Isolated Paradise:
An Administrative History of the Katmai and Aniakchak National Park Units
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Chapter 13:
Aniakchak's Natural and Cultural History

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is located about a third of the way down the Alaska Peninsula. The park unit is due west of the southern end of Kodiak Island, 150 miles southwest of Katmai National Park and Preserve, and 400 miles southwest of Anchorage. The park encompasses the peninsula's mountainous spine and various capes and bays fronting against the Pacific Ocean. A total of 602,779 acres are enclosed within Aniakchak's boundaries: 137,176 acres in the national monument, and 465,603 acres in the national preserve.

The unit became part of the national park system on December 1, 1978, when President Jimmy Carter proclaimed Aniakchak National Monument as part of the 56,000,000-acre withdrawal which created ten new park units and expanded three others. Two years later, on December 2, 1980, Carter ushered Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve into being when he signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Aniakchak was created in order to protect Aniakchak Caldera and the wilderness which surrounded it. Section 201 of ANILCA designated that the monument and preserve should be managed for the following purposes, among others:

To maintain the caldera and its associated features and landscape, including the Aniakchak River and other lakes and streams, in their natural state; to study, interpret, and assure continuation of the natural process of biological succession; to protect habitat for, and populations of, fish and wildlife, including, but not limited to, brown/grizzly bears, moose, caribou, sea lions, seals, and other marine mammals, geese, swans, and other waterfowl and in a manner consistent with the foregoing, to interpret geological and biological processes for visitors. Subsistence uses by local residents shall be permitted in the monument where such uses are traditional in accordance with the provisions of Title VIII. [1]

Natural History

The park unit is comprised of four physiographic zones. The volcanic zone is located in Aniakchak Caldera, and is comprised of precipitous cliffs, tilted rock strata, ash flows, and other volcanic features. The upland zone is comprised of the other Aleutian Range peaks within the unit, most of them covered with ash and few of them exceeding 3,000 feet in elevation. On either side of the Aleutian peaks lie the river valley zone; major drainages in the unit include the Aniakchak, Meshik, and Cinder rivers. Finally, the ocean-coastal zone, along the Pacific littoral, is characterized by a rugged assemblage of cliffs, offshore rocks, and islands.

Aniakchak's climate is cool, windy, and wet. Storms, brought by Pacific Ocean winds, frequently visit the area. Although no rain gauges or other weather measurements are located in the monument, annual precipitation along the coast probably averages 100 inches or more. Precipitation on the Aleutian peaks and in the caldera is doubtless higher yet. Sunny days in the summertime are rare, and cloudy skies predominate in other seasons as well. High winds and rough waters often make navigation in small boats hazardous; low cloud ceilings make aviation takeoffs and landings difficult and sometimes impossible. [2]

With the exception of a few isolated cottonwood and willow trees, which grow in the Cinder River drainage, the most prominent vegetation stands are the willow and alder shrubs which grow in thickets near Meshik Lake. To the north and west of the Aleutian Range, moist or wet tundra predominates, while alpine tundra is found east and south of the mountains. On the peaks and in the caldera, the vegetation is more sparse than that found in the lowlands; volcanic ash predominates in many areas. [3]

Native Use

Little is known of the Aniakchak country before European explorers arrived in the area. Although local (Chignik area) residents often consider themselves to be of Aleut origin, linguistic research suggests Koniag (Eskimo) origins. Limited investigations into the prehistory of the Alaska Peninsula suggest that an unknown group of Eskimos--perhaps Pacific Yupik, Central Alaskan Yupik, or some intermediate form--were replaced by the 1850s by Aglurmiut (Aglegmiut) Eskimos, who moved southward from the Kuskokwim delta. The new group, however, did not migrate all the way south to the Aniakchak area. [4] Archeologist Don Dumond and linguist Michael Krauss have each located the Eskimo-Aleut linguistic boundary in the Port Moller area, approximately 100 miles southwest of Aniakchak Bay. [5] Dumond identifies historic Natives of the area between Chignik and the Katmai country as being Peninsula Eskimo, while Krauss refers to them as either Alutiiq or Sugpiaq, both forms of self-identification for Pacific Eskimo. Jeff Leer, a linguist, has divided the Alutiiq into the Koniiag, who inhabit the Alaska Peninsula from Chignik northward, and the Chugach, who live on Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula. [6]

While a clear boundary between Eskimo and Aleut languages appears to have been established during the late prehistoric period, there may be no such boundary between the material cultures of the two groups. Archeological investigations have produced three schools of thought. Proponents of one school suggest that an apparent boundary between technological traditions may have existed quite close to the linguistic boundary noted above. [7] Others have concluded that sometime after AD 1000, a broad cultural zone was established on the central peninsula in which the technological elements of Eskimo and Aleut cultures were combined by the inhabitants to form their own unique assemblage. [8] Still others feel that because of ecological stress, many parts of the peninsula were devoid of inhabitants during portions of the late prehistoric period; at other times the boundary may have shifted up and down the peninsula. [9] Archeologist Donald Clark agrees with the disparity between language and other culture traits, noting that "Koniag speech is Eskimoan but physical anthropologists have identified physical traits which suggest racial strains other than Eskimo in ancestral Koniag remains." [10]

