Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park is located in south-central Alaska along the Kenai Peninsula. The park holds 669,984 acres of protected land and is very near the city of Seward. It was named for its many fjords, which were created by moving glaciers that traveled through the Harding Icefield, one of America’s largest ice fields. There are at least 38 glaciers in the park with the largest being Bear Glacier.

The efforts to establish the Kenai Fjords area as a national park began between the 1920s and 1940s, after studies pertaining to Alaska’s economic viability were conducted. Although George Hartzog brought the idea of making the area a national park in 1964, most were not supportive of the idea. The area was designated as a national monument under the Antiquities Act by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. It was not until 1980 that Kenai Fjords National Park was established under the ANILCA bill, after Jimmy Carter signed the bill into action.

Kenai Fjords National Park holds many fjords including McCarty Fjord, Nuka Bay, and Harris Bay and features a deeply glaciated coastline. The Kenai Mountains hold the park’s highest peak, which reaches 6,450 feet and is currently unnamed. The landscape of the park has been altered due to plate tectonics after the Pacific Plate moved under, or subducted under, the North American Plate, effectively lowering the Kenai Mountains and moving the glaciers further into sea.

Because of the glacial melting that has occurred over the 20th century, more landscape has become available in Kenai Fjords National Park for wildlife to thrive. Plant species like lichens and moss are the first to grow on the newly exposed land, followed by plants that require soil like willow trees, alder trees, Alaska blueberries, elderberries, and lady fern plants. Large land animals that reside in the park include American black bears, Alaskan brown bears, mountains goats, and moose. Other mammals that reside in the park include river otters and beavers. The waters of the park support many marine animals including minke whales, fin whales, humpback whales, orcas, and Dall’s porpoises. The park also supports bird species like the bald eagle, Stellar’s jay, the black-billed magpie, thick-billed murres, and the tufted puffin.

Kenai Fjords National Park can be accessed by cruise ships that originate from Seward and others that visit from different areas. Exit Glacier, the most well developed area of the park, can be accessed by a paved road and is as one of the park’s most popular features. The National Park Service offers boat tours of the park that allow visitors to view many animals within the water and on the land. Visitors can lodge in many areas along edge of the Harding Icefield. Some of the cabins available are located on land owned by native peoples, so some of the fees are given to these local communities.

Image Caption: Aialik Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park. Credit: Balazs Barnucz/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)