The second annual Walk for the Wild 5K took place on the Homer Spit on Saturday.
Participants were greeted with cookies, coffee and pamphlets, invited in to gather and learn about the National Wildlife Refuge System and the local refuges in Alaska. The walk was produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which partnered with the national organization Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges, in an effort to spread the message of nature conservation and preserving our refuges.
Melanie Menke, a volunteer and manager for the Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges, sees the annual walk as an opportunity for growth for their movement.
“State and nationally this has been our second year, but locally this is actually our third,” said Menke. “I just want to keep doing it more. Conservation and refuges are the things keeping America alive.”
Menke also mentioned just how outnumbered conservation organizations feel when tasked with tending to the massive refuges that Alaska contains. Expanding the refuges in Alaska in the 1980s with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act quadrupled the size of the National Wildlife Refuge System from 22.5 million to 90 million acres, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website.
With 500 national wildlife refuges across the country, and only 16 individual refuges established in Alaska to account for the almost 80 million acres of land protected today, the attention for conservation is being spread thinner.
“The main goal is to spread awareness and get people to come out here and participate and learn,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Visitor Center Manager Lora Haller said. “Kachemak Bay is beautiful, and you get people flying in here, visiting from all over; it’s a great place to teach about what these wildlife refuges are and how to get involved with conservation.”
The 5-kilometer track was lined with checkpoints, taking place at every 0.5-kilometer mark. Each checkpoint had a unique fact about a certain aspect of the different refuges scattered throughout Alaska. The trail aimed to raise awareness for the potential for wildlife conservation through discussing each of the 16 unique national wildlife refuges positioned around Alaska and the inherent traits that make them stand out.