The lack of substantial archeological surveys carried out within the Monument and Preserve has prevented more than general conclusions being drawn about the area's prehistory. [11] The only known survey, taken just east of the mouth of the Aniakchak River (see Map 10), revealed that a small settlement had existed there in the late 16th century or early 17th century. Considering the site's advantages--its location at the mouth of a salmon stream, the year-round availability of fresh water, and the modicum of protection from winds--the site may have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years. Other Native hunting, fishing, or settlement sites probably exist elsewhere in the park unit, but they have not yet been located. [12]

Aniakchak Bay Cultural Complex map
Map 10. Aniakchak Bay Cultural Complex, located at the mouth of the Aniakchak River. (click image for an enlargement in a new window)

Russian Exploration and Settlement

When Europeans began exploring the margins of Alaska in the mid-eighteenth century, the Native inhabitants of the central Alaska Peninsula became witnesses to their meanderings. But the Aniakchak coastline--hidden, isolated, fog-shrouded, and storm-tossed--was largely ignored. The only early explorers to come close were Alexei Chirikof and Captain James Cook. Chirikof, who commanded one of the two vessels in Vitus Bering's expedition, landed on the island that bears his name, 80 miles to the southeast, in early August 1741. In June 1778, on Captain Cook's third voyage, the two ships under his command passed within 50 miles of the coastline. [13]

The fur-trading promyshlenniki followed the first Russian incursions. Starting at the western end of the Aleutian Islands, they initially captured the sea otter on their own, but soon began to enlist the aid of Natives, either through simple trading relationships or by slavery and the use of brute force. [14] Between 1767 and 1783, the fur trade depleted the sea otter population along much of the south side of the Alaska Peninsula. Native hunters doubtless camped along the coast during this period, but the locations of specific camps are unknown. [15] No known settlements which dated from this period are located in the present park area. The closest known Native village was Kaluiak, a Kaniagmiut village on the shores of Anchorage Bay, which was apparently decimated during this period. [16] In addition, the Russians establish a permanent if short-lived artel, or fur trading camp on Sutwik Island. This camp, called "Sutkhvin", operated at some point between 1770 and 1800. [17]

Once the Natives had been subdued, the various Russian fur trading companies formed cooperative trading relationships with them. Along the Alaska Peninsula, hunting pressure was decreased to the point that the otter harvest remained at or near a sustained level for decades to come. Whether hunting took place along the Aniakchak coast is not known. No villages are known to have existed near the bay during the early nineteenth century, with the possible exception of either Kaluiak or Kujulik (the latter being located along the shores of nearby Kujulik Bay). [18] However, one or more Russian explorers must have visited the bay and spoken to local residents because von Krusenstern's atlas, published in 1827, noted both "Baie Amah-chack" (Aniakchak Bay) and "C[ap] Koumlick" (Cape Kumlik). [19]

Shortly after von Krusenstern's atlas was published, Russian surveyors entered the bay. In 1831-32, Ensign Vasiliev of the Imperial Russian Navy mapped the Pacific Coast from Cook Inlet to Cape Kumliun, the latter point being located between Aniakchak and Chignik bays. The results of his work were published in 1836. [20] His survey work was corroborated in the 1840s by the expeditions of Lindenberg and Kashevarov. By 1850 most of the prominent coastal place names, including Kujulik Bay and Amber Bay, had already been established. Both the place names and the navigational data served as the standard for the area until well into the twentieth century. [21]

Despite these incursions, the area was largely neglected once the initial sea otter population had been harvested. Russians, who held a titular claim on the coast, had few if any reasons to stop there, and navigators from other countries showed even less interest in the area. The area's distance from Russian settlements, and the financial difficulties of the Russian American Company, suggest that few non-Natives visited the Aniakchak area during the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century.

The changeover in control to the United States, in 1867, initially brought few changes to the central Alaska Peninsula. The only activity that appeared to show promise was the fur trade. The Alaska Commercial Company, beginning in 1880, established stores near Mitrofania, just south of Chignik, and Sutkum Village, on Sutwik Island. These two stores served as collection points for trappers in the area. Few furs, however, were gathered from the Aniakchak coastline, and by 1897 pelts were so scarce that both stores had closed. [22]

Fisheries Interests Invade the Area

The first large-scale migration of non-Natives to the area arrived in pursuit of the salmon resource. In 1882, just four years after the first Alaska cannery opened, a cannery was established in Cook Inlet, at Kasilof. [23] Seven years later, the first canneries were established in Chignik Lagoon, 50 miles southwest of the park unit. Three salmon packing plants were built that year because the run of red salmon, or "redfish," was consistently one of the strongest on the peninsula. [24]

The early Chignik canneries apparently employed a fleet of gill netters and purse seiners to harvest the catch. [25] During the 1890s, however, the canneries increasingly came to rely on pile traps. [26] Fish traps were useful because they were efficient and relatively inexpensive, and because the labor costs for their operation were relatively low.

