When the Murie Science and Learning Center officially opens at Denali National Park and Preserve on Monday, a project by students at Cantwell School will be front and center. A real wolf skeleton, assembled by students, is the centerpiece display.
Fourteen students age 10 to 16 helped with the project, which involved three phases. Total kindergarten through grade 12 enrollment of the school is 25 students.
A Healy trapper donated the wolf. Community members helped students butcher it. Then, students boiled the bones, soaked them in chemicals to loosen gristle and cartilage, and cleaned the bones by hand. They bleached the bones and removed bone marrow. Under the guidance of expert Lee Post of Homer, they put the bones back together as a skeleton.
"There were a lot of puzzle masters in this room and one puzzle," principal Peter Hauschka said. "The kids did all the work. He just advised them. They glued all the bones. They drilled all the holes in the bones for wire. He just made sure they did it right."
The display at the new center features the wolf skeleton, an interpretive panel about pioneer scientist Adolph Murie and photos of the students with their project. It's possible there may even be a revolving slide show of photographs of the students putting the project together.
Kirk Martakis, a Cantwell father who helped put the wolf together, hopes the project will bring together the park service and subsistence users in his community.
"Everybody is real proud of how this thing went," Martakis said. "There should be a whole section in this learning center about the subsistence lifestyle and Native culture. This is where we can bridge this huge gap of misunderstanding.
"A lot of people think every person in Cantwell wants to kill every wolf on Earth. That's not how it goes. My whole life is wrapped around wilderness. We love wolves, but like anything else out here, there are things that need to be harvested. If carrots do really good, that's what we eat. It's that way with wolves, caribou and moose--whatever the country has to offer at the time."
He is especially hopeful that the skeleton will not become an "anti-wolf harvesting tool."
Education programs at the new center will be scientific and unbiased, assured David Tomeo, program director for the Denali Institute and the center.
"Because of the science focus, we're going to have even more stringent guidelines on education programs," he said. "You're not going to see any advocacy here."
This project is the result of a partnership between the Denali Borough School District, the Denali Institute and the National Park Service.
Open house at the learning center takes place from 2 to 5 p.m. Monday. Visitors are invited to tour the building. In addition to the wolf skeleton, employees will demonstrate how wolves are tracked using radio collars and will share information on long-term wolf monitoring.
Kris Capps is a freelance writer. Her column reporting Denali happenings appears weekly in the News-Miner. She can be reached at email@example.com .