Lake Clark National Park: A Summary Of Its History & Main Areas
As we expand our fleet, we also expand our destinations on the Alaskan Peninsula.
Larger than Rhode Island and Connecticut combined, Lake Clark National Park holds 7th place among the largest parks in the US. At roughly 4 million acres and just north of Katmai National Park, it boasts geological, historical, and ecological significance. Never mind its stunning beauty!
In 1980, Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act designating over 100 million acres to be preserved including national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, designated wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, the Iditarod National historic trail, and more. Included in this act was Lake Clark National Monument which accordingly became Lake Clark National Park & Preserve.
The park's purpose is to protect the geologic and ecologic diversity which includes volcanoes, the watershed-supporting Bristol Bay red salmon, and hundreds of different wildlife species. It would also preserve the subsistence lifestyle for those who depend on the wilderness and its resources.
Overview History of the Area
10,000 BCE – 1,700 BCE
After the ice age, hunters and gatherers inhabited the coastline leaving evidence such as pictographs, vestiges of dwellings, stone tools, charcoal deposits, and fragmented bones.
Dena'ina Athabascans settled on the banks of Lake Clark which they called Qizhjeh Vena (lake where people gathered).
First written record of Russian explorers reaching the Alaskan Peninsula.
Alaska is purchased by the US
The area earned its name, Lake Clark, after John W. Clark. He was an early Euroamerican explorer who was one of the first permanent residents of Alaska after the US purchased it
First year-round settlement is established called Tanalian Point by Euroamericans and Dena'ina Athabascans and served as a bustling hub for trappers and prospectors.
The first aircraft lands on Lake Clark leading the way for a better connection for supplies and eventually wilderness tourism.
Alaska becomes a state.
Dick Proenneke completes and moves into his cabin at Upper Twin Lake.
Lake Clark and the surrounding areas are established as a National Monument.
The National Monument is expanded and reestablished as a National Park.
Standing at about 10,000ft are Lake Clark's two regional volcanoes, Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt. They are part of a larger collection on the Ring of Fire that stretches across the globe. Both volcanoes are sitting on the edge of the North American Plate where the Pacific Plate is slowly moving beneath the North American Plate at a rate of 2.6 inches a year. The intense pressure and heat melt rock thus creating magma which erupts to the surface creating Iliamna and Redoubt. It is wild to imagine that a movement of 2.6 inches a year can create some powerful earthquakes!
While Iliamna has never had a recorded eruption, it can be seen steaming regularly. Redoubt, on the other hand, has had 4 eruptions in the last 100 years and up to 30 eruptions known through scientific evidence in the last 10,000 years. The most recent was in 2009 labeled as a major ash-producing explosion. Flights were canceled and residents were told to stay indoors. Ash may seem harmless, however, it is a mixture of rock, minerals, and glass particles that can affect airplane engines, equipment that requires filtration, and, depending on the quantity of