In 1910 a new cannery, operated by the Columbia River Packers Association (CRPA), was built at the head of Anchorage Bay. The association came out on the short end of a communal fishing contract, which rationed the number of Chignik Lagoon traps. As a result, it sought out new trap sites. In 1913 it had established a trap in Hook Bay, the first trap outside of Chignik Bay, and in 1917 it constructed its first trap in the present-day park. [27]

The coastline northeast of Chignik offered a large number of bays and coves with potential as fish trap sites. Some of the most promising sites were located in Aniakchak Bay. While not as rich as Chignik Lagoon, this area was advantageous because the Aniakchak River, more than 25 miles long, offered the most extensive drainage system on the Pacific Coast between Chignik Lagoon and the Katmai country. [28] The correspondingly low stream gradient, moreover, offered high quality salmon habitat. While Chignik Bay and Chignik Lagoon runs featured red salmon, the streams in the Aniakchak area attracted primarily pink salmon, with smaller runs of red, coho and chum salmon. [29] Species other than red salmon were not considered of commercial value before 1910, but concerted marketing efforts during the next several years made their harvest worthwhile. [30]

Between 1914 and 1918, the number of Alaskan traps more than doubled, from 240 to 552. [31] As part of that trend, the Columbia River Packers Association drove the first trap in Aniakchak Bay in 1917 (see Map 11). The trap was located just southwest of the mouth of the Aniakchak River. [32] In 1919 the CRPA installed a second trap from the island near the river's mouth. No traps existed for the next few years. By 1924, however, the 1917 trap had been re-established, and during the next five years four new traps had been built along the Aniakchak coastline. In 1925, a trap was installed in Kujulik Bay, near the mouth of North Fork; a second followed in 1926, on the north shore of Aniakchak Bay; a third trap, erected in 1928, was erected near the mouth of Aniakchak Lagoon; and a fourth, was built in 1929 at the southwestern end of Aniakchak Bay. The final trap in the area was not erected until 1937; it was located south of Elephant Head Point on Cape Kumlik. [33]

Aniakchak Bay fish traps map
Map 11. Location of Aniakchak Bay Fish Traps. (click image for an enlargement in a new window)

Several of the traps driven along the Aniakchak coastline did not last long. Three of the four traps erected between 1925 and 1929, in fact, had been permanently removed by the end of the 1930 season. The other traps noted above, however, operated for a longer period. The trap located southwest of the Aniakchak River mouth, for instance, operated from 1924 to 1937. The trap near Aniakchak Lagoon operated from 1928 to 1947, and the Cape Kumlik trap operated from 1937 to 1949. Until 1932, the CRPA controlled each of these traps. That year, however, they came under the de facto management of the Alaska Packers Association. The APA purchased the sites outright in 1940, and continued to operate them until they closed. [34]

The operation and maintenance of the various fish traps brought seasonal residents to the area. The first watchmen to live there, during the 1917-1919 period, lived on a small bunk scow which had been hauled onto the island located near the Aniakchak River mouth. [35] That site, due to its exposed setting and lack of fresh water, proved unsatisfactory. When the CRPA began erecting new fish traps in the mid-1920s, therefore, they found a more suitable site and endeavored to erect a sound structure. Company workers erected a bunkhouse at the north end of Aniakchak Bay (see Map 10). For years afterwards, this building served as the headquarters for the various fish trap crews. [36] The crews, which numbered between twelve and twenty men, arrived in June to erect the various traps. They spent the summer maintaining them, guarding them from fish pirates, and unloading the collected fish into the cannery tenders. At season's end, in late August, they disassembled and removed each trap before leaving the area. [37]

The establishment of fish traps in Aniakchak Bay created the first regular ship traffic along the Aniakchak coastline. This traffic may have prodded the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey into an investigation of the area. As late as 1922, government explorers had noted that "Aniakchak and Kujulik Bays are uncharted and are avoided by seagoing boats." [38] Interest in the area's fish resources, however, resulted in new mapping efforts. The Coast and Geodetic Survey dispatched two ships into the area, and during the 1924 through 1926 seasons they charted both bays. [39] By 1926, the Coast Pilot reported that "the channel between Kumlik Island [east of the south end of Aniakchak Bay] and the mainland is apparently clear and is constantly used by the cannery tenders when running between Aniakchak Bay and Chignik." [40] Tenders arrived "every few days" in 1930; in the late 1930s, tenders such as the Unga or the Semidi came every day or every second day. [41]

