Kenai Fjords
A Stern and Rock-Bound Coast: Historic Resource Study
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A perception of wilderness is easily acquired at Kenai Fjords National Park, located on the Gulf of Alaska in southcentral Alaska. This historic resource study challenges the long-held view that the coast has been uninhabited throughout most of the historic period—that it has been nothing more than a forsaken wilderness.

The piecing together of the history of a place called Kenai Fjords drew on a wide range of peripheral sources. Most of the preliminary research concentrated on efforts to locate descriptive material on village and land use sites in order to document evidence of human activity along the coast. These few early sites acted as a thread through which to string together the development of related Russian and American enterprise, including shipping, hunting, commerce, fox farming, fishing, mining and the business of war. Historic contexts evolved from this research, and historic properties were identified as eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Settlement and cultural patterns on the stormy, exposed Pacific coast of the Kenai Peninsula developed primarily in response to activity in surrounding areas. For the most part, Russian trading centers and American development centralized in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound and only briefly at the head of Resurrection Bay. The Kenai coast, located between these larger centers, was a transitory route for ship traffic and to a lesser degree for fur exploitation, whaling, and seabird feather and egg gathering. Interest in the area grew in the early twentieth century with glacial investigations, fox farming, and mining. The process of trying to place the Kenal Fjords within the history of the region became a principal research theme. Using this approach, the region's appearance and its reputation as an isolated cultural backwater became merely one aspect of a more intricate tapestry of history.

The very nature of the outer Kenai coast, including the terrain, geology, environment, and climate, has consistently discouraged habitation and has constrained resource use. This study addressed a number of paramount questions, including the issues of depopulation and the apparent scarcity of original maps, survey information, and documentation. Many historical sources and first hand accounts that described lands within park boundaries have been lost. Others are redundant because often one explorer simply copied the notes of his predecessor. Also, the ever-changing perception of what constituted an "uninhabited" place muddled the picture of the coast. To geology professor Ulysses S. Grant, who spent many summers in Alaska in the early 1900s with the U.S. Geological Survey, describing a place as uninhabited meant that there were no permanent villages, but not a complete absence of people or activity. In one of his site bulletins he wrote, "aside from these settlements the eastern and southern coasts of the Kenai Peninsula are entirely uninhabited, being visited only by a few prospectors and hunters and by roving parties of Natives during the summer months." [1]

This study is co-authored by National Park Service historians Linda Cook and Frank Norris of the Alaska Support Office, Anchorage. Ms. Cook initiated the study and wrote the first part of the volume through Chapter 4. Mr. Norris then completed the study by writing the last six chapters. Written with two complementary voices, the study develops a broad historic context for the often-overlooked outer coast, its heroes, and their contributions to the region's history.

The volume's title was suggested due to the region's stormy conditions and rugged topography. It is excerpted from the first stanza of the well known Felicia Hemans poem, "The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England," first published in 1826. Ms. Hemans "rock-bound coast" was the area in and around Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts; Alaska's southern Kenai coast, however, offers far more challenging conditions than its north Atlantic counterpart. Considering those conditions, it has been remarkable indeed that the Kenai coast has supported such a varied and multifaceted history as has been alluded to in these pages.

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Last Updated: 26-Oct-2002