on the ferry in the, traveling from Juneau to Haines, we spent a
leisurely 5 hours on the inside passage. This would be the last of the Alaska
state ferry system (also known as the Marine Hwy) for us.
The ferry terminal is several miles from the town and it gave us a chance
to see the place from a distance. At
one turn we found the town laid out before us. The quiet bay was silhouetted by
Sitka Spruce. The water gave way to a lovely marina with nothing bigger than a
charter fishing boat. No cruise
liners. Not even a ferry. Up the bank on the far side and climbing
the hill, the officers' houses of old Fort Seward shown like matching jewels in
some natural necklace. Behind all this as a backdrop to this peaceful scene were
the giant snow covered mountains, which had been with us since we first arrived
in Alaska. Then in a flash it was
gone in the curve of the road, to be revisited over and over again as we drove
back and forth along the coastal road. The town is located in the Chilkat Valley
and is the historic capital of the Tlingit (Lin get) Indians.
Fort Seward was the first Army post in Alaska. It is now a national
historic site with the officers' housing having been turned into residential
living, B&B's and condos. The
parade ground is partially occupied by a long house, which puts on different
Indian song and dance shows. The producer of the shows is a carver who works in
the building next door. A marvelous
artisan, his carvings command a high price for their design and style. In
another renovated Army building which once served as the Post hospital, a totem
pole carver works on his creations. The rest of the building is an Indian
museum with lots of artistic stuff to peruse. We found two other points of
interest in this otherwise seemingly mundane town.
The first was the Chilkoot River weir.
This is an adult salmon counting station originally built in 1976. Operated annually from June to September each year, it
gathers information for the management of commercial, sport and subsistence
fisheries along the Lynn Canal. Sockeye
salmon found at this weir are the returns from fish, which left here 4 and 5
years ago. A small percentage of the migrating sockeye salmon run is captured so
biological information can be collected from these fish.
Once the information is collected the fish are released unharmed into the
river. Information that is
collected includes such things as length, sex of fish and the collection of a
single fish scale. From the scale
patterns collected, the precise age of the fish can be determined.
Now, by comparing the scales from the fish taken out of the weir with scales
taken from commercial fish caught in the Lynn Canal, the percentage of fish
caught coming from the Chilkoot River hatchery upstream can be estimated. That information is used to manage the amount of fish
available each year in the canal. Sounds pretty high-tech when described but the
operation is anything but. The Chilkoot River is a wonderfully scenic river,
some 300 feet across for all except the last half a mile, leading up to the
headwaters at the Chilkoot Lake. At
that half mile point where it narrows to not more then a 100 feet or so, the
Forest Service has build a salmon barrier. This consisted of a wooden bridge
across the river from which, what looked like concrete reinforcing rods (rebar)
had been inserted at an angle, down into the water to the river floor.
This blocked the salmon from any further advance up the river.
In the middle of the bridge was an opening, not more then a foot or so.
It was through here that the salmon had to swim in order to reach their
desired destination. The effect was that the salmon had to latterly line up to get
through the opening. The Ranger on
duty could easily count them as they passed. The subsequent effect was dramatic.
Far more salmon arrived at the weir than could pass though the gate.
Subsequently, a glutton of splashing, churning, agitated fish, each
weighing some 30 lbs or so gathered in the shallows bellow the weir.
The chain reaction should be obvious.
First the eagles swooped in for the feast, next came the bears, looking
for an easy meal, right behind them came the fishermen from New York or
California with a 3 day license to catch this marvelous tasting creature, and
ready to take on any eagle or bear who might interfere. But as the evening
approached, and each predator took his share of the hapless fish, the real
Alaskan predator rose its ugly head and moved in for the feast.
I once joked with an Alaskan native about man's loss of appreciation for
nature ever since he removed himself from the food chain.
The Alaskan just smiled and commented, "Not done much fishing up
here have ya?" Like an army of banshees they came, from the woods, from the
grass, seemingly from the water itself. Suddenly they were everywhere, biting
the eagle, nipping the bear and devouring the sweet, sweaty unprotected fisherman
from New York and California. The
Alaskan mosquito knows no boundary and respects no intelligence. She drinks the
blood of all who are available. To
this small but unbelievably aggressive bloodsucker, man is definitely still in
the food chain! Soon the eagle flew and the bear ran.
The fisherman from New York and California swatted their way back to
their respective vehicles and the river returned to its pristine, quite ways.
The only indication of life was the one or two locals who looked more
like spacemen in class-A biohazard suits.
We found out that mosquitoes can actually stampede a herd of Caribou. Another
day in Haines was coming to a close.