Trapping and Oil Prospecting

Trappers began to infiltrate the Aniakchak area during the same period that Columbia River Packers Association personnel began exploring Aniakchak's coastline. It is not known when they first entered the area, but by the early 1920s it was reported that "several trappers operate inland from the heads of some of the bays along the Pacific coast." Most were Chignik residents who trapped during the wintertime (principally December and January) for fox, mink, ermine and wolverine. [42] By 1925, trappers had explored and identified the Meshik River flats, the Amber Bay lowlands, and most of the Aniakchak River drainage. [43] Their comings and goings, however, were not so numerous as to have created any known trails, and apparently none of the trappers knew of the existence of Aniakchak Crater.

Adolf Van Hammel, C. W. Olsen, Charles Weidemann, and Albert Johnson were the four white trappers active in the 1920s. A Native named Shurka also trapped at that time. Olsen lived at the head of Amber Bay, but the others had cabins scattered about the Aniakchak River drainage. [44] By the 1930s, most of these men had been replaced by John Hillborn, Henry Erikson, Alec Pedersen, and Clemens Grunert, Sr. They continued to trap until the 1940s, when falling fur prices and an increased standard of living among local residents discontinued the practice. [45] Erikson and Hillborn had ceased trapping by 1943, but Grunert and Pedersen stayed on until the late 1940s. [46]

In the early 1920s a short-term boom in oil speculation, along with a series of geological investigations, combined to provide the first thorough descriptions of the area's topography, biota and economic potential. The peninsula's petroleum resources, which had been known since the 1860s, began to be developed in 1903 when a series of wells were drilled near the southeast end of Becharof Lake. The boom town of Kanatak sprang forth at the head of Puale Bay, and hopes ran high for a year before the excitement ended (see chapters 3 and 11). [47] In 1910, the Federal withdrawal of Alaska lands from new oil leasing brought what little business remained to a standstill, and for a decade the Kanatak area was virtually deserted. In 1920, however, interest was revived with the passage of an oil leasing act, which allowed prospectors to once again stake claims in Alaska. [48] The Chignik and Aniakchak areas were thought to offer high potential for oil because a popular opinion prevailed that many areas on the Alaska Peninsula offered recoverable oil reserves. More specifically, it was felt that the oil-bearing strata of the Kanatak and Cook Inlet fields also underlay the Chignik district. Therefore, a small-scale flurry of oil exploration took place over the next several years as oil claims were staked over much of the central Alaska Peninsula. [49]

The Aniakchak area, where oil seepages had been reported "from the country west of Aniakchak Bay and east of the high mountain in the central part of the peninsula" as well as "on the cape between Amber and Aniakchak bays" was the recipient of much of that enthusiasm. [50] The General Land Office began offering 2560-acre oil permits as early as December 1920, and activity continued for most of the decade. During the 1922 fiscal year 35 entries, totalling 115,200 acres, were made in the so-called Aniakshak field. For the next two years the speculative fever quickened and "Aniakshak" became the most popular field in the territory; 88 new entries were made covering 225,280 acres in fiscal year 1923, while 43 entries, covering 112,808 acres, were made the year afterwards. [51] Most of the entries were made by speculators who hailed from the Seattle and Tacoma areas. The "Aniakshak" field covered a broad area along the Alaska Peninsula, only a portion of which was located in the present Monument and Preserve. Even so, more than 70 such permits were staked within the present NPS boundaries. The permits were scattered throughout the unit; the only area which was not staked was the caldera itself and the countryside south of it. [52]

The flurry of lease activity stimulated some exploration into the Aniakchak area. Perhaps the first surveyor was W. W. French, an engineer who had taken out at least two oil and gas leases. French led a party through the area in July 1921; as part of the trip they entered Aniakchak Caldera, the first party known to have done so. The following year E. D. Calvin, a government engineer, also entered the area to lay out public land survey lines. [53] In 1922, geologist Walter Smith noted that "since 1920 there have been several oil prospectors and land-survey parties staking claims or running lines ... west of Aniakchak Bay." [54]

It appears, however, that few of the permittees ever visited the area. Most claimants were "pencil prospectors" who hoped to cash in on the work of others. On that basis, interest in the area's oil potential remained high until the summer of 1922, when the first government-sponsored geological survey party investigated the area. The group found that most of the reigning enthusiasm was groundless. They failed to find several instances of oil seepages, one of which had been reported on the cape between Amber and Aniakchak bays. Their report further noted that "the country southwest of Wide Bay, especially the Aniakchak district, is covered by large areas of igneous rocks, in which oil does not occur." [55] A second survey party, dispatched to the Chignik area the following summer, gave a similar conclusion. It found that "no oil seepages, residues, or gas springs have been authentically reported from the Chignik District," and that "the outlook for oil in the Chignik district is not hopeful." [56] These reports effectively stifled further oil exploration, and within a decade the government had cancelled most if not all of the existing oil permits. [57]

