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 October 8, 1999

Eco-tours show seals, bears, lions in natural habitat

BOULDER — Ask Wendy Klausner what she does for a living, and she’ll tell you, “I make people’s dreams come true.”

That may not be her official job description, but it pretty well sums up what life is like as sales manager for Boulder-based travel company Natural Habitat Adventures.

Klausner is one of around 30 staff at the Center Court Green offices, while scattered around the world about another 100 people are employed as guides, drivers and support crew.

Natural Habitat Adventures is one of the major players along the Front Range in the booming business of eco-tourism. Ben Bressler began it all 15 years ago with his seal-watching trips to Canada, a pioneer eco-venture that saw ex-seal hunters hired as guides.

Today those tours are as popular as ever. Each March the company takes five groups of 30 people on a journey that begins in Halifax, Nova Scotia, continues by charter plane to Magdalen Island and from there by helicopter to the ice floe.

According to Klausner, the cute harp seal pups attract visitors of all ages — “we’ve had people from two to 102,” she says — but the company’s major draw card is found even further north in the frozen wastes of Manitoba.

“The polar bears are the biggest (draw),” says Klausner. “In October we take about 850 people from all over the world — always lots of them from England. The numbers of bears varies, but we have seen up to 50 on a trip.”

Six and nine-day trips begin in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Bear-watchers are flown to Churchill, on the western shore of Hudson Bay, from where helicopters and specially designed tundra buggies take them to see polar bears gathering to wait for the water to freeze and the seal hunting to start.

Natural Habitat Adventures offers a menu of around 40 different trips to a selection of the world’s most exciting, exotic and sometimes inaccessible destinations. “People have the time of their lives on these tours,” says Klausner.

“Africa is really special. We take small groups, on average eight people, and fly to remote regions in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia. Often we have access to private concession areas where there might be just our two vehicles and nobody else within 20 miles.”

As tourists brush against some of southern Africa’s most evocative natural wonders in areas such as the Okavango delta and Victoria Falls, they can expect to see unforgettable wildlife — like a pride of 23 lions close to their tented camp in Savuti, Botswana.

Tours to Costa Rica include the chance to see an active volcano from your bed, visitors to Antarctica can walk among thousands of penguins, while the seriously adventurous (with two weeks and $16,000 to spare) can board ship and steam to the North Pole.

Then there’s Alaska (staying inside 6 million-acre Denali National Park, watching bears fish for salmon, seeing whales and other spectacular wildlife), the Galapagos Islands … the list just goes on.

The list may be a little shorter at Natural Destinations, which offers eco-tours to Belize, Africa and Alaska, but there’s no denying this company’s commitment to educationally worthwhile, environmentally sustainable and culturally sensitive travel.

Suzanne Snider founded the eco-tourism certificate program at the University of Denver, which involved taking students to Belize in Central America. But gradually other people began asking about joining the trips.

As a result, in 1997, Snider started Natural Destinations and today she and business partner Becky Stewart run the Superior-based venture and escort all the tours.

Each year, in the spring and fall, they take two nine-day trips to Belize, they go to Zimbabwe for 15 to 17 days in late summer, and they do one 10-day tour to Alaska. All tours are usually restricted to 10 people.

Snider says the Belize trip, which features Mayan ruins as well as wildlife, has a strong spiritual and cultural dimension. Similarly, in Zimbabwe, besides seeing the animals and birds, the tour takes in ancient ruins and tries to connect with local people, their culture and their customs.

A packed Alaskan itinerary includes floating down a tributary watching wildlife like moose, bear and Dall sheep, flying to Kodiak Island to see bears and stay with local Alutiiq people, visiting a puffin rookery, seeing whales, going to a musk ox farm and spending two nights on a glacier island in Prince William Sound.

Though she has plans to expand the company, ease out of her role at the university and devote herself full time to the travel industry, Snider is determined not to lose sight of the principles behind eco-tourism.

“Our mission is not to make a lot of money,” she says. “What we want to do

is introduce people to a different way of traveling. We aim to get close to nature, close to the local people and close to the local culture.”

Besides having minimal impact on the places they visit, Snider says her business also is about putting money into the pockets of local people; for example, at each destination they travel in a locally owned van and make maximum use of other local facilities.

BOULDER — Ask Wendy Klausner what she does for a living, and she’ll tell you, “I make people’s dreams come true.”

That may not be her official job description, but it pretty well sums up what life is like as sales manager for Boulder-based travel company Natural Habitat Adventures.

Klausner is one of around 30 staff at the Center Court Green offices, while scattered around the world about another 100 people are employed as guides, drivers and support crew.

Natural Habitat Adventures is one of the major players along the Front Range in the booming business of eco-tourism. Ben Bressler began it all…

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