KTNA Studio – Dave Totten, artist

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KTNA Studio

KTNA On Air Studio, Jan 2013

Photo by Deb Wessler

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Fish Lake morning

Fish Lake morning

photo: Robin Song

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Agriculture: Peonies in the Upper Valley

Peonies are a growing business in Alaska.  Ample sunlight and moisture make for good growing conditions, and more farmers are looking at the flowers as a profit-maker.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning visited a family farm in Trapper Creek, and has this story.

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When most people hear “Alaskan exports,” they think of things like gold, salmon, and oil.  Now, however, some Alaskan farmers are capitalizing on the timing of the growing season to cash in on a new market, peonies.  Peonies are a family of flower with somewhere between twenty-five and forty species.  The blossoms contain many petals, and can open to be quite large, with the flower of many species averaging six inches across or more.  In Alaska, some can get even larger.

“They were as big as my head!”

That’s Pat Holloway.  She is the Professor of Horticulture at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and she is describing some of the flowers in her own garden this summer.  Professor Holloway is also a big part of the reason that farmers are growing peonies in Alaska.  She says she spoke with a flower industry expert nearly fifteen years ago, who told her that Alaska is in a unique position to grow peonies commercially.

“Ours bloom in July instead of May, where most people have peonies.  He says to me, ‘If you look in to the world’s markets on cut flowers, nobody has peonies blooming in July.”

Armed with that knowledge, Professor Holloway obtained grant money to start trying to grow peonies in Alaska.  Because the growth was being carefully documented, Holloway says she got an unexpected phone call two years into the experiment.

“In 2003, I was in my office, and I got a phone call.  This gentleman introduced himself as a flower broker from London, and he wanted me to send him 100,000 stems!”

As it turns out, flower distributors are very eager to expand the period in which they can sell peonies.  That particular broker had been searching the internet for late summer flowers and found Professor Holloway’s records.

“My little paper that was on the internet was the only resource that had a calendar in it, and he goes, ‘You’re it.’  He says, ‘You have them.’  I just sat back going, ‘Oh my gosh, there is something to this.’  I was just so dumbfounded.”

Part of the reason for year-round demand for peonies is how they are used.  Bryan Hoffmann, whose family grows peonies in Trapper Creek, says that peonies are in high demand around the world for one specific occasion.

“It seems to be bridal bouquets.”

Research shows that wedding budgets overall are going up.  Part of that cost is fresh flowers.  Bryan Hoffmann says that the trend is looking good for peonies.

“They’ve done a lot of research into how much money is spent on flowers, and it’s a lot.”

Bryan Hoffmann grew up on a farm in Wisconsin.  He works in Prudhoe Bay, now, but says he would like to find a way to make farming his full-time job again.  Marilyn Hoffmann, Bryan’s wife, says that the family discovered peonies as an Alaskan crop as a matter of necessity.

“Our first year moving up here, all three acres of this was hay, and we found out that our son was allergic to hay, so we had to figure out something different, so Bryan did research on peonies.”

Part of that research that Bryan Hoffmann saw was what Professor Holloway had produced.  Now, the family grows three acres of peonies.  It’s a learning process for the Hoffmanns.  Marilyn explains how cutting the flowers is different in Alaska than anywhere else, because florists want them while they are still in bud stage .

“You’re out here four times a day.  You’re constantly in the field, checking buds.  Last year, even from midnight–which would be my last cut–to six in the morning, I would have so many blown that I couldn’t send to the distributor because they were already too far open.”

The Hoffmanns are far from alone in peony farming in the area.  The Mat-Su Borough recently designated itself as the peony capital of Alaska.  Bryan Hoffmann says farmers in the Valley are all working on the best way to grow the flowers, and often share information on what’s working for them within the relatively new industry.

“Up here, everybody’s still trying to figure it out.  There’s a lot of communication between farmers in the area.  We talk to a lot of farmers, ‘Hey, what’s working for you?…We tried this, it didn’t work for us,’  A lot of information sharing.