USGS Surveyors Investigate Aniakchak Caldera

While the wave of interest in oil possibilities did not succeed in stimulating new economic growth on the central peninsula, the various governmental surveys succeeded in revealing the topography and resources of the area for the first time. As late as 1923, maps of the country inland from Aniakchak Bay were either blank or contained erroneous information. [58] The oil excitement, however, provoked the U.S. Geological Survey, which was responsible for exploring and evaluating the mineral potential of Alaska lands, into sending two major expeditions into the Aniakchak area. In the summer of 1922, a party of six men, headed by R. H. Sargent, topographer and Walter R. Smith, geologist, surveyed the area from Kanatak southwest to Chignik. Their explorations were primarily limited to the eastern drainages of the peninsula. Three years later, another six-man party, headed by Sargent and geologist Russell Knappen, surveyed both sides of the peninsula from Mt. Chiginagak southwest to Mt. Veniaminof. In the Aniakchak drainage, both parties found an essentially primeval landscape, devoid of trails or permanent residents. [59]

The investigations produced mixed results. As noted above, results gained from the 1922 expedition served to dampen the enthusiasm over oil exploration, and the 1925 expedition, whose stated purpose was to investigate oil and gas possibilities, found few encouraging possibilities. [60] Sargent and Smith's expedition, however, was the first to report the discovery of a large "extinct volcano," Aniakchak Caldera, midway between the Bristol Bay and Pacific coasts. The caldera had been identified twice before; in 1919, famed Katmai explorer Robert F. Griggs had spotted it and called it "Old Crater," and in 1921, oil prospector W. W. French had entered the caldera. Griggs, however, was in no position to elaborate on what he had seen, and French had made no report of his discovery. [61] In 1922, USGS expedition members entered the caldera on two separate occasions (see Map 12), and the following year M. W. Taylor, of Seattle, visited the caldera as well. [62] It is a testimony to the area's weather, as well as its isolation, that generations of explorers, fishermen, local residents and governmental officials had passed along the Pacific and Bristol Bay coasts and had failed to identify it. Trappers or prospectors may have seen the caldera before 1922, but no one reported its existence before Sargent and Smith explored the area. [63]

location of Aniakchak map
Map 12. This "Sketch Map Showing Location of Aniakchak" was drawn by the U.S. Geological Survey during the 1920s. It was reprinted in Father Bernard Hubbard's 1932 publication, Mush, You Malemutes! (page 179). (click image for an enlargement in a new window)

Father Hubbard Visits the Area

Two events in the early 1930s, a volcanic eruption and the visit of a well-known lecturer, brought a modicum of fame to the Aniakchak area. In May 1931 Half Cone, a cinder cone located within Aniakchak Caldera, belched forth a series of explosions which darkened the surrounding skies for weeks. [64] Major eruptions took place on May 1, May 11 and May 20, with intermittent activity during the interim. The eruption, which was considered moderate in comparison to those that had taken place at nearby volcanoes, [65] covered the Chignik area with half an inch of ash. Light ash fell up to 300 miles away. Due to its isolation, however, the eruption received scant attention in the state and national press. [66]

The eruption would doubtless have slipped into ignominy had it not been for the efforts of Father Bernard R. Hubbard, a Jesuit professor from Santa Clara University. Hubbard was a geologist who specialized in glaciers and volcanoes. Since 1927 he had spent each summer field season in Alaska gathering data. As his career unfolded, however, he found that his talents were best applied in describing his adventures to the non-scientific community. As "the Glacier Priest," he launched into an increasingly public arena. By 1932 he had become a lecturer, author and film producer, and maintained each of those roles through the remainder of the decade. His best-selling books, and the articles he contributed to National Geographic, Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines, contributed little to the scientific literature. His writings, however, played an important role in bringing Alaska into the consciousness of the American public.

Hubbard's earliest field explorations pursued strictly scientific objectives. His initial studies concerned the Juneau Icefield, but a visit the following year to the devastated landscape of the Katmai country intrigued him to such a degree that the volcanoes of the Alaska Peninsula directed his research activities for the next several years. [67] Perusing the geological literature, he encountered USGS reports on the Aniakchak and Veniaminof calderas, and as he noted, "with these sources of information and Mr. Sargent's map, [I] determined upon a thorough exploration of the craters." [68]

To implement his plan, Hubbard left San Francisco for Alaska in mid-May of 1930, and reached Chignik the following month. The party, composed of Hubbard and four student assistants, took a cannery tender to the mouth of the Aniakchak River. It then ascended the river in a 15-foot open motorboat as far as it could. The party spent several days exploring the caldera on foot, and found its floor to be lush with vegetation and wildlife. Although the USGS had classified the volcano as inactive, his group found steaming vents which led them to believe that Aniakchak was capable of additional activity. [69]

