Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Alaska's Lake Clark National Park

Alaska's Lake Clark National Park and Preserve offers stunning beauty with volcanoes that steam and craggy mountains that reflect off turquoise lakes, where salmon run and bears forage, and where local people and culture still depend on the land and water for their livelihood.  The area was proclaimed a national monument by President Jimmy Carter using the Antiquities Act on December 1, 1978, and its status was upgraded to national park and preserve in 1980 by Congress in order to protect the area’s spectacular natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and prolific fisheries. About two-thirds of the park's expansive 4,030,015 acres is designated as wilderness.

It remains one of the least-visited parks in the U.S. National Park System because no roads lead to it. Reaching it entails boat or floatplanes. A one to two hour flight from Anchorage, Kenai, or Homer will provide access to most points within the park. In addition to air taxis which provide drop-off services, a variety of guide services offer trips throughout the park.

Lake Clark National Park is located on the Alaska Peninsula and is part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and experiences among the highest frequencies of earthquakes in the world. It is across Cook Inlet from the Kenai Peninsula and is about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage. It is so large that it runs from about the latitude of Homer north to the latitude of Anchorage (click to enlarge map.)

Two major mountain ranges, the Alaska and Aleutian Ranges, collide in the Lake Clark region to create the Chigmits, known for their jagged mountains, vast glaciers, and two active volcanoes, Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliana. Redoubt is still active, erupting most recently in 1989 and 2009. The national park contains 50 mile long Lake Clark and many other pristine lakes and free-flowing rivers.

Continuously inhabited since early prehistoric times, the Lake Clark region nevertheless remains sparsely populated by humans. Alaska Natives settled in this region some time after the close of the Last Great Ice Age 14,000 years ago. Dena'ina, Alutiiq, Yup'ik and other groups have interacted with one another over the centuries through warfare as well as trading and peaceable exchanges. Today, six Resident Zone Communities are identified for Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, the major community being Port Alsworth on Lake Clark in the southwestern corner of the park. The five other settlements are populated mainly by Dena'ina natives.

Prior to the park's establishment isolated cabins were scattered around the region, the most notable belonging to Richard Proenneke whose films documenting his solitary life at Twin Lakes were made into the movie "Alone in the Wilderness" in 2003, an inspiring and informative video.

Richard Louis Proenneke (1916-2003) embodies humanity's fascination with wilderness. Born in Iowa, he worked as a farmhand and rancher before joining the Navy the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In 1949, he made his first visit to Alaska at the invitation of a friend. Two decades later, he set off on a life of struggles and triumphs in the wilderness. Now the centerpiece of a National Register Historic Site, Proenneke built this cabin pictured above and below starting in 1967. Though his cabin is neither the first nor the largest ever built in the Alaskan Bush, it stands out for two reasons-- his remarkable craftsmanship in building it, and the fact that he filmed the entire construction process on an early-technology movie camera. In addition to watching his spellbinding video, I have also read the book One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey, which will amaze you with his courage and determination as well as impress you with the skills he had and the skills he developed to survive in such harsh conditions.

He built the cabin using only hand tools. He brought in a few steel parts but made all the cabinets, furniture, and furnishings by hand with local wood. When tools broke, he repaired them rather than buy new replacements. He is an example of self-reliance and independence, and only a person of extraordinary energy and stamina could have successfully lived this lifestyle for three decades as he did. Most of his material needs and food were acquired locally, though some things from Sears were flown in by a bush pilot friend.

Despite his remote location, he maintained many friendships and wrote back to anyone who sent him a letter. He saw his correspondence, films, and journals as a way to share a life untethered to the commercial world. Though fiercely independent, he was not a hermit. Both his book and his video give a complete account of his first year at Twin Lakes as he built his cabin and developed his routines for isolated bush life. His journals form the basis of several other books and videos.

The cabin remains at Twin Lake and is available for visits. Inside, you'll be able to get an up close look at Proenneke's celebrated wood workmanship and even the desk where he penned his journals, and remember that he made just about everything by hand in the middle of the wilderness! The National Park Service website for Lake Clark includes virtual tours of the cabin and views of the lake.

According to the NPS website: "Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is a place where natural processes dominate. Salmon pass through tidal estuaries on their way to spawning grounds in mountain lakes, chased by hungry seals and brown bears. Two active volcanoes - Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt - tower above the landscape. Glaciers wind their way down into valleys where the Alaska and Aleutian ranges join. Dall sheep share treacherous mountain slopes with delicate alpine wildflowers."

A variety of recreational activities may be pursued in the park and preserve year-round. The park includes a variety of features not found together in any of the other Alaska Parks: the junction of three mountain ranges, a coastline with rainforests along the Cook Inlet, a plateau with alpine tundra on the west, glaciers, glacial lakes, major salmon-bearing rivers, and two volcanoes.

The wide variety of ecosystems in the park mean that virtually all major Alaskan terrestrial and marine animals may be seen in and around the park. Salmon play a major role in the ecosystem and the local economy. The Kvichak River is the world's most productive watershed for sockeye salmon. Large populations of brown bears are attracted to feed on the spawning salmon Silver Salmon Creek and as a result bear viewing is a common activity in the park.

While both sport and subsistence hunting are permitted in the national preserve lands, only subsistence hunting by local residents is permitted within the national park.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been to Lake Clark, and the town of Port Alsworth. It was several years back, but man is it a beautiful area! The people in town are very friendly, and the fishing is great. The scenery definitely stands out, and it is quite awe-inspiring. I remember climbing one of the peaks and being struck by the beauty of creation and awe of the Creator.