New sign soars over Eagle River

Community, BP team up to add instant icon to Chief Alex Park


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Community members take pictures of the new “Welcome to Eagle River” sign unveiled on Dec. 22 in Chief Alex Park.

STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

Susie Gorski can finally put away her paint cans.

The Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce executive director had made sprucing up the old plywood “Welcome to Eagle River” sign an annual rite of spring.

“It was just tired,” Gorski said of the old sign.

Thanks to the work of several community members — and a $19,000 grant from British Petroleum — the iconic wooden sign in Chief Alex Park was recently replaced with a brand-spanking-new welcome sign that’s sure to become the area’s newest big attraction.

“This will be for generations to come,” said chamber president Pete Mulcahy during an unveiling ceremony held on Dec. 22.

The new sign features a soaring ceramic eagle affixed above a rock wall and a “high-density closed cell urethane foam” sign, according to Larry Rushing of Signature Signs.

Rushing and his wife, Jill, built the new sign, with Jill handling the precision work of sculpting the giant eagle from a two-part epoxy putty.

Larry Rushing said the painstaking work to create the soaring eagle was the most difficult part of the project. He said 4-ounce balls of resin and hardener had to be mixed by hand, a process that took about eight minutes each — with about 85 pounds of the stuff needed to complete the sculpture.

“That eagle has 3,000 hand-carved feathers,” Gorski said. “It really took a long time.”

Gorski said the finished product ended up costing about $23,000, with some of the funding coming from the chamber and some “in-kind” donations used to finish the work.

Gorski said the concept for the new sign came from Jitters owner Dennis Johnson, and had been kicking around for about a decade. Johnson came up with the conceptual design, and things really started moving forward when BP’s Karen Cowart told Gorski that the oil giant would help fund the project about two years ago.

Gorski said BP’s Jim Palmer also helped secure funding for the project. Contractor Marty Rainy built the rock wall atop which the eagle soars, and Steve Wakeland served as project manager. URS of Alaska CEO Joe Hegna helped with the engineering work, and Hegna enlisted the help of Stanford University engineering student Sarah Marie Kahn, who donated her time to design and engineer the sign.

Several dozen onlookers turned out in a snowstorm to watch the unveiling ceremony. “Only in Eagle River would this many people show up in this kind of weather,” Mulcahy joked.

On hand for the unveiling were Larry and Jill Rushing, whose hundreds of hours of labor went into the new sign. After seeing the new landmark in place, Larry said he felt like he and his wife had teamed up to create something special.

“This is the coolest sign I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.

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