Spurred on by the excitement of the spring 1931 eruption, Hubbard returned to Aniakchak the following two summers. In 1931, his party traveled by boat from Chignik to Kujulik Bay and proceeded northbound into the Aniakchak River drainage. The following summer Hubbard, accompanied by pilot Frank Dorbrandt, flew into the caldera, landed on Surprise Lake and explored the immediate area. Their visit was relatively brief. [70]

Hubbard's books and articles dramatically portrayed that Aniakchak Caldera was strange and unworldly. He portrayals were effective because he knew his subject matter; furthermore, his audiences were largely unfamiliar with either Alaska or volcanic landscapes. The vast majority of his verbiage, redolent in impassioned prose, stands up to scientific scrutiny. But in his glib pursuit of dramatic detail he erred in certain key facts, including the size of the eruption, the probable date of caldera formation, and the number of previous explorers to have visited the crater. [71] He also mistakenly implied that the eruption had had a devastating impact on the area's ecosystem. [72] His assertion that much of the wildlife and plant life in the caldera was killed by the blast is correct. Anadromous fish populations, however, were scarcely affected. Records from the bay's fish traps show that the annual catch for the 1931 through 1934 seasons was significantly larger than that for the 1929 and 1930 seasons. [73]

The 1931 National Monument Proposal

Shortly after returning from his 1930 trip to Aniakchak Caldera, Father Hubbard wrote up his experiences for the popular press. In October a full-page story on the Alaskan "moon craters" appeared in the New York Times; two months later, Barrett Willoughby penned a longer article on Hubbard's adventures for the Saturday Evening Post. The two articles dealt with both Aniakchak Caldera and nearby Mount Veniaminof. [74]

NPS Director Horace M. Albright read Willoughby's Saturday Evening Post article and on December 23 told several assistants, including Arno B. Cammerer, that "we ought to keep these areas in mind as possible additions to the national parks or monuments some time in the future." Cammerer, in his reply, saw no reason to wait; he noted, "Isn't now the time to get them reserved as a national monument, to prevent hunting and thus to preserve the wonderful wild life as best we can?"

NPS staff then contacted R. H. Sargent of the USGS, who had visited the area both in 1922 and 1925. Sargent felt that the area contained "many advantages as well as scenic and scientific features that are not found anywhere else including Katmai." He noted that Hook Bay was a "natural harbor" and would be the best development location. He also noted the presence of "three men who have been trapping around Aniakchak for several years and they would undoubtedly be opposed to any restrictions." On January 10, Cammerer let it be known that he wanted to "get this crater area reserved as soon as possible as a monument under the Service." Wallace R. Atwood, a geography professor affiliated with the New York-based American Geographical Society, responded with a long memo to the Director which elaborated on the area's values, evaluated the problems which might encumber monument designation, and suggested several possible boundary configurations. [75]

The NPS offered a bold proposal for the two new monuments. The Aniakchak proposal called for the withdrawal of an area larger than the present-day monument and preserve (see Map 13). The irregular boundary included most of the western and central side of the peninsula; it went as far south as Landlocked and Bluff creeks, and stretched north to the Cinder River-Meloy Creek drainage. On the Bristol Bay side, the proposed monument included everything from the shoreline to the peaks except for a small area surrounding Meshik and Port Heiden. On the Pacific Coast side, the proposed monument included Cape Kumliun, Weasel Mountain, and Hook Bay. North of Cape Kumliun, however, the boundaries remained several miles distant from the shoreline. Atwood, who drew the preliminary boundaries, had followed Sargent's advice and avoided most of the area close to the Pacific Coast; this was in deference to the seasonal fish traps and the smattering of area trappers. [76]

proposed Aniakchak National Monument map
Map 13. Proposed Aniakchak National Monument, 1931. (click image for an enlargement in a new window)

NPS staff hoped that they would soon be able to prepare a monument proclamation that the Secretary of the Interior and President Hoover could approve. Before the NPS could do so, however, it sent out routine letters of approval to the heads of the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Fisheries, and the General Land Office. [77] The Bureau of Fisheries noted only the presence of a fish trap in Hook Bay; the GLO was concerned only with the oil permits which were scattered about the area, none of which had been developed. [78]

The USGS, however, took a dim view of the proposed monument. As was noted in Chapter 3, the USGS had been asked just a month earlier for its opinions regarding the expansion of Katmai National Monument. It was unenthusiastic to both proposals. The agency head noted that the Survey "feels a keen interest in having as much of a region as possible kept open for free development;" he also felt that national monuments, as a rule, "should be the smallest that will properly include the particular natural object." He was particularly concerned that a potential oil area, located along Bluff and Violet creeks, was being considered for inclusion in the monument. The USGS recommended that the proposed monument be limited to a roughly circular area, 20 to 25 miles in diameter, which centered on Aniakchak Caldera. [79]

