The first thing I notice about the Koyukuk River region from my perch in the cockpit of the tiny bush plane transporting a handful of villagers, visitors, and supplies to the Koyukon Athabascan village of Hughes are the magnificent splashes of bright magenta covering the mountains. Fireweed, true to its name, has completely overtaken the burned remains of hundreds of thousands of forestland left behind after massive fires raged on both sides of the Koyukuk River in 2015.
One of the conveniences of visiting southcentral Alaska is that much of the state’s infrastructure is in this region, radiating out of Anchorage, the state’s population center. In particular, the Alaska Railroad is a unique and convenient way to travel through the region, in part because it has structured its service to cater to visitors that want to follow a strict itinerary and to those wanting the freedom to get just a little lost in the Last Frontier.
I was invited to visit with Alaska Zoo Development Director Jeannette Menchinsky and Curator Shannon Jensen on a brisk morning in April; after Menchinsky and I chatted in her office overlooking Caesar the Alpaca’s pen, we set out into the zoo to meet up with Jensen and happened to come across her just outside the wolf exhibit. While she educated me about some of the rescue animals that the Alaska Zoo has taken in, the wolves began to howl. It’s a blessing I was recording Jensen’s comments because for a moment I heard nothing but the wolves as the young Alaskan in me suddenly and viscerally remembered the Alaska Zoo is just awesome.
It is well recognized that conferences stimulate economic growth in communities, but how do communities ensure they are receiving the maximum value?