Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 5:04 PM on Wednesday, August 8, 2012

New bear viewing resort opens on Kodiak Island

By Tim Bradner
Morris News Service - Alaska

A high-end new resort on Karluk Lake on Kodiak Island opened Aug. 5 for viewing Kodiak's famous brown bears and, later in the fall, the Karluk River's equally famous steelhead fishing.

Four luxury guest cabins, the first phase of the Kodiak Brown Bear Center, will be open through the fall, according to Ed Ward, manager for the center. Plans call for expanding the facility to 12 guest cabins, a lodge for meetings, conferences and group dining and a separate facility for education and research which will have housing, dining and support facilities for research. There also will be four additional cabins for staff.

The center is a subsidiary of Koniag Inc., the Alaska Native regional corporation for Kodiak Island and parts of the Alaska Peninsula. The guides and support staff working at the center are Koniag shareholders, as is Ward himself.

Kodiak's big bears can now be viewed on guided day trips but with the cabins, built on Camp Island on Karluk Lake, visitors will be able to stay for extended periods in comfort, Ward said.

The lodge and education facility are still in the design phase. The hope is that the education center can be built and open in late summer 2013, and the lodge a year later, he said.

Marketing of the bear center began in March and the cabins are already 60 percent fully booked through to the end of the year.

The investment for Koniag has been substantial, in excess of $3 million. Much of the investment has been in the support infrastructure, water systems, wastewater disposal and power generation, which combines solar with conventional diesel. The utilities were built to support the center when fully developed, Ward said.

The Karluk Lake and Karluk River regions have long been known for the ability to support diverse wildlife and the world's biggest bears. Federal and state wildlife scientists have studied the region for years, and having a support facility available at the bear center will now allow for expanded research.

Koniag owns 120,000 acres in the Karluk Lake and Karluk River areas and has set aside 56,000 acres of that as a conservation area for protection. Ward said the corporation sees the bear center as a way to maintain a presence in the area to protect it, and also to earn some revenue.

"This area is very important to our cultural heritage, and we want to do this project right," he said.