Building in an Ashen Land: Historic Resource Study
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A historic resource study (HRS) is an NPS management document designed to assess known historic properties and address their eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places, commonly known as the National Register. Historic Resource Studies also are prepared to meet federal agency requirements set forth in the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, and to contribute to and shape park planning, priorities, actions, and decisions that may directly or indirectly benefit, affect, or pose a threat to historic properties. Such a study provides the park with base line historical material on known resources and historic properties, and develops contexts within which these and yet undiscovered resources may have association and meaning. As a result, an HRS integrates cultural resources into the larger scheme of resource management and park identity.

This HRS, which is a revision of a similar study printed in 1971, was researched and written in accordance with the Cultural Resources Management Guideline (formerly known as NPS-28) and sections 101 and 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. It develops historical themes and contexts for the land within Katmai National Park and Preserve and shows how these resources relate to the surrounding areas. It also identifies and provides evaluations for National Register of Historic Places eligible properties as well as recommendations for purposes of NPS planning, interpretation, compliance, and natural and cultural resource management directives.

Mrs. Palakia Melgenak
Mrs. Palakia Melgenak, a former Savonoski resident, at South Naknek during the summer of 1961. Photograph from "Mount Katmai, Alaska Eruption Tape Recording Made by Wilbur A. Davis of the University of Oregon, July-August 1961." NPS-AKSO Katmai park file.


People have always been drawn to Katmai's rich natural resources, whether for catching fish and furbearing animals, researching volcanic activity and its effects, mining, or sightseeing. Essentially, this study is a collective view of what human activity has taken place in Katmai by looking at what buildings and structures have been constructed. For example, early occupation sites reveal semi-subterranean houses used by the Native people, while log cabins reflect a twentieth century trapping lifestyle. The 1912 volcanic eruption of Novarupta is a pivotal event in Katmai's history. It forced residents to leave, dramatically changed the landscape and, at a minimum, buried existing settlements in ash and pumice. No sooner had the ash settled, however, than scientific investigations to the area began. The resulting discoveries led to the establishment of Katmai National Monument, which set the stage for the demise of trapping and the development of tourism. Hence the study title acknowledges that building activities took place both before and after the landscape was covered in volcanic ash.

Katmai's history is told through ten historic contexts. The chapters are organized first by narratives, which are followed by summaries of the related historic properties and historic preservation recommendations. There is a diversity of historic properties within Katmai. These include former settlement sites, cannery sites, trapping cabins and sites, a fox farm site, a reindeer corral site, mining sites, trails, a shipwreck, an airstrip, visitor cabins and lodges, a fisheries research laboratory and fish ladder, and cabins and rock cairns related to the National Geographic Society's expeditions and other scientific research.

As many sites have not been surveyed, a recurring recommendation in this study is for historical archeological investigations. What follows is a brief list of the historic contexts with related properties that need some level of survey and documentation:

  • Russian and Early American time periods: Main settlements at Katmai, Kukak, Douglas, and Kaflia, and seasonal camps along the coast from Kamishak Bay south to Hallo Bay.

  • Scientific Expeditions and Research: Two cabins and rock cairns built by National Geographic Society's expeditions, and Baked Mountain Cabin.

  • Transportation Links: Katmai Pass and Hallo Bay trails.

  • Mineral Exploration and Mining: Areas of Kashvik Bay, Geographic Harbor, Takli Island, and the interior lakes.

  • Clam and Salmon Canning: Two former cannery sites at Kukak and Swikshak bays.

  • Trapping and other Subsistence Lifeways: The former trapping and subsistence cabins are the largest group of historic sites located within the park. Approximately fifty cabins or complexes are known to have existed at one time, but fewer than twenty have been identified. The majority of sites are located around Naknek Lake, with a few scattered farther north and some along the coast.

  • Reindeer Herding: One reindeer herder cabin site in the northwest arm of Naknek Lake.

  • Tourism: The five original Northern Consolidated Airlines camps (Brooks, Kulik, Grosvenor, Nonvianuk, and Battle).

In general, after surveys are completed that identify eligible properties, the study recommends preparation of Multiple Property Documentation Forms. Such forms should then be submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for consideration of listing in the National Register. Prepared along with this study were three Determination of Eligibility forms, for Portland Packer Scotty's Cabin, Lake Brooks Field Laboratory; and the Brooks River Ranger Station and Boat Storage House. The SHPO has concurred that all four historic properties are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Too Bad. Never can go back to Savonoski to live again. Everything Ash. Good place too, you bet. Fine trees, lots moose, bear and deer. Lots of fish in front of barabara. Not many mosquitoes. Fine church, fine house. Quote by "American Pete" Chief of Savonoski in a 1918 interview, (Griggs, The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, 17). Photograph of Savonoski courtesy of University of Alaska Anchorage, Archives and Manuscripts Department, National Geographic Society Katmai Expedition Collection, Box 4, 3675.

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Last Updated: 22-Oct-2002