Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

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Healing Waters encourages vets to start casting

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Watch live video from Katmai National Park of brown bear fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls.

Riders in the Sky

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Focal Point: Skiing across Portage Lake by moonlight

It's a rite of spring for many Anchorage skiers: a trip across Portage Lake to the glacier face. It can be a crowded place on a bluebird weekend, so photographer Marc Lester set out to experience it in a different way: He skied out all alone at night.

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Petra is a bald eagle that has been with Bird TLC since 1995. Bird Treatment and Learning Center invited the public to visit and learn about bald and golden eagles at its Save the Eagles event on Saturday, January 12, 2013.

Bird Treatment and Learning Center invited the public to visit and learn about bald and golden eagles at its Save the Eagles event on Saturday, January 12, 2013.

A Butte-Palmer tour

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Photos: A Day along Turnagain Arm

Two new ziplines open in Southcentral Alaska

SeaLife Center treats orphaned walrus calf

Webcams make Alaska bears more accessible

Painter brings odd Alaska dinosaur to life

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Birds of Spring 2012

Spring babies out and about at Palmer farm

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Alaska's attractions lure visitors even in winter

Cold weather equals safe travel for great ice fishing

Christmas 2011

New scanners debut at Anchorage airport

Alyeska Resort opens

Hilltop Ski Area opens

A summer day in Barrow

Autumn awesome for Northern Lights viewing

Fall Colors

Denali Park prepares for lottery winners

Alaska State Fair, 2011

Record salmon surge thrills Kenai netters

Salmon fishing at Bird Creek

Columbia Glacier Kayaking

Welcome to Talkeetna

Spring can be prime time for a visit to Portage

Begin the season fishing hooligan, king salmon

Outdoor Life names Kodiak 4th best for sportsmen

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Chugach backcountry network takes stride forward

Popular Anchorage salmon derby will take a year off

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Photos: U.S. Adaptive Alpine Championships

Photos: 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

Skiers hit city trails in 2011 Tour of Anchorage

Day-by-day guide to the 2011 Fur Rendezvous

Reality TV invades Alaska

Recent weather makes for ideal skating

Outdoor enthusiasts make the most of Alaska

Carving out Anchorage's New Year's Eve celebration

Ice climbing along the Turnagain Arm

New hut on Snowbird Glacier has great views, insulation

Birds of prey boost the thrill of the hunt for some

Healing Waters encourages vets to start casting

Potter Marsh's swans

Steelhead in Anchor River a sport fishing boon

There's more to fall than just colorful leaves

Hill on wheels; testing Alyeska's Silvertip Traverse

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Surfing the bore tide

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It began, oddly enough, fly fishing near Saddam Hussein's palace in Iraq.

That's where Staff Sgt. Michael Henrie of Elmendorf Air Force Base was stationed in late 2008. In stocked waters around the palace and in the Eurphrates River swam carp-like fish. Some troops managed to secure gear from donor stores in the U.S., and before long, Henrie was casting.

"We signed out some fishing poles and went fishing in the desert," he said. "Fishing while you're wearing a Kevlar vest and a helmet with Apache helicopters overhead is a unique and inspiring thing."

Not long afterward, Henrie heard about Project Healing Waters, founded in 2005 by Navy captain Ed Nicholson while he was recovering at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. The program encourages mentally or physically injured veterans to tie flies and cast in nearby lakes and streams.

By March, Henrie was working on plans for the first Alaska chapter. In November, he talked to the national president.

"This is the fly-fishing capital of the world," Henrie said. "I just wanted to hang out with the guys and have them tell me about their experiences. Before I hung the phone, I became the project director for Alaska."

He quickly connected with Alaska Fly Fishers, who joined him in an effort to make the program happen here. At the time, it was just little more than an idea -- no volunteers, no gear, no trips planned.

But by late May, flies were being tied in the physical therapy wing of the 3rd Medical Group Hospital. This summer, more than four dozen wounded soldiers have participated, nearly $25,000 has been raised and 130 volunteers have chipped in, Henrie said.

"A doctor and a physical therapist can do a lot with the physical healing," he said. "But Project Healing Waters provides the emotional healing."

With late fall blending into winter and ice creeping onto local lakes, most casting is done for the year. But Henrie and fishing guide Damon Blankenship of Alaska Fly Fishers are encouraged by the seven fishing trips they've organized this summer.

"At first," Blankenship said, "I was worried about having enough people to come and help. But one day this summer, we had one person come to the clinic with six instructors on hand.

"We've got a unique state here. Between the streams locally, the Mat-Su, the Kenai Peninsula and the western Alaska rivers, the opportunities are absolutely phenomenal."

Henrie has been a drummer in the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific since 2007 and performed with such stars as Toby Keith and Maureen McGovern. He owns an Air Force Commendation Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. But he's particularly proud of his work with Project Healing Waters.

During winter, the focus shifts to bobbins, vises and fly-tying equipment. The group usually meets twice a month to make flies.

"Anybody who can walk and chew bubble gum can tie flies," Blankenship said. "I'm a living example of that."

And Henrie has made several new friends through the program, including a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran who's now one of his closest fishing buddies.

"I was not prepared for some of the stories I would hear," Henrie said. "I've never been shot at or had experiences like some of these guys."

Sometimes, he said, rugged servicemen don't believe they're even qualified.

"A lot of people don't think they will qualify for the program because they aren't wounded," he said. "In fact, I had one guy who had shapnel in his leg and was walking around on crutches who said he didn't think he qualified for it.

"He said he was just walking to the chow hall and was hit by a mortar. To me, you don't have to have shrapnel in your leg, you don't have to have taken a bullet, you don't have to have been rewarded for your war accomplishments to feel like you can benefit from standing in the water learning to fly fish."

And creating the fly that fools the fish makes the experience especially rewarding.

"We don't tie flies that are sophisticated, but the first fly we tie will catch fish," Blankenship said.

Egg flies are often among the first attempted.

"They catch fish," he said.

For now, the program is small.

"I would like to sort of keep it that way," Henrie said. "It's a very personal experience."

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.

• Project Healing Waters: For information or to volunteer, contact Sgt. Michael Henrie at 552-7666 or e-mail him at

• Facebook: Type Project Healing Waters Alaska into Facebook to read details this year's fishing trips and fly-tying classes.

• Alaska Fly Fishers:

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