Intern Explores Historic Pilgrim Hot Springs Buildings for Ecotourism

Intern Explores Historic Pilgrim Hot Springs Buildings for Ecotourism

Emma Beeler is a senior electrical engineering student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks with courses focusing on electric power and control. This summer, Beeler will develop a plan of action for one historic building at Pilgrim Hot Springs, a geothermal spring located 60 miles north of Nome. 

An ACEP geothermal exploration from 2010 to 2014 found 2 megawatts of potential electric power in the area. This geothermal activity allowed a Catholic orphanage to thrive from 1917 to 1941, as the site is permafrost-free. Most of the buildings from this era are still standing, including the church and the dormitory. 

After spending one week on-site and learning about the technical, economic and cultural aspects of the area, Beeler will choose one of these buildings and determine the potential for renewable energy usage, ecotourism opportunities, agricultural development and educational outreach programs. 

Her mentor for this project is Amanda Toerdal, general manager of Pilgrim Hot Springs under Kawerak Inc. Other mentors include Aaron Cooke, an architect with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center at UAF, and Christopher Pike, an ACEP energy research professional who was involved with the 2014 ACEP geothermal exploration.

Beeler is hoping to learn about geothermal energy uses, the history of Pilgrim Hot Springs and the perspectives of different project stakeholders. She is also becoming familiar with historic preservation legislation, as the buildings at Pilgrim Hot Springs are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Beeler is excited to be involved with renewable energy in rural Alaska and hopes she can develop a valuable plan for Kawerak Inc.

When Beeler isn’t working on rural Alaska energy projects, she enjoys taking advantage of all Fairbanks has to offer. This includes living in a dry cabin with her girlfriend and cat, repurposing items found at the local transfer station, singing karaoke at the university pub and going on adventures into the wilderness. Beeler is a lifetime Alaskan, growing up in Anchorage and coming to Fairbanks for the robust engineering program at UAF. She hopes to continue her career in renewable energy technology and development once she graduates, helping the world become a more sustainable and economic place.

The ACEP Utility Student Internship program is funded by the Office of Naval Research. Student interns are paired with a mentor from ACEP, who will consult with them and their project host throughout the internship period. For more information on this program, please contact Heike Merkel at


Emma Beeler is a summer ACEP intern. Photo courtesy of Emma Beeler.