Matt is the Maintenance & Projects Manager here at the sanctuary. He shares his story moving from Minnesota to Portage, AK, with Muskox Flannels for an inside look into his work at the AWCC, raising a daughter in Alaska and their quest to stay connected to nature, and so much more. We’d like to thank Matt for his dedicated work to improving the lives of the animals at the AWCC. Enjoy the ride, Matt!

Can you share your background and how you came to Portage, AK to work at the AWCC?
I grew up in Minnesota and came up here 30 years ago for the Summer. At the time, I thought I had a fantastic Summer. I went back to Minnesota, and spent the whole winter planning the next Summer in Alaska. And then after that, I was committed to staying here. I’ve lived throughout the state. I’ve had lots of adventures, from Fairbanks and Denali to Cooper Landing, all places I’ve lived. Ended up at the wildlife center. I was building homes in Girdwood, just up the road from here. The wildlife center was looking for a carpenter, a staff carpenter. So I applied for the job and started out that way.

Can you give us the inside lens into your role at the AWCC?
I’m the manager of the maintenance department here which means we do everything from building and repairing these enclosures to all of the building maintenance. Really just trying to keep the facilities as clean and hospitable to our visitors as well as the animals as we can. The weather can be a challenge. The number of visitors we get in the Summertime can be a challenge.

Sometimes the temperament of the animals can be the biggest challenge. We enjoy them all. We like the variety of every day. We never know whatever any day is going to bring, till you show up and see what’s on the board or see what’s transpired overnight. So, yeah, we have our fingers in a little bit of everything, but we enjoy it all.

What is your favorite aspect of work at the animal sanctuary?
My favorite part of my job is being able to build and design some of these new enclosures. They always bring new challenges. They also bring lessons from the past into action, where we are always refining things, making things better for the animals, for our staff, and for our visitors.

All of it just being able to contribute to conservation. You know, certainly some of these orphans or all of these orphans that we bring in, you know, we’re really giving them a second chance. I appreciate that, the empathy that goes into these animals and the effort, from all the staff here, everybody definitely, puts a lot of heart into what they do. So, we’re just happy to be able to contribute to assist in all of that.

What have been some of your proudest moments working in wildlife conservation?
We did a huge renovation and expansion of our bear enclosure several years ago. That was a huge undertaking and absolutely impacted the lives of our bears. And it was fun to watch them, enjoy it, explore and and, really enjoy the things that we created for them. Again, trying to do our best by them and then watching them change it into what they wanted or what they preferred, and how it’s evolved over the years since. Then definitely our bison reintroduction program that we were a partner in was really monumental for me personally, just to be part of such a large scale reintroduction of, just a statuesque animal, for lack of a better word. I really appreciate being able to be part of that.

What makes Portage, AK and the regional geography so unique?
Portage has become one of my favorite places in the world. Not just because I work here, but working here has introduced me to the literally, the nooks in this valley. It’s mostly national forest, almost entirely national forest. Short of this property and a couple of other small things. It’s just the true wilderness.

So, with the trail system that’s around the river access, this valley is and I mean, we’ve got the glaciers, the mountains, the wildlife, all right. In this little space, condensed, it is the best of Alaska.

What is your favorite animal and species at the AWCC?
I have to say my favorite animal here is Twix, one of our porcupines. He has always been very charismatic. I have to admit, he’s always responded to my voice. He says its enclosure is near our water treatment plant. So in the mornings, I’ll go up the stairs to check on our water plant. And I’ll just say good morning to him, and I’ll always scurry over at the sound of my voice. He may just be looking for a handout, but I always like to think that he’s coming over to greet me too. But, porcupines have always fascinated me in the wild. I’ve had dogs for almost all of my Alaska years, and they have found many porcupines. To see an animal that is so unable to defend itself except for the quills.

They move slow, they don’t have big teeth. Their claws are for climbing, not for defending themselves. So all they do is say “bring it on” and swat that tail and, but they are fascinating creatures and fantastic tree climbers. The first time I saw a porcupine 20ft up in the tree I was amazed because it never occurred to me that they would be tree climbers. But now that I get to hang out with them every day, Their agility is amazing to me.

What’s it like being a dad in Alaska and helping your daughter grow a deep connection to nature?
Being a dad has helped me gain a new appreciation or seeing the things I love to do, through a new set of eyes. My daughter is now 16, so we’ve had a lot of adventures, but from the time she was very young, she’s been outside and she’s been taken along with everything I’ve done. willingly or not.

But she really has adapted well to it. She’s still a teenager. She still likes her screen time. But when we get out of cell phone service and we’re spending 3 or 4 days at a time in the mountains away from electricity and everything else, she embraces it so well. I know each of those experiences have impacted her, and she thrives on them.

So now, as soon as Summer comes back, she’s asking, when can we do our first camping trip. Father’s Day, speaking of which, is always a big weekend for us. We always go to a favorite spot, up in the mountains, outside of Hope, Alaska, and, go to our favorite camping spot in the state and therefore the world, completely separated from all of society and just lose ourselves in the mountains, the wilderness, and the rivers out there.

“No bad days in Alaska, only bad gear.” Break that down for us…
90% of my job is outdoors, and the weather here can be a challenge. Whether it’s the wind, the rain, the snow. so, yeah, staying dry is vital. I mean, literally vital. And, so the right gear is always necessary. I mean, from your base layers all the way out to your boots, your hat, everything. It all matters. And, without it, you really can’t, you can’t do the job.

Thank you to MuskOx Flannels for this incredible feature. MuskOx partnered with AWCC to support our conservation efforts back in 2021. MuskOx is designed to make as small of an environmental impact as possible. Why? Our future rests on the health of the outdoors. Thanks to MuskOx Flannels ethical and local manufacturing, smart fabric sourcing, sustainable packaging, and a strong financial contribution to wildlife you can feel good about wearing a MuskOx Flannel.

$5 for every MuskOx flannel sold is donated to AWCC!

Shop to support the wildlife HERE. 

Matt looks great in his MuskOx Flannel!

New tour announcement! We are excited to launch the Naturalist Guided Walking Tour, with 2 departures daily. This tour may also be booked last minute. Learn More HERE, or book HERE.