Eagle River Nature Center set for spring

Friday, May 11, 2018 - 11:44
  • Children gather on a viewing platform near the Eagle River Nature Center on Sunday, April 22, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Hikers walk the trails at the Eagle River Nature Center on Sunday, April 22, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • A butterfly takes a rest near the trails at the Eagle River Nature Center on Sunday, April 22, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • A dry erase board lists upcoming activities at the Eagle River Nature Center on Sunday, April 22, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

On Earth Day at the Eagle River Nature Center, life was emerging from nearly every nook and cranny: Big, lazy mosquitos hovered, skittish butterflies fluttered and in the shallow ponds near the center trails, salmon fry fought over a few fledgling flies.

Sometime soon, even the bears will be about.

“We have not run into any bear sightings, but it’s definitely that time of year,” said ERNC operations manager Laura Krueger on Sunday, April 22.

As she spoke, a few curious tourists checked out the center’s collection of bear skins and animal skulls inside the cozy cabin at the end of Eagle River Road. Kruger said visitor traffic has been picking up steadily in recent days as the Eagle River Valley begins to thaw.

“The foot traffic, definitely on the sunny days, has been getting busy,” she said.

Trails around the center are mostly free of mud, though those farther afield are still going through their annual meltdown.

“It’s spring break-up on the trails,” she said. “A lot of mud, a lot of slushy snow and then in the shadier spots you’ll see some ice.”

Overall though, spring seems to be in full swing, and the center is set to switch to summer hours. Starting May 1, Kruger said the center will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. From June through August, they’ll be open Tuesday through Sunday. The trails around the center are always open.

Those trails include the popular Crow Pass trail, which follows the Historic Iditarod Trail up the Eagle River Valley and over Crow Pass to Girdwood. Although avalanche danger remains high in the pass, Kruger said the trail is likely to again see high traffic this summer.

“I’ve been here eight years and I’ve definitely seen a huge increase,” in Crow Pass hikers, she said.

To help people prepare for the 23-mile through hike (which can be done in either direction), Kruger and former Chugach State Park superintendent Pete Panarese will lead a “Crow Pass 101” program on May 19 at 2 p.m. The annual pass primer has become one of the center’s most popular spring programs.

“We usually have 60-plus people for that one,” she said.

The program is free and open to the public and will include information on everything from trip logistics to gear to river crossing basics.

A schedule of public programs can be found on the center’s website at ernc.org. Although it’s a gateway to Chugach State Park, there is a $5 parking fee even for folks who have a parks membership because the center operates as an independent nonprofit.

“A lot of people don’t realize we’re a nonoprofit run facility so we have our own parking fee to help maintain the trails and pay the bills,” she said.

Most of the center’s public programs are free, except those that require special equipment or materials. Though many are open to all, some require preregistration.

Since spring is when the valley’s most notorious residents begin to stir, it’s also when the center presents its annual bear awareness programs. There will be two such programs in May, with a “Living in Bear Country” program with naturalist Beth Baker planned for May 6 at 2 p.m. and a “Living with Bears” program with Bill Sherwonit on May 20 at 2 p.m.

Bears are frequent visitors to the center, which has a variety of trails and two large boardwalk viewing areas that overlook a fork of the Eagle River. Kruger said it’s a good idea to practice good bear basics when traveling in the area.

“Make noise, travel in groups, carry bear spray,” she said.

Kruger said people can check the center’s website for updates on public programs or people can call them at 694-2108.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274.

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