Students tour hot springs and ice hotel

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Resort owner Bernie Karl explains how vertical plant systems, such as this $220 grow tower constructed from Home Depot supplies, could help feed families. He says he wants to give this technology to schools and teach children how to grow their own food. Mylissa Maclin/ Sun Star Photo credit: Mylissa Maclin

Bernie Karl speaks in exclamation points, presenting each aspect of his resort with the same volume as the last—the geothermal plant that powers his resort at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road is no exception.

“It says in Genesis on the third day, there was life giving water flowing from the Earth,” Karl said to a group of UAF students gathered around him like a procession. “They’re talking about Chena Hot Springs. I didn’t write the book I only read it.”

The water at Chena Hot Springs is not just for guests to bathe in: it also produces geothermal energy. Inside the power plant, a system of giant cylinders and interconnecting pipes uses a cycle of heated water, cooling water and vapor to power the resort. Students lined up one by one and touched the machine, feeling the difference in temperatures with their fingertips.

Power is not the only vital aspect of the hot springs. Karl showed the touring students the grow towers built for roughly $220 from Home Depot buckets and piping. The patch of ground covered in spindly trees is important because it’s planned to one day hold geothermal greenhouses and every piece of scrap machinery is important because Bernie Karl says he wants to make it into something useful. Nothing is supposed to go to waste.

“Every day you’ve got to worry about making something better,” Karl said. “If you’re not making it better don’t make it worse. We have so many people in the world that try to make things worse when they could make things better.”

According to Karl, if people were more inclined to treat each other fairly, more could be accomplished. Karl accused people of being preoccupied with money and said that, while he is proud of the Industrial Revolution and where the United States came from, he is ashamed of where the country is headed.

“We’re addicted to oil in one arm and we’re addicted to greed in the other,” he said. “There’s people on this global warming; they want to ask me ‘what do you think about global warming?’ I say if you think there’s not global warming you’ve got your head up your ass.”

He asked why people who want clean water and clean air would pollute. Karl stuck a wad of cash in his mouth, approaching one student after the other and saying, “I am a greenie. I turn everything green.”

He led the journalism class through the spanning resort: from greenhouses lit by LED lights to the Ice Hotel, with fiber optics making colors dance through frozen sculptures containing images of the Alaskan flag, live flowers and abstract shapes. Employees roaming the ground in golf carts tended to plants and gestured to parkas available for students in the Ice Hotel.

Employees live, eat and work at Chena Hot Springs Resort. Those with visas generally staying from a year to 18 months, according to Karl. If international workers are dedicated, Karl says he helps them procure green cards. Workers are given shares in the company if they stay more than five years, although Karl did not say how many employees stay with the resort for that long and how many move to different jobs.

Karl bought the original 445 acres of land making up the resort from the government in 1998 for $1.5 million. Since then the property has expanded to around 2,000 acres and his company has made $10 million worth of investments, according to Karl. He declined to share how much the company makes per year, but said it is profitable.

“You have to empower people,” he said. “You know all, every employee here will retire an independently wealthy person.”

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1 Response

  1. Ryder Church says:

    Way to go Bernie! I can’t wait to some day make it up there to see the place.

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