Photo book captures the Eagle River Nature Center’s many creatures and communities

Photographer Colin Tyler, who was at the Nature Center for a decade as a resident volunteer and staff member, released his book of striking images this year.

This is part of Alaska Authors, an occasional series about authors and other literary figures with ties to the 49th state.

For nearly a decade, Colin Tyler’s life centered around the Eagle River Nature Center, where he worked first as a resident volunteer, and later as a staff member. During that time he spent countless hours traversing the trails, camera at the ready, capturing images of the animal and plant life found in the adjacent part of Chugach State Park. So when it came time for him to move on from his position with the center last winter, he decided to first offer a parting gift to the place he’d come to love.

“No one’s ever done a book just about the Nature Center, and everybody loves this place,” Tyler said recently. “It’s just cherished by the whole community. So I thought, this is a great opportunity and a wonderful tribute.”

That book, “Seasons of the Nature Center,” is a collection of his photographs that “show the seasonal transitions, everything that happens throughout the year,” Tyler said. “It celebrates this center, this destination, this locale that is just loved and cherished by so much of the community.”

The center, easily accessed from Anchorage, offers visitors a microcosm of the wilds that lie just beyond the city limits, Tyler said. “It’s a beautiful valley, and you can really see a variety of incredible wildlife here.”

Pointing to “the opportunities for families to take their kids out for recreation, to show them the outdoors,” he described the center as “a gateway to this vast state park, one of the biggest in the nation. It’s also a center for education and teaching natural history, school field trips, and it’s a very popular place.”

Tyler sought to capture all of this in his book, which tracks both natural and human activities in the area surrounding the center over the course of a year. Beginning in spring, it offers photos from each season, ranging from panoramic landscape shots to closeup studies of plants, and images of wildlife, people strolling through the center’s trails, and annual events including the Solstice Ice Lantern Walk and the Icy River Rampage fat bike race.

“I’m telling a story of what takes place here throughout the year,” he said.


Originally from Minnesota, Tyler first came to Alaska in 1996 to complete an internship for his psychology degree. An experienced hunter, he photographed wildlife and scenery when he drove north and found he preferred shooting animals with a camera rather than a gun. “To me, that became more fulfilling.”

Tyler spent three years in Anchorage and was able to supplement his income by selling photographs to assorted publications, including the ADN. In 1999 he moved back to Minnesota, but like so many who have left before and since, he couldn’t get his mind off Alaska. He returned north to stay in 2007 and took a job running the portrait studio at Eagle River Photo. “I was just yearning to be back here,” he said.

The pivotal year in his life proved to be 2014. He had just moved on from his job when his cabin burned to the ground, taking most of his exposed film with it, and more tragically, his cat, who died of smoke inhalation. He decided to travel overseas, and upon returning was at a crossroads about his future. It was October, and that’s when he was offered a position as resident volunteer in the center.

“I thought, that’s a brilliant idea,” he recalled. “You get a place to live, you get a grocery stipend, and you work at the visitor center. What a beautiful place to be for the winter.” The following spring he was asked to remain through the summer, “and that became 8 1/2 years. And after two years as a volunteer, they created a staff position for me, called me assistant operations manager.”

It was a dream job, he said. “In addition to my living situation, I also got a salary. And as a photographer, I just couldn’t imagine a better opportunity.”

Tyler took full advantage, frequenting the trails with his camera, capturing the seasonal shifts in the landscape, and tracking the resident wildlife. Moose and bears wander through the pages, but part of what sets this collection apart are his stunning shots of birds, particularly owls.

“I’ve had countless opportunities with owls,” he said.

Late in his first summer, he followed a mother and juvenile living nearby for a couple of weeks, waiting for the perfect moment.

“I finally caught that flight shot against the bluish cobalt sky where the one’s taking flight,” he said. “It took me a couple weeks to get that, just setting up, because you just get one opportunity to try and focus on the bird in the dark, keep it in focus, and hit it with a flash.”

He’s had similar luck with lynx, usually one of Alaska’s more elusive animals.

“I spent a lot of time skiing around and looking for tracks and had some success,” he said. “But some of my encounters have just been by chance and I’ve had lynx actually approach me. I’m very much a cat person and I think all types of cats sense that.”

Tyler also captures human activities at the center, including images of hikers, of volunteers releasing a juvenile bald eagle from the deck after it was treated for injuries, of fat-bike riders, including a fat-tire unicyclist, and of the annual Solstice Ice Lantern Walk. With the book, he wanted to convey both the beauty of the location and “the function that it serves in the community as a place of education, and a gateway to outdoors and social events and recreation.”


For Tyler, the center served as both a home and a launching pad. Sales from his photos helped finance overseas trips to Australia and Cuba, and he decided to expand on his sense of adventure by co-founding Nat Expo Tours, a photography tourism business that takes people to locations as diverse as Africa, Iceland, Scandinavia and beyond. By the start of this year, the business had grown to the point where he needed to leave the Nature Center. But first he wanted to publish the book, an idea he’d harbored since he first arrived.

Working with Todd Communications, Tyler said he was able to bring the book to fruition fairly quickly once he set to work on it last year. “They did the design, I had the vision, and we worked together. I’m really happy with the results. It’s been very well received. It’s the first book of its kind about the Nature Center.”

Tyler said presales of the book exceeded expectations. Since it published, he’s been selling copies through his website, and it’s being carried by local bookshops as well. For Tyler, it’s a way of sharing his love for the Eagle River Nature Center with regular visitors, those passing through, and people who have never seen it and might not know how beloved it is and the key role it plays in Anchorage’s community.

“So many people raise their families here, and now they see this book that to them, encapsulates their experiences with their families over the years,” he said.

Tyler will be at a book signing at Odd Man Rush Brewing in Eagle River on Friday from 5-8 p.m.

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David James

David A. James is a Fairbanks-based freelance writer, and editor of the Alaska literary collection “Writing on the Edge.” He can be reached at