“FishTrACS” Alpha Team- Hitch 3: Alaska

America’s last frontier welcomed Team Alpha as they arrived in Anchorage, Alaska for the team’s 3rd and final hitch. Team members Dan Solmon, Michael Molloy, and Mike Vasquez spent their first night exploring the state’s largest city and enjoying some fresh Alaskan seafood. The team would spend the next day at the US FWS office in Anchorage learning about bear safety when it comes to working in bear country. This information would be helpful later when the team went into remote parts of the Kenai Peninsula. On top of this training, Michael Molloy was recertified to be the bear guard for the team as they completed their endeavors.

The following day was spent traveling from Anchorage to Homer where the team’s first refuge was located: the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. On the ride to Homer the crew was ecstatic to see a black bear, a small grizzly bear, and a large moose from on the highway.

The first inventory was conducted the next day on the short Beluga Slough Trail that extended itself throughout the small town’s shoreline community. With one of the trail’s spurs ending near the town’s most talked about bakery, the Two Sisters, the team stopped for coffee and a bite to eat, confirming for themselves why the bakery was so popular. Over the weekend the team checked out an old Russian village, the local farmer’s market and the Homer spit.

On Sunday, the crew traveled to Soldotna where they stayed for the final 2 weeks of the hitch. There the team had roughly 90 miles of trails to inventory at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The team spent the first two days taking inventory of the trails near the refuge headquarters and the nearby town of Sterling while the weather was wet and cloudy. Finally, on Wednesday the clouds broke allowing the crew to take a boat ride across Skilak Lake to the Cottonwood Creek Trail. The trail ended in the alpine in a saddle between mountain peaks overlooking the lake and other neighboring mountains. Here the crew stopped for a well deserved break and took in the natural beauty of Alaska that surrounded them. The rain held off just for the day and next day the trio returned to the forest to inventory trails that didn’t offer views quite as nice as the previous day.

After a tough week, the team spent the weekend camping in Seward. Here Dan met up with the trail crew from Kenai and went for a long hike along the Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield. Michael and Mike decided instead to take a Kenai Fjord Tour on a tour boat. The two were able to catch glimpses of some astounding wildlife including puffins, Stellar Sea lions, orcas and humpback whales. The next day the team visited the Alaska SeaLife Center. The crew learned about some of the history of the fjords that make up the landscape and all of the critters that make their home in the surrounding waters.

A change of pace in Seward was just what team Alpha needed to continue into the second week at Kenai. Although they covered an exceptional amount of ground the first week there was still a lot of work to be done. The final week proved to be a great week for the team. Though the harsh climate of Alaska didn’t always act in their favor, two beautifully clear days were well spent taking inventory of a few trails that offered tremendous views of Skilak Lake, nearby mountains, glaciers and a couple of distant volcanoes. On the second clear day, the crew was escorted by boat to the far side of Tustemena Lake, to a remote portion of the refuge. The trail here led to a cabin by a small lake called Emma Lake. On Thursday, the final day at Kenai NWR, despite heavy winds, Dan and Mike hiked the Seven Lakes Trail and the Egumen Lake Trail. The gang then packed up and headed back to Anchorage the following day and headed back to the lower 48 bright and early the next morning. Both Dan and Mike thoroughly enjoyed their first time experiencing the Last Frontier, and Michael was glad to be back.