Rent hike shuts down Eagle River museum

Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- A rent hike is forcing a natural history museum in Eagle River to close its doors.

The Alaska Museum of Natural History is being evicted next month to make way for tenants who can pay higher rent. The museum has little money and has found no place to go.

"I'm going to miss the dioramas," said museum board member Anne Pasch, also a University of Alaska Anchorage paleontologist. "When I look at them, I think of all the fun we had."

The seven dioramas three-dimensional scenes depicting real stuffed Alaska animals such as wolves and a snowy owl are too fragile and in too many pieces to move, Pasch said. The animals will be salvaged, but the scenic paintings and materials that place the animals in natural settings likely will be lost.

Each diorama is set in a different part of Alaska. Two wolves stand in the Knik River Valley watching an avalanche in case a Dall sheep comes hurdling down the mountain for lunch. A university student collected piles of small rocks from the Knik River to make this exhibit authentic.

The museum, which opened in 1994, also contains valuable archaeological specimens, including mammoth bones, the skull of a lion that lived in Interior Alaska about 20,000 years ago, and the toe and leg casts of Lizzie. Dating back 90 million years, Lizzie is the oldest known duckbill dinosaur in North America. She was discovered in the Talkeetna Mountains by teacher Virginia May.

A growing number of education programs offered by the museum have given it an economic boost, said museum Director Kurt Johnson. But it's not enough to save the institution.

The museum runs on about $66,000 annually. It paid rent of $1,850 monthly. That amount was affordable for the near term, according to museum officials, who had hoped to build a place of their own.

Landlord Greg Stevenson, who is on the museum board, said he has been turning down long-term tenants for the space and needs to collect about another $1,000 per month in rent.

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