Grizzly to grace Alaska quarter

Wildlife design beats out three others for commemorative coin

Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The mighty grizzly, clutching a salmon in its jaws, beat out a sled dog team, a polar bear and a gold panner as the governor's design of choice for Alaska's state quarter.

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Gov. Sarah Palin unveiled a black-and-white sketch of the coin on Monday at the Alaska Mint, a gift shop in downtown Anchorage. The image, chosen with the aid of public input, includes the saying "The Great Land," the North Star and spruce trees rooted above a small waterfall.

"I think nothing could be more Alaskan," Palin said. "I like to think this is a mama grizzly doing what she does best: taking care of her young."

The grizzly will appear on at least a half billion quarters starting in the fall of 2008. A congressional program started in 1999 circulates a new batch of quarters honoring a different state every 10 weeks in the order the states joined the union. The program began with Delaware.

Alaska will be the penultimate state to appear on the commemorative cash, followed by Hawaii. Both became states in 1959.

The coin has been the topic of water cooler conversations and Internet chatter since the final four designs were made public earlier this month.

The Alaska Commemorative Coin Commission received more than 30,000 votes and comments, but a final tally was not immediately available, said Meghan Stapleton, a spokeswoman for the governor.

"I know it was really close between the grizzly and the musher. The polar bear was third and the gold panner was way down low, probably fewer than 10 percent," she said, adding that the collection of feedback was "not at all scientific."

Before the coin was revealed, Richard Pangaliman, an Anchorage teacher, said he liked the sled dog design best.

"Dog mushers to me say 'Alaska,' " he said. "I don't know too many other states that do dog mushing like we do, with the Fur Rondy and the Iditarod."

Coin commission head Mark Vinsel said the wealth of iconic images in Alaska made it difficult to choose one that would adequately represent the entire state.

"Alaska has more beautiful emblems or elements than we could put on the coin. The brown bear is probably the animal that covers the most of our real estate here. The salmon represents our pristine environment and natural resources," said Vinsel, who is also an artist and executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska.

The grizzly is the state animal of Montana and California, where it was hunted to extinction in 1922, but the bears are most plentiful in Alaska and are a major tourist draw in places such as Denali National Park, Katmai National Preserve and Kodiak Island.

Alaska contains more than 98 percent of the U.S population of grizzlies, and more than 70 percent of the North American population, according to the state Department of Fish and Game.

Scientists estimate there are 30,000 grizzlies roaming the state, from the spruce rain forests of Southeast Alaska to the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

State officials said 851 written suggestions from around the state were incorporated into the four designs by the U.S. Mint, based on aesthetics, historical accuracy and how well the drawing would fit on a quarter.

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