|A bald eagle at the Alaska Raptor Center. // All photos by the author|
Sitka in southeastern Alaska is an increasingly popular port of call for cruise lines in the region. Travel Agent visited the town as part of our recent trip aboard Alaska Dream Cruises, which started overnight small ship cruises in the area last summer. Here are our picks for top things to do in the area.
The Alaska Raptor Center is a nonprofit organization that rescues injured raptors and re-teaches them how to fly in order to return them to the wild. If a bird is too injured to fly again, the Center will provide food and housing and use the bird in educational programs in local and regional schools. Tours of the facility take visitors through the flight center, a spacious enclosure where injured birds are kept while they get their strength back until they are ready to fly again and conclude with a brief presentation on birds of prey. We got to meet Volta, a bald eagle who is one of the Center's oldest avian ambassadors. Out back is another series of large enclosures that house birds that cannot be returned to the wild, as well as a short nature trail along Indian River.
Next we headed to the Fortress of the Bear (www.fortressofthebear.org). Opened in 2007 after a five-year construction period, this unique facility is situated in an abandoned sawmill near the ocean. Here, wildlife experts have created an industry first: a facility that rescues orphaned bear cubs and helps them survive. Previously, when a bear cub was orphaned under two years of age wildlife officials would have to euthanize it because an orphaned cub that young had almost no chance of survival. The experts at the Fortress of the Bear, however, turned the concrete tanks of the old sawmill into a three-quarter acre habitat for the cubs and developed techniques to help them survive.
|The Fortress of the Bear|
Without a mother the cubs can never learn the hunting skills necessary to return to the wild, but they can live out their lives in zoos around the country- three cubs from the Fortress recently found a home at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. Visitors to the Fortress can look down from a high viewing platform into the habitat, which at the time we were there housed five brown bears.
We ended our day with a hike along Herring Cove Trail (http://www.sitkatrailworks.org/index.php/trail-information/8-trails/15), which just opened two years ago. This trail is a three mile roundtrip hike into the mountains above Sitka to Beaver Lake. The trail can climb quite steeply in places, so only recommend it to clients who are physically fit, and getting to it can be tricky: it's all the way out at the end of Sitka's main road, about seven miles from the town center- the best way there is by car or taxi. Those who make the journey, however, will be rewarded with a scenic climb along rapids with a view of two waterfalls before reaching the lake high in the mountains. At the lake, there is another loop trail that goes all the way around, about one mile.
Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for further updates about our adventures aboard Alaskan Dream Cruises.