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Norwegian king explores environmental issues in visit to Kachemak Bay

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published May 26, 2015

HOMER -- About 100 Alaskans cheered King Harald V of Norway on Tuesday as he stepped out of a limousine at the small-boat harbor here and Mayor Mary Wythe formally welcomed him to town.

A little girl handed him flowers. A 102-year-old shook his hand. A couple of people sported Viking-style horned helmets, and many others waved Norwegian flags to celebrate what appears to have been the first publicly announced visit by any reigning monarch ever to the town on Kachemak Bay.

The king, 78, arrived in Anchorage on an Alaska Airlines flight Sunday as part of an official visit to the United States. He previously stopped in the Puget Sound area, where he met with government and industry officials and received an honorary degree from Pacific Lutheran University.

On Wednesday in Anchorage, Harald will attend a seminar sponsored by INTSOK, the Norwegian government-industry petroleum partnership, address the Alaska World Affairs Council and visit the University of Alaska Anchorage on the occasion of the signing of a memorandum of understanding between UAA and the Norwegian University of Tromso.

According to his staff, the purpose of the king's one-day trip to Kachemak Bay was to see the effect of climate change on the area. The region around Homer is considered by some to show distinct effects associated with man-made global warming: receding glaciers, beach erosion, shifts in marine ecology and contrasting stretches of healthy northern rain forest and timber killed by the spruce bark beetle infestation of recent decades.

Four Alaska Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters took the king and an entourage of about 30, including security and press personnel, from Anchorage's Merrill Field to Homer on Tuesday morning. From the boat harbor, the party traveled across Kachemak Bay on the Rainbow Connection charter boat to the Tutka Bay Lodge. A luncheon of Alaska seafood -- crab, oysters, salmon, cod and scallops -- was served, and several photo opportunities were provided in the wilderness setting of sea, eagles and old-growth spruce.

Then the group returned to Homer, reboarded three of the helicopters (one remained behind due to mechanical issues) and returned to Anchorage, where Harald was scheduled to have dinner with Gov. Bill Walker.

On the return trip from Tutka Bay, the king made brief comments to the press on the stern of the Rainbow Connection, mostly drowned out by engine noise. But a few people were able to meet with him onboard and talk about the reasons for his trip to Alaska.

The king has long had an interest in environmental issues, said his press secretary, Sven Gjeruldsen. He's an active hunter and fisherman and served as president of the Norwegian chapter of the World Wildlife Fund for 20 years.

"I was impressed with how interested he is in science," said Heather Renner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, based in Homer. "He's very serious about looking at science to determine how we address climate change."

King Harald V spent part of his youth in the United States when the royal family left Norway during the German invasion of World War II. He succeeded his father, Olav V, in 1991. He is formally the head of state, but his primary duties are ceremonial, such as representing Norway at international events.

King Harald V's schedule in Anchorage

WEDNESDAY

10 a.m. Opening speaker at INTSOK Seminar, Hotel Captain Cook

11 a.m. Visit to Anchorage Museum for opening of "Polar Nights" exhibition

12:30 p.m. Keynote speaker at Alaska World Affairs Council luncheon in Dena'ina Center

3:30 p.m. Visit to University of Alaska Anchorage

6 p.m. Visit to Sons of Norway lodge, 8141 Briarwood St.

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@alaskadispatch.com or 257-4332.

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