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Zach Brown grew up going to the Hobbit Hole, a group of cabins on the Inian Islands near Gustavus.
Southeast-raised Scientist to Begin Science Institute at Hobbit Hole 010814 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly Zach Brown grew up going to the Hobbit Hole, a group of cabins on the Inian Islands near Gustavus.

Max Wainwright | For The Ccw

Zach Brown stands above Abyss Lake during a trip in Glacier Bay, just north of the Hobbit Hole.


Josh Newman | For The Ccw

The first group of students poses at the Hobbit Hole.


Josh Newman | For The Ccw

The graduate student team out at the Hobbit Hole. Pictured from left to right: Lauren Oakes, Aaron Strong, Lida Teneva and Zach Brown.


Photos By Max Wainwright | For The Ccw

Zach Brown over looks Brady Glacier in Glacier Bay; An inlet near Glacier Bay.


Photos By Max Wainwright | For The Ccw

Zach Brown over looks Brady Glacier in Glacier Bay; An inlet near Glacier Bay.


Lauren Oakes | For The Ccw

The Hobbit Hole is pictured on a typical Southeast Alaska day in summer.


Josh Newman | For The Ccw

Faculty leader Rob Dunbar, also a professor at Stanford, cooks veggies at the Hobbit Hole during a downpour.

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Story last updated at 1/8/2014 - 4:14 pm

Southeast-raised Scientist to Begin Science Institute at Hobbit Hole

Zach Brown grew up going to the Hobbit Hole, a group of cabins on the Inian Islands near Gustavus.

Soon, he will graduate from his six-year program at Stanford University with a PhD from the Department of Environmental Earth System Science. And he'll make his 1,700-mile journey back to Alaska by kayak, while along the way raising money and awareness to convert the Hobbit Hole into a nonprofit scientific center called the "Inian Islands Institute."

"It's been quite the side project to undertake during the end of my PhD," Brown said. "There's a lot that goes into it."

He's helped by a team of three fellow scientists and institute founders: Lauren Oakes, Aaron Strong and Lida Teneva, as well as an advisory council.

"People from Gustavus - everyone kind of knows this really special piece of property," Brown said. "People go out there for weddings, music jams, potlucks. It's kind of almost a public space, even though it's privately owned by family friends ... When I learned (they were selling it), knowing how special the place was ... I would like to see this piece of property have a really good legacy. I got really fired up about this idea."

Brown and his teammates envision the institute maintaining a number of partnerships and serving as a home base for summer college classes focusing on ecology and sustainability. They also envision it as a home base for researchers, and they would like it to continue to serve as a community gathering space.

Last summer, the four founders and faculty mentor Rob Dunbar brought the first group of Stanford students to the Hobbit Hole for a course on ecological and human environmental interactions.

"It was a really, really wonderful experience," Brown said. "The students had their minds blown. It was a real affirmation of our ideas there."

Brown is studying climate change-related oceanography in the Arctic, particularly to do with sea ice and phytoplankton, and has conducted research at both poles. Many seem interested in researching marine mammals, geology, and glaciology from the Institute, he said.

He said the Hobbit Hole is perfect for classes on ecology, which will likely be the "bread and butter" of the summer courses. He also sees it as inspiring thought on sustainable ways humans can interact with their environment: The Hobbit Hole uses hydropower from a local stream, uses local firewood, and is a good spot for fishing and gardening.

"The first group of students we brought up really saw, and, I felt, appreciated that," he said. "They learned more than they would a whole year in the classroom."

Right now, the group is in the middle of their first fund raising push: raising $40,000 on the website Indiegogo. They're about halfway there as of time of writing, with this particular push lasting until midnight Jan. 12. They'll begin another when Brown graduates in April and begins paddling north. They've still got a lot to do: purchasing the property, acquiring nonprofit status, establishing school and necessary infrastructure, furthering their partnerships with volunteers and donors.

"Right now we've just been spreading the word in a really concerted way," Brown said.

The group's website is very comprehensive. Find out more at http://inianislandsinstitute.org. The fundraising website is here http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/inian-islands-institute-education-and-research-in-wild-alaska.

• Contact CCW Staff Reporter Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@capweek.com.


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