and how to stay safe in bear country, go to the state's web site at www.adfg.state.ak.us and follow the link to "Alaska's bears."

- General birding: Anchorage Audubon maintains the Upper Cook Inlet Bird Report, a phone recording that lists recent and rare bird sightings. Call the hot line, 338-2473, to find out the most current birding hot spots. Some favorite local birding hot spots include Westchester Lagoon, the estuary of Fish Creek along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, and Potter Marsh. For more information, go to www.anchorageaudubon.org.

- Beavers: There is a beaver pond a short walk from the Eagle River Nature Center (www.ernc.org , 694-2108). Or you can visit one of the many beaver lodges tucked away among Anchorage neighborhoods. Beavers can often be found at Windsong Park in Muldoon and at Reflection Lake in East Anchorage. - For snow geese and sandhill cranes: Head to the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, which extends 16 miles along the coast from Point Woronzof to Potter Creek. Access to the refuge is available at Victor Road, off Jarvi Drive and from a trail that starts at John's Park. Snow geese show up on the coastal flats in mid-April and stay for about three weeks. Sandhill cranes migrate through the area from late April through mid-May.

- For bald eagles: A bald eagle's nest is often visible along the back side of Potter Marsh from the Old Seward Highway. Nests can also sometimes be found at near the airport runway about a half-mile south of Point Woronzof.

Elizabeth Manning is a freelance writer and a wildlife educator with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Wildlife viewing tips

- Keep your distance. If an animal changes its behavior because of you - back off; you're too close.

- Dusk and dawn are often the best times to view wildlife. Animals tend to be more active then. - Respect wild animals. Give moose plenty of space. In bear country, it is safest to travel in groups. Avoid surprising bears; make noise while you travel. If you encounter a bear and it does not see you, leave quietly while keeping an eye on the bear. If it notices you, let the bear know you are a person by waving your arms and talking calmly. If it approaches, stand your ground and make more noise. Never run.

- Never feed wildlife. It is harmful both to the animals and people.

- On the Web: To learn more about wildlife viewing in Alaska, go to www.wildlifeviewing.alaska.gov.

- From "Anchorage Wildlife Viewing Hot Spots" by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Wildlife Facilities

For those who have struck out on seeing Alaska's critters in the wild, here are some wildlife facilities that offer sure bets for wildlife viewing:

- The Alaska Zoo (4731 O'Malley Road, 346-2133, www.alaskazoo.org ) houses many rehabilitated or rescued wild animals from Alaska, including bears, moose, musk ox, Dall sheep and caribou. - The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (Mile 79 Seward Highway near Portage, 783-2025, www.alaskawildlife.org ) has pens and enclosures with bears, moose, musk ox, porcupine, plains bison and other animals. - The Musk Ox Farm just outside Palmer offers visitors up-close looks at musk oxen. (www.muskoxfarm.org ), 907-745-4151).

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