Kodiak bear guides aim to give guests low-impact adventure

James Brooks
Courtesy of HARRY DODGE VIA Associated Press

KODIAK -- In May 2011, New York Times writer Ted O'Callahan traveled to Kodiak Island in search of an environmentally friendly way to see bears.

What he found was Kodiak Treks on Uyak Bay. Harry Dodge founded the lodge in 1995 and married Brigid in 1997. Today, the two run the lodge to provide a low-impact bear-watching experience.

Their efforts to reduce the environmental impact of their business have garnered them several awards. This month, Kodiak Treks was recertified by Adventure Green Alaska, the sole Alaska organization offering a certification process for ecotourism.

"I guess we feel a responsibility to continue to push ourselves to see what we can do better," Brigid said. "We're a small, family business and we don't generate a lot of revenue. We don't get the attention a bigger business would but we can still demonstrate that small and sustainable are important to Alaska's future."

Harry and Brigid are the business's sole employees, guiding clients from June 1 through late September at their lodge on Aleut Island. The rest of the year, they travel to destinations around the world.

"Harry and I try to travel in the winter and bring home ideas from places where wildlife-based tourism is," Brigid said.

They've traveled to Southeast Asia and South Africa, Sweden and South America, and Brigid said she appreciates the effort other places have taken to train or certify tourism guides and lodges.

Alaska doesn't have a state-run training or certification process but Brigid said she ensures that Kodiak Treks does its part to preserve the environment for future business. In addition to participating in AGA's certification program, Brigid serves on the AGA board and runs a bear-viewing guide training program each spring at Kodiak College.

"It's just too much of a delicate resource to throw in someone just to do a job (without training)," she said. "I don't think the bears in the area we operate in can handle that."

The Dodges also try to train their visitors. During guest stays, they hold sit-down lessons about the preservation aspect of their mission and encourage guests to contribute to groups such as the Kodiak Bear Trust. Last year, visitors donated $1,700 to the trust.

"It's a way for our tourists to contribute to sustainability in the way hunting and fishing do with licenses," Brigid said.

Kodiak Treks operates on a strict schedule as lodges go. Visitors are required to stay at least three days and be prepared to hike greater distances -- the idea is to limit motorized transport as much as possible.

"I think that's a really important part for our dedication to sustainability," Brigid said.

Those restrictions limit the lodge's clientele but she said that's OK with her and Harry.

"The people that want to find us are going to be with us," she said. "We're not reaching out to the world; we're reaching out to people like us, who when they travel want something unique, undiscovered."


By JAMES BROOKS
Kodiak Daily Mirror