The NPS was unwilling to see such a drastic reduction in the initially-proposed boundaries. It knew, from the USGS reports, that geologists had found little cause for optimism in the area's oil potential. It may also have known that none of the land which had been opened to oil permit activities in the early to mid-1920s had ever been drilled upon, much less enjoyed commercial success. (The GLO cancelled the various oil permits in 1931 and 1932.) The NPS, therefore, responded to the USGS's boundary by eliminating the portion of the proposed monument which had been located south of the Meshik River. The potential oil-bearing province west of Kujulik Bay was thus excluded from the monument. [80]

The NPS emerged from its consultation with other agencies with a smaller monument than it had originally proposed. Its boundary was far larger than the USGS would have preferred; the NPS, however, felt that its alternative boundary was defensible. [81] The proposed monument was then presented to various Alaskan officials for their consideration.

The Aniakchak proposal, as noted above, was brought forth at the same time that Katmai National Monument was being considered for expansion. In addition, the conservation community was lobbying for a national monument on Chichagof Island in order to protect the brown bear population. The Aniakchak area was significant for its geological values; the nature of its resources was fundamentally different from the other two areas, which were being considered for their wildlife resources. Little was known, at that time, of the Aniakchak area bear population. Walter Smith and Arthur Baker, in their 1922 report for the USGS, noted that "bears seem to be [relatively] numerous in the more remote parts of the peninsula," and three years later, Russell Knappen of the USGS reported that he had seen 54 bears during his summer of field work. [82] The Aniakchak area, however, was so remote that few if any outsiders hunted in the area. Most federal officials, territorial officials, and conservation leaders were similarly ignorant of the area's wildlife resources.

Although the Aniakchak proposal was geological in nature and thus distinct from the Katmai and Chichagof proposals, it was inevitable that the three monuments would be compared and contrasted as a package. On March 13, the NPS presented the three proposals to Hugh W. Terhune, the Alaska Game Warden, and Charles H. Flory, the Regional Forester of Alaska. Both men abhorred the idea of a national monument on Chichagof Island. Perhaps because of its relative lack of resource conflicts, they considered the Aniakchak area to be "of outstanding interest." Creating a national monument there, furthermore, "would probably do more toward bear protection in Alaska than the other two projects." [83]

What happened next is uncertain. Between mid-March and early April 1931, NPS officials apparently met and decided to discard both the Aniakchak and Chichagof proposals in favor of an expansion to Katmai National Monument. The existence of the oil permits may have caused the NPS to be gun-shy about pushing the Aniakchak proposal; the agency was also tacitly aware that no scientific or conservation organizations had expressed support for such a monument. The NPS, in comparing the three proposals, probably recognized that expanding Katmai gave it the opportunity to protect a well-known population of bears which might otherwise have been endangered. By contrast, Aniakchak's resources--despite Father Hubbard's publicity--were not particularly well known. The site, moreover, was remote, and the area's geological and biological resources were not in danger. That it was easier to manage one monument than two may have also been a factor in the agency's decision to bypass the Aniakchak proposal.

By April 8, NPS staff had decided upon the Katmai proposal to the exclusion of all others. Once they had done so, they quickly prepared a presidential proclamation and forwarded it to Secretary of the Interior Ray Wilbur. He, in turn, sent it on to President Hoover who, on April 24, 1931, signed the proclamation which expanded Katmai National Monument. [84] The agency dropped the matter of an Aniakchak National Monument at that time, and did not consider it again until the 1960s.

Land Use Development, 1931-1970

Soon after the NPS considered the area as a national monument, commercial clamming interests discovered the beaches of Aniakchak Bay. Razor clams were found in Aniakchak Lagoon as well as on beaches to the south. Axel Olsen located a cannery at the southwestern end of the bay in the summer of 1932, and 12,948 pounds of clams were processed there that year. Clams were hauled from the harvesting areas to the cannery by automobile. The cannery operated for only a short time. Local sources have suggested that it failed because the clams were too sandy, because transportation costs were too high, or because intensive harvesting reduced the clam population to noncommercial levels. The clam population eventually rebounded, and in recent years Kodiak fishermen have harvested the Aniakchak Lagoon clam beds. Commercial operations, however, never returned to the area. By 1977, all that remained of the 1930s-era cannery was "a pile of wood and machine parts in the grass along the coastline." Most prominent among the rubble was the cannery's boiler and an automobile skeleton. [85]