Bryan Hoffmann says one of the reasons that farmers feel comfortable sharing techniques is that Alaska has a corner on the market that it is nowhere close to exhausting.

“There’s such a big demand; I don’t know that Alaska will ever exceed the demand.  Once you flood the Lower 48, you still have Europe…you still have the rest of the world.”

The supply in Alaska, and on the Hoffmanns’ farm is continuing to grow, but it still has a long way to go before the hundreds of thousands of flowers that distributors, florists, and wedding planners are asking for can be exported.  This week, flower distributors were touring farms across Alaska, and, by all accounts, they are impressed not only with the extended peony season, but also the quality of flowers that grow under the midnight sun.

An Unforgettable Flight: Landing on Ruth Glacier

by:  Alberto Garcia, KTNA

This summer, one of KTNA’s interns, Alberto Garcia, has been taking a look at the Upper Valley from the perspective of someone from Outside.  Alberto’s time with KTNA will be over soon, but he did have one uniquely Alaskan adventure before leaving, a flightseeing trip and glacier landing.  He took a recorder along, and has this report:

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I ride into Downtown Talkeetna on my bicycle the morning of July 21st and as Mt. McKinley comes into view, I stop for a second to admire the splendor of mountain scenery. I didn’t know at the time that in just a couple of hours I’d actually be standing closer to Denali than most people ever will.

I arrived at the KTNA studio that morning, my mind still in awe from how beautiful the mountain looked that morning. Most days the weather is not favorable and the mountain hides behind gray skies and rainclouds.

I had wanted to take a flight to the Alaska Range since early on in my internship at KTNA. When I was told that Talkeetna Air Taxi would fly me up to the glacier at 11am, I could barely contain my excitement. Read More »

Susitna Salmon Center to Host Grand Opening and Community Art Project Wednesday

Artist Katherine England with part of the salmon totem project that will be unveiled at the Susitna Salmon Center on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the Susitna Salmon Center in Downtown Talkeetna is celebrating its grand opening with fish-themed art and education, and they’re giving the community a chance to pitch in on a special art project.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning visited the Susitna Salmon Center on Tuesday, and has this report:

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One of the things the Susitna River is known for is its salmon.  All five species can be found in the river, and sport fishing is common when state regulations allow.  This week marks the grand opening of the Susitna Salmon Center in Talkeetna.  The Center is on First Street near the ballfield in downtown.  The building contains an art gallery with works by Alaskans as well as an education center.  As part of its grand opening, the Susitna Salmon Center is unveiling a special piece of artwork dedicated to the river’s famous fish.  It’s a six-foot salmon totem with each species represented by a sculpture mosaic.

Katherine England of California put the project together.  She has done a number of projects for non-profits in the past, and says that this was an opportunity for her to not only create a unique, locally themed piece, but to learn more about the subject matter as well. Read More »

Writer’s Voice–The Secrets of the Lilac Tree, by Robin Song

It was a great year for lilacs in the area,

and while admiring the blooms,

Robin Song was surprised by what else she found.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On a warm, sunny summer afternoon I was drawn to the lilac tree in the nursery. It’s several years old, now, tall, and magnificent when in full bloom. It’s blooms are a lovely shade of pinkish-lavender, and intoxicatingly fragrant. Read More »

Close Encounter Between Plane and Whale in Southeast Goes Viral

by: Greta Mart, KCAW – Sitka

A 48-second YouTube video catching the swift reactions of a Sitka floatplane pilot went viral this past week. KCAW’s Greta Mart tracked down the pilot and the man who took the video to bring us the full story of how a routine flight in Southeast Alaska made waves on news programs and websites around the world.

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“…And a close call for the pilot of a pontoon plane in Alaska who just narrowly missed landing right on a humpback whale near Angoon…take a look here you’ll see just before the plane hits the water, the pilot then pulls up and then lands safely a few feet later…”

“My name is Rob Murray. I’m chief pilot at Harris Air in Sitka.”

