AK Discovery sold to California firm

New owner offers outdoor tours around the world

Posted: Wednesday, August 16, 2000

He sold his business, but he hasnt sold out.

Ken Leghorn said the recent sale of Southeast-based Alaska Discovery Wilderness Tours will not jeopardize his philosophy that tour packages should be accompanied by a commitment to protect the outdoors.

Leghorn and his wife, Sue Warner, principal owners and co-managers of Alaska Discovery, sold their eco-tourism business on Friday to Mountain TravelSobek of El Cerrito, Calif., an adventure travel company that specializes in rafting, trekking, biking and kayaking tours.

Its a company Ive known for 20 years and worked closely with, Leghorn, 45, said Tuesday. They want to keep the company as active in land-management issues as we did. It feels like the perfect corporate match, like we gained an extended family.

Tracy Poff, chief financial officer for Mountain TravelSobek, chuckled when it was suggested that MTS is playing the role of the big corporate raider. She said MTS may look large because its 31-year history includes adventure tours in South America, Africa, Antarctica, Europe and other places, but the companies are similar in scope.

Were such a family company, Poff said. Were really down to earth. We care about the same things the environment, safety, quality and a really authentic experience.

Neither organization would disclose terms of the sale.

ADWT will continue to offer canoeing, rafting, kayaking and trekking tours as an independent Alaska company. In fact, Leghorn and Warner will remain with ADWT in a part-time capacity for at least five years. John Scheerens, employed as assistant manager at the companys Gustavus operations, is moving to Juneau to manage the day-to-day operations.

That, said Sarah Leonard, executive director at Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association in Anchorage, should relieve locals.

That continuity is important, Leonard said. Making his decision (to sell) only could have been done with a lot of thought.

ADWT was established in 1972 by Chuck Horner of Juneau. Horner spearheaded a fight to prevent logging and the development of a pulp mill on Admiralty Island. His fight culminated with a big victory in 1978 when President Carter approved Admiralty as a national monument.

Leghorn joined the company as a tour guide in 1979. ADWT scored another big conservation victory in Berners Bay in 1984 when it helped prohibit the Cowee-Davies timber sale and provisions for 25 miles of road near Sawmill Creek.

Leghorn gradually took over primary ownership, in the process watching annual sales balloon from $300,000 in 1979 to $1.6 million. The staff of 10 guides has expanded to seven year-round and 60 seasonal workers.

He married Warner in 1992, and the duos continued emphasis on environmentally sensitive business practices resulted in numerous distinctions by the Juneau Audubon Society, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association, and others.

I know for me and many other guides its been the best years of our lives, Leghorn said. Even when you stop, the memories and people youve met, the stewardship with the land, it never leaves you.

So, why sell?

I never intended it to be a life-long career, Leghorn said. I looked forward and said, If I want to do anything else, Id better get started.

Bob Engelbrecht, owner of NorthStar Trekking and long associated with heli-tours in Juneau, said Leghorn was an excellent resource for Southeast tourism.

Ive worked with Ken in a number of different ways, Engelbrecht said. Hes very highly thought of. I hate to see somebody like that go, but its good to hear hell still be involved.

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