Moon rising faintly over water at dusk

Ward Cove Alaska

Ketchikan has a rich fishing history and Lighthouse, Totems & EAGLES Excursion takes visitors past the historic Ward Cove Cannery property on their excursion route.  It was known as the oldest, continuously operated fish cannery in all of Alaska until it was sold in 2003 when Ward Cove Packing put all of their Alaskan canneries up for sale.  This Ward Cove site was purchased by a Ketchikan-based tugboat company called Boyer Towing as they were looking for a well-protected location at which to expand their base of operations.

Preserving Fishing, Timber, and Ketchikan History

Ward Cove is one of the deepest and most protected natural harbors in the entire North American continent.  For the better part of the past century it was home to the timber and fishing industries. During our excursions, we can see vessels and barges that remind us of the fishing and timber industries that still exist today.

Salmon fishing and processing is still big business in Alaska despite the intrusion into the international market by farm-raised fish. Alaska is recognized as the greatest resource for wild natural salmon. This state is home to five distinct salmon species: king, sockeye, coho, pink, and chum salmon.

All Alaskan salmon begin their life in fresh water. As they mature, they move down river to the ocean. Depending on the species of fish, salmon will spend one to five years in the ocean feeding on a diet of ocean krill, shrimp, small fish, and plankton. When they are ready to spawn, salmon migrate from the ocean and swim upstream to produce the next generation of salmon on the river’s gravel bed. Each season, the spawning salmon are counted to ensure there is a continued population for future generations.

Timber History and Economics

The economic history of the area is demonstrated by some of the structures that still remain. After two failures and foreclosures under two different ownership teams, the green building seen on the shore of Ward Cove and formerly a veneer mill was gutted and sold to the Alaska Marine Highway System to be used as their engineering and maintenance warehouse. To the left of that building, the remains of a state-of-the-art sawmill can be found. This sawmill went bankrupt in 1999 and has been removed for the value of its scrap metal.

The remainder of this industrial site is dominated by concrete silos, cream-colored, brick buildings, and a huge waterfront dock. These are all the remnants of what was, at one time, the world’s largest pulp mill. Known as Ketchikan Pulp Company, it was built by the Louisiana Pacific Corporation in 1954. At one point in time, it employed 700 people, but it was forced to close its doors in 1997 due to EPA restrictions and the termination of a 50-year timber-cutting contract. 700 jobs may not seem like a lot in today’s standards, but with a community the size of Ketchikan, it was devastating.  Eventually, the site, including much of Ward Cove’s submerged patented tidelands, was purchased by a local father and son company in 2012.

Ketchikan’s History of Logging

Logging has been a part of the Ketchikan and southeast Alaska lifestyle since the early days of Anglo-American intrusion into the area, but it grew exponentially as an industry with the opening of the pulp mill in 1954. Many of the logging companies built their own floating towns on huge log rafts to house the loggers and their families. Many of these floating towns came complete with schools, churches, general stores, and post offices. The last remaining such town in Alaska was known as Loggerville, and was located in Ward Cove until early 2013. It was mostly sold off and moved onto remote waterfront home sites with a few historic floating remnants still viewed on our tour route.

Dead trees can be seen along the hillside above the pulp mill. The pulp mill has been blamed for the death of those dead trees, but ten years before the pulp mill was even constructed, there was a forest fire on the hillside. Those dead trees are remnants, a reminder of the fire that took place there.  The fire is considered a rarity as southeast Alaska averages 12 feet of rain per year!

There are four species of trees that grow in Tongass National Forest: the red cedar, the yellow cedar, the western hemlock and the Sitka spruce. These different types of trees are used for their commercial value.  Known for its lightness and strength, Sitka spruce was first used to build’s the then world’s largest airplane, the “Spurce Gooose”, by test pilot, engineer, and billionaire, Howard Hughes.

Fun Fact

When Governor Sarah Palin was first introduced as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential race, one huge island on our excursion route also made the news.  Opposing politicians and national media dubbed it as “The Bridge to Nowhere Island.” Saturday Night Live’s actress / impersonator, Tena Fey “ala Sarah Palin” infamously claimed she could see Russia from there.  It’s also not exactly “nowhere” either. About 50 people live there and it is home to the Ketchikan International Airport which gets visits from 80,000 air travelers per year.

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