An Interview with Chris Day, Co-Founder of Emerald Air Service: Part 1
Question 1: When was Emerald Air Service founded, and why?
Chris Day: I had been managing a small bear viewing lodge and Ken was our pilot. When we got married, I didn't want to be away from Ken for the summer or the bears. Ken and I decided we would try bear viewing as a “day trip,” something that was not being done at the time. We were told it would never work out for various reasons—cost, logistics, etc. But we didn't listen and began to market a day bear viewing trip. That was in 1991—at first we chartered Kachemak Air Service’s Otter (Ken was flying for them), but we got too busy, outgrew them, and purchased our own Otter in 1999.
Question 2: In what way was your “day trip” something that was not being done at the time?
Chris Day: The only way you could see a bear at that time was to go to one of the small lodges that offered bear viewing, go to McNeil River the State run program, there was also a live aboard boat on the Katmai Coast or go to Brooks Camp-there were no “day” guided hikes.
Question 3: What about bear viewing makes you love what you do?
Chris Day: For me personally, and many like me, there is nothing more fun than spending the day in the Alaska wilderness, and sharing that with others. It’s a great way to make a living—to see people’s eyes light up, to see their attitudes change, both about the bears and the country, to hear “that's the most amazing thing I've ever done” over and over again, to get letters back for years from people saying it has actually changed them, kids who did the trip now being wildlife biologists—big payoff. To be able to make your living doing what makes your heart happy is such a blessing. I never ever got bored, I can sit in a driving rain and still be fascinated by bears and I was always as excited as the guests to get out there. The novelty, the privilege of what we did never got old-every day was new and different and exciting.
Question 4: Is there somewhere you would like to see bear viewing go? If so, where?
Chris Day: My dream is that every one out there sharing the bears was knowledgeable, experienced, and caring. To just “show” someone a bear without educating them about bears and how to be around bears is such a lost opportunity. I’d love to see more “education” at Brooks Camp as well. This country is not Disneyland and we don't have a right to be there without giving something in return—understanding would be that “thing.” I'm preaching to the choir, but bears can be safe animals to be around as long as we act and react as they expect-there is not a "bear problem" but a "people problem" in most circumstances.
Question 5: Are there any changes that have occurred in the history of bear viewing that you have not liked?
Chris Day: The increase in numbers of groups/people out there with the bears, the lack in so many cases of any training of guides/pilots or respect for the resource, the country—that would be the biggest. Everyone should have a chance to see a bear but we need to present an environment that is good for the bears and the guests.
Question 6: Are there any things you still wished would change regarding bear viewing?
Chris Day: These would be difficult if not impossible at this time, but some kind of a licensing process for guides—more than just proving insurance but a training/experienced-based program. Also limiting the numbers of people given the privilege of sharing the bears with the public. The NPS is trying to address these issues and has been for a long time. It’s complicated, as they say…