Alaska's Fountainhead Development is known for building hotels and resorts in the Fairbanks area, but its latest project will offer lodging to a different kind of guests: 111 species of birds, 57 species of plants and 12 types of mammals.
Fountainhead is turning 76 acres of green space adjacent to its Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks into the Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary, a nature preserve with walking trails that is expected to be completed in August.
"Part of the incentive for purchasing this property was to provide a buffer against all this growing development that Fairbanks is undergoing," said Nancy Dewitt, project director for the sanctuary. "All these box stores are popping up not far from where this property is."
About 1.5 miles of trail will loop through a swath of Alaska's boreal forest and around a deep-water lake. An interpretive trail will offer walkers lessons on how Alaska's plants and animals survive the state's harsh winters. Visitors might encounter beavers and other mammals as well as waterfowl and shorebirds such as loons and diving ducks.
The flat, wheelchair-accessible trails will lead to a small lake. There, visitors will find an observation deck equipped with a photography blind (a device to camouflage photographers from wildlife), for taking pictures without startling local birds.
According to Dewitt, many guests at Wedgewood Resort arrive as part of large tour groups that spend a lot of time on buses, trains and boats. The trails will give tour members a chance to stretch their legs in a natural setting.
The sanctuary is a good fit at Wedgewood Resort, which, Dewitt said, already offers visitors many reasons to get out and walk around, such as a bush plane, trappers' cabins, a piece of the Alaska Pipeline and an expansive flower garden.
"The goal here is to have things for people to do rather than get on a treadmill," she said.
The sanctuary's walking trails will be open to resort guests and the public alike free of charge beginning in August.
In the winter, it will offer ski and snowshoe trails.
For more information, go to www.fountainheadhotels.com/wedgewood/wildlifesanctuary/sanctuary.html.
In other news, Alaska will also see the opening of several new cultural institutions this year, including the late-summer debut of the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks.
The 35,000-square-foot center, located on the banks of the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks, will house the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Alaska Public Lands Information Center and the Tanana Chiefs Conference.
It will provide visitor information and trip-planning services, offer interpretive exhibits and theater productions, and will act as a community gathering place.
For more information, visit www.morristhompsoncenter.org.
In Anchorage, the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in September.
The 50,000-square-foot, $93 million exhibition hall will host conventions, trade shows and sporting events and will be connected to the Egan Convention Center and the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts by covered walkways and skybridges.
Opening early this year in Sitka is a new performing arts center, which will seat 650 and become home to the Sitka Jazz Festival and Alaska Airlines Winter Classic Concert Series.
Located less then one mile from downtown hotels, the center will host conference- and convention-related events in addition to musical and theatrical performances.
Alaska's Denali National Park will also get updated facilities when it reopens its Eielson Visitor Center.
The center was closed in 2004 for a total renovation designed to transform it into the first building in Alaska -- as well as in the entire national park system -- to be certified "platinum" under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.
To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].