During the Second World War, Port Heiden was the site of an air base. General Simon B. Buckner, head of the Army's Alaska war effort, requested in the early summer of 1941 that a staging base be built there in support of activities in the Aleutian Islands. The air base, called Fort Morrow, was one of several landing sites which pilots could use while flying between Elmendorf Field (Anchorage) and Cape Field (on Umnak Island, near Dutch Harbor). Fort Morrow was abandoned by the military shortly after the end of the war; the airfield, however, is still maintained. There are numerous quonset huts and other wartime structures still evident at the site, although most have been partially dismantled for their lumber. [86]

During the late 1940s, the Aniakchak area continued to support some of the same activities which had taken place before the war. A few trappers still roamed over portions of the Aniakchak River drainage, and fish traps continued to operate on Cape Kumlik and near the mouth of Aniakchak Lagoon. By 1950, however, both of those activities had ceased. Afterwards, most of those who visited the area were local residents. Subsistence uses lured Meshik and Chignik residents into the area in order to harvest the area's game animals (chiefly caribou and moose), fish, and berries. In addition, a few Chignik residents, using purse seiners, fished commercially along the Pacific Coast and made occasional stops along the coastline. No permanent residents lived north of Chignik, east of Meshik, or south of Ugashik. [87]

During the early 1950s, development interests considered the area for commercial pumice production. As noted in Chapter 11, the Anchorage area construction industry had been eyeing the pumice deposits of the Katmai coastline since 1947. A study of six sites along the coast showed that Kukak Bay offered excellent possibilities as a pumice extraction site. The NPS, however, was reluctant to open the national monument to commercial mining. The Secretary of the Interior hoped that the issue might be defused if an alternate extraction site could be found outside the monument, so in 1950 he prevailed on the U.S. Geological Society to study two new areas: the Aniakchak-Veniaminof area and Augustine Island. R. M. Moxham, the geologist assigned to the task, surveyed four sites in the Aniakchak-Veniaminof area. He concluded that the distance from Anchorage and the poor quality of the local pumice deposits made all four sites relatively unfavorable for development. Since the early 1950s, few have shown an interest in the Aniakchak area's pumice deposits. [88]

In the late 1950s, the area was subject to a renewed round of oil speculation activity. Interest in Alaska's petroleum possibilities had been growing since World War II, and Richfield Oil Corporation's major oil strike, on the Kenai Peninsula in July 1957, brought on a heightened degree of interest. In the Aniakchak area, the first 2560-acre oil and gas lease was filed in March 1957. During the next four years, more than 70 others applied for a lease. These leases, however, were just as unsuccessful as the oil permits of the 1920s had been. So far as is known, no drilling or other field development ever resulted from the flurry of lease applications. [89]

Before 1950, the Aniakchak area was generally unknown to sport hunters. That year, however, a local guide named Alec Pedersen began conducting hunts in the area. He used the CRPA bunkhouse, at the mouth of the Aniakchak River, as a base camp. The area became an increasingly popular hunting destination, particularly to bear and caribou hunters, and by the 1960s other guides had also entered the area. By the end of the decade several lodges had been established in the area; they attracted, and continue to attract, a small number of Outside sportsmen. [90]

Aniakchak Bay and Caldera
Farther Bernard R. Hubbard, a Jesuit priest, explorer, and geologist, travelled through the Aniakchak area in June 1930 with a small group of Sana Clara University students. The top photo is taken just east of the mouth of the Aniakchak river; it shows two barabaras, a small offshore island, and a cannery tender. The bottom photo shows Aniakchak Caldera as it looked prior to the 1931 eruption of Vent mountain. (National Geographic Magazine, September 1931, 324)

Hubbard, Blunt, Monsen

Hubbard, Chisholm, Peterson, Chisholm, Levin, Galtes
(top) In June 1931, Hubbard (right), along with pilot Harry Blunt (left) and Al Monsen, flew over Aniakchak Caldera but were unable to land. Later that summer, Hubbard and a group of students hiked into the caldera from Kujulik Bay. (bottom) A year later, pilot Frank Dorbrandt flew Hubbard and his students into the caldera and landed on Surprise Lake. The photo shows (left to right) Father Hubbard, student Ken Chisholm, Native guide George Peterson, students Rod Chisholm and Ed Levin, and Father Galtes. (Santa Clara University Collection, photos ACK-00-15 (top) and ACK-35-263 (bottom) )

local fisherman drying salmon
In July 1973, NPS photographer Keith Trexler took this photo of a local fisherman drying salmon on a grassy knoll just east of the mouth of the Aniakchak River. (NPS, AKSO Slide # 5463-32)

Columbia River Packers Association bunkhouse

Columbia River Packers Association bunkhouse
The top photo, which looks east, shows the area surrounding the Columbia River Packers Association bunkhouse, at the north end of Aniakchak Bay, as it looked in July 1973. A wood-roofed barabara is in the foreground. the bottom photo, taken in August 1990, shows the same area looking in the opposite direction. (NPS, AKSO Slide # 5463-22 (top); author's collection (bottom) )

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Last Updated: 24-Sep-2000