The Wildest State in the Union

by Greg Kinman

Hello! I’m Greg, from Dallas, Texas, and I’m working as a Photo Media Intern for Alaska’s Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve this summer. I’m based out of Fairbanks, but I fly to the preserve, located in the eastern Alaskan Interior, for each of my four ten-day-or-so backcountry patrols.

Yes, I know that’s a long way to travel just for a summer internship. But, one day, the idea of spending a summer in Alaska—the wildest state in the Union—just popped into my head. The vast wilderness beckoned me. I wanted to work there, not only just to enjoy it, but also to help keep it alive and protected. No other place in America is more true to its ancient past than Alaska if the amount of rugged wilderness is the metric used. And, having a great deal of photography experience, and some cinematography experience, I knew that the best way for me to share the beauty of the wilderness with others and to inspire feelings of conservation in the public was through the creation of captivating images.

Although I work for the preserve, my office space in Fairbanks is located in the Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center (FAPLIC), a National Park Service-staffed outpost of knowledgeable interpretive rangers housed in the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center in downtown Fairbanks. It’s essentially the tourist hub for the entire Alaskan Interior, so it gets pretty busy downstairs, especially at this time of year, in the middle of the summer heat.

My job is to produce quality images and video for inclusion in a new digital media database that FAPLIC is starting. They hope to use this database as a resource for when they want to make new social media posts, brochures, posters, exhibits, videos, and flyers. The Yukon River corridor is the most accessible portion of the preserve, and thus it sees the most visitors and has been photographed extensively. But, there are numerous landscapes and regions within the preserve’s 2 million acres that have not even been photographed, save for a handful of hunters decades ago. It is my job to both make the already-photographed areas more robust in their documentation, as well as start from the ground up in documenting the less-well-known areas, such as the Charley River basin.

I’ve been in Fairbanks since May 11th, but I actually didn’t go out to the preserve area until June 6th. Those first three and a half weeks were spent acquainting me with my organization, learning about Alaska, and waiting for the ice on the Yukon to break up! Breakup was late this year—the ice didn’t break up until May 18th, almost causing severe flooding in Eagle, the population 150-or-so riverside hamlet where the preserve headquarters is located.

I went on a few day trips with the FAPLIC staff in the early days of my employment for the purpose of orienting myself and the other new seasonal staff with the surrounding area. It was still pretty cold then—temps hovered around 40 degrees in the afternoon. The Chena River, the river that bisects downtown Fairbanks, which I can see out the window right as I write this, rises about halfway between Fairbanks and the western preserve boundary, as the crow flies. We drove to a place near the headwaters to investigate campground conditions and to see how the breakup was going. As you’ll see below, it was lagging!

On June 6th, I flew out to Eagle for my first patrol in the preserve. I was there until the 12th, when I came back to Fairbanks. I did a second patrol in the preserve June 18th-26th, and until July 13th, I’ll be laying low for a while and going through the nearly 5,000 photos and videos I shot on those two patrols. I’ll give all the details about those patrols in my next two posts, but, for now, enjoy some mid-May shots of breakup on the Chena River! Up next: all about how I flew in a helicopter for three days, documenting the work of archaeologists.