President Barack Obama will visit Anchorage Aug. 31 to join a conference on the Arctic, the White House said Friday, and residents of two rural Alaska towns say officials have been scoping their communities as if preparing for a presidential party.
Obama will attend a U.S. State Department conference in Anchorage which "will convene foreign ministers from Arctic nations and key non-Arctic states with scientists, policymakers, and stakeholders from Alaska and the Arctic region to discuss how climate change is reshaping the Arctic, increase global awareness of how Arctic climate change is affecting the rest of the world, and identify individual and collective actions to address these challenges," according to White House spokesperson Hallie Ruvin.
The conference is called Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, or GLACIER.
Ruvin said more details on Obama's Alaska travel "will be available in the coming weeks."
Obama visited Alaska in 2009 during a refueling stop, but he did not leave what was then Elmendorf Air Force Base, speaking in a hangar to military personnel and a few invited civilians. Other presidents have done the same.
Earlier this week, retired Adm. Robert Papp Jr., the State Department's special representative for the Arctic, spoke of a late summer meeting that could bring Secretary of State John Kerry and other top Arctic-nation officials to Anchorage. The conference "will draw the attention of the world to Alaska and the Arctic," Papp said at the time.
The arrival of a presidential team in Dillingham and Kotzebue suggests Obama and Kerry could explore climate change and other Alaska issues on the ground this summer.
A big presidential contingent arrived unannounced by plane in Kotzebue on Thursday, Nathan Kotch, a city council member there, said in a phone interview Friday.
Kotch, who was informed of the visit by other city officials, said the group snapped pictures and examined buildings in the Northwest Alaska community of about 3,300.
The group also held meetings attended by Kotzebue's city manager and the Northwest Arctic Borough mayor, Kotch said, and drew notice from the public.
"People had said they heard that the president was here," Kotch said. He added: "We knew that wasn't the case."
Reached by phone, Reggie Joule, the Northwest Arctic Borough mayor, referred questions to the White House. Derek Martin, the Kotzebue city manager, didn't respond to requests for comment.
In Dillingham, a Southwest Alaska city of 2,400 at the center of the Bristol Bay fishery and the proposed Pebble mine, Mayor Alice Ruby told local public radio station KDLG that White House staffers had contacted the community about a potential visit. Ruby didn't respond to requests for comment Friday, but a Dillingham city council member said that a team of about a dozen people arrived on a jet late Thursday.
"They are here, overnighted here and are leaving this afternoon," the council member, Paul Liedberg, said in a phone interview Friday.
Alaska's politicians' offered mixed reactions to Obama's impending visit. Katie Marquette, the press secretary for Gov. Bill Walker, called the president's trip "a great opportunity to show what Alaska has to offer for the development of the Arctic -- to show what's happening here."
Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young, meanwhile, offered a sardonic, single-line response to the announcement by Obama, a Democrat.
"After all the 'legacy building' he's done in Alaska, I guess we're owed more than a refueling stop," Young was quoted as saying in a prepared statement.
Erica Martinson reported from Washington and Nathaniel Herz from Anchorage.