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Groups head for the outdoors

By Wayde Carroll, courtesy Anchorage CVB

River rafting, bike riding and zip lining: Outdoor adventure is coming to a bank group near you.

Today’s group tours go far beyond the traditional sightseeing so often associated with group travel. Outdoor experiences are perfectly tailored for those folks who not only enjoy the fresh air but are also hoping to have exhilarating adventures. Other nature adventures make great opportunities for bird-watching and photography.

Whatever your group enjoys, these destinations around the country will help you create the outdoor memories of a lifetime.

With six mountain ranges in view, a resident moose population and salmon fishing nearby, you don’t have to go far to see and do much in Anchorage.

Jack Bonney, public relations manager of Visit Anchorage, had a bevy of suggestions for groups.
“The Chugach Park, with 500,000 acres of parkland and wilderness, is next door,” he said. “The options for outdoor activities, to kayak, hike, ride an ATV or snowmobile, and more are endless.”
Crow Creek Mine, where people have been striking it rich for 100 years panning gold, offers group travelers the same opportunity.

“Visitors are offered their own pans, along with history of this fascinating venue that serious miners still use today,” said Bonney.

Anchorage is the hub of Alaska’s railroad, and groups can take the two-hour ride to Spencer Glacier to river raft, spend the day and return to their hotel in the evening from Anchorage.

“As soon as the train pulls away, you’re with the only people you’ll see all day,” said Bonney.
After taking the train to Seward, groups can take daylong cruises to see the stunning scenery at Kenai Fjords National Park. Bonney added that a variety of cruise companies set up the adventure and that sightings of whales, puffins, shorebirds and more are almost guaranteed.

“One of my first suggestions to groups is to not miss experiencing our Alaska native culture,” said Bonney. “Here, there are two ways to get a broad overview of the many cultures that inhabit our state: The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a venue that does an incredible job of interpretation through dance, song, storytelling and more. Our Anchorage Museum offers 10,000 years of Alaskan history.”

For decades, bank groups have visited Branson to enjoy headline entertainment, but today, they are also enjoying the natural beauty of the Ozarks.

“The Bass Pro folks have created first-class outdoor experiences at the Dogwood Canyon Adventure Park with guided tours of 2,000 acres that straddle the Missouri and Arkansas state line,” said Lynn Berry, director of public relations for the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You can tour via Segways, horses and trams, and you’ll see bison, elk and more. With commentary about conservation in the area, this is educational as well as flat-out gorgeous. And at the end of the day, plan a gourmet steak dinner, or hot dogs and s’mores underneath the park’s pavilion.”

Berry added that this park is just down the road from Big Cedar Lodge, luxury accommodations amidst the mountain beauty.

“This place is done to the nines,” she said. “The parking lots are lined with little painted fish, and doorknobs are carved, wooden creatures.”

Branson Zipline offers a thrilling ride through the canopy of the Ozarks, and the views include wild turkeys and bobcats. Adventure-seekers can take the 100-foot free-fall express to end their zip line experience or choose the traditional exit.

New in Branson is the Dewey Short Regional Visitors Center, appropriately nicknamed the Crown Jewel of Table Rock Lake. Located next to Table Rock Dam, this structure is constructed mainly of glass and provides unparalleled views of two of Branson’s lakes, an interactive map and a Native American exhibit.

“But the best is ahead,” said Berry. “The inner workings of the hydroelectric process, those incredible turbines and the story of our heritage with the water are all offered when you take the dam tour.”