A CIRI-eyed view of the U.S. President’s visit
On August 31, nearly all of Alaska was abuzz with speculation and anticipation as President Barack Obama arrived in Anchorage for an extended visit to the state to address climate issues. While here, President Obama met with Alaska Native leaders, including CIRI shareholders, to learn more about the impact of climate change across Alaska, and particularly in rural communities.
“One of the biggest things that I heard during this discussion was the need for us to work more intensively and more collaboratively with communities, particularly in rural areas that are burdened by crippling energy costs,” President Obama said.
CIRI shareholder and President and Chief of the Native Village of Eklutna Lee Stephan offered remarks for the traditional welcome ceremony at the Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience (GLACIER) conference. The event was held at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage and attended by both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Also in attendance was CIRI shareholder John Warren Jr. from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, who spoke on water sanitation in rural Alaska (see Shareholder Spotlight).
While in Alaska, President Obama also visited Kotzebue, Dillingham and Seward. Even before the president and his entourage moved south, staff at the Seward Windsong Lodge, a CIRI Alaska Tourism Corporation (CATC) company, had already become accustomed to meeting the needs of the president’s Secret Service team.
“We’ve had a pretty exciting past week here. We’ve had about 80 Secret Service staying with us,” says Anna Johnson, Seward Windsong Lodge’s event manager. In preparation, Johnson briefed her staff on security procedures and gave tours of the property to Secret Service officers. “They had a lot of questions about securing the area.”
On the day of Obama’s Seward visit, Johnson made sure guests were accommodated despite disruptions caused by the presidential visit. “Exit Glacier is the only thing people are disappointed with; they’re not able to get out there until later this evening,” Johnson said, referring to the closure of the Exit Glacier Nature Center and Exit Glacier Road during the president’s visit to the glacier.
Housing Secret Service staff gave the Windsong Lodge a nice boost during what industry professionals refer to as “shoulder season” – that time of year when tourism drops off as the weather grows cooler.
“Typically, we’d be twiddling our thumbs now after being so busy,” Johnson describes. “But we went from about 120 [booked] rooms, and we have 180 altogether – and now we’re sold out.”
Meanwhile, CATC’s Kenai Fjords Tours (KFT) staff provided equipment to screen the dock the president used to board a vessel for a tour of Resurrection Bay.
“We’ve hosted past presidents before,” says Ron Wille, KFT general manager. “[Former President] Jimmy Carter actually stayed at Fox Island for two nights. So you never know what’s going to happen, and we were a little hopeful, but we’re happy to participate in the manner we are now.”