On the morning of July tenth, Murray was flying four passengers into the small Southeast community of Angoon, coming down for a landing in Mitchell Bay.

“I didn’t see the whale…I was definitely looking right at the spot where the whale turned out to be…the first thing that I saw was just before touchdown was the spray, so thank god the whale decided to exhale because that is what I saw.” Read More »

Melting Permafrost May Help Curb Greenhouse Gases

by: Emily Schwing, KUAC

Scientists have long believed melting permafrost emits large amounts of carbon-rich greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere resulting in a warming climate.  But a new study published online by the journal Nature on Wednesday indicates ancient lakes that formed after permafrost fin the Arctic first melted roughly ten thousand years ago may in fact have a net climate cooling effect over long time scales.  As KUAC’s Emily Schwing reports, the the study also increases the total amount of carbon estimated in the frozen soils of the Far North by more than 50 percent.

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Katey Walter Anthony is an Associate Professor at  the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology.  She studies methane emissions from Arctic thermokarst lakes.

“Until now, we have understood these thermokarst lakes, or lakes where permafrost thaws, to be a really important source of methane, a greenhouse gas that causes the climate to warm.” Read More »

Borough Seeking Input on Transportation Plan

The Mat-Su Borough is soliciting public input in order to update its Long Range Transportation Plan.  The plan was last updated in 2007, and was intended to act as a guide for borough-wide transportation improvements through 2025.  The update currently in progress will run through 2035.  While the plan covers the entire borough, the focus for the update is on fast-growing areas such as Knik Goose Bay Road and the Big Lake and Meadow Lakes areas.

The goal of the LRTP is to allow infrastructure to keep pace with growth.  It involves plans for roads, trails, airports, and public transportation.  While the update is focused more on the core area of the borough, the rural areas are also covered.  Talkeetna, Trapper Creek, and Sunshine all have lists of community desires listed in the 2007 plan.  For Talkeetna, that includes items like the wish to continue as an “end of the road” community.  Trapper Creek’s largest item is the improvement of the Petersville Road, and Sunshine has requests for pedestrian access and general safety improvements, especially along high traffic roads and the Parks Highway. Read More »

Government Hill Residents Protest Demolitions for Knik Arm Bridge

by:  Anne Hillman, APRN

On Tuesday potential demolition contractors were shown buildings the state wants torn down on Government Hill in Anchorage, and protesters chanted and held signs protesting the demolition as premature. It’s the result of planning for a bridge by the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, or KABATA, that has now been taken over by the state. Local home owner Marjorie Ellis did not mince words in her criticism of that bridge idea:
“Everything they’ve done is to destroy Government Hill, which is the oldest community in Anchorage.”

Funding prospects for the bridge hang on seeking a federal loan. But
Jill Rees of the state Transportation Department says right of way
acquisition has to run well ahead of any construction:

“You can’t wait until you’re ready with the financing to start building the bridge.  You might be three or four years down the line, at that point, of just getting properties purchased.  Also, especially in the Anchorage Bowl, prices aren’t going down.”

The demolition is planned for November.

NSI to host Smithsonian Exhibit and “Key Ingredients Festival”

Beginning in August, the Northern Susitna Institute will host a traveling Smithsonian exhibition.  N-S-I’s Executive Director and Program Coordinator joined KTNA’s Phillip Manning during this week’s Su-Valley Voice and discussed the upcoming festival.

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Smithsonian and Talkeetna aren’t necessarily two words that most people would expect to hear in the same sentence.  Next month, however, a traveling exhibit will be coming to the Upper Valley, hosted by Northern Susitna Institute.  It’s called “Key Ingredients:  America by Food,” and it’s part of a nationwide tour.  The exhibit will be in Talkeetna for six weeks, from August 1st to mid-September.  In addition to the Smithsonian’s contribution, Upper Valley residents will be heavily involved in the event.  Executive Director Joe Page says that NSI has reached out to the community to help fill the calendar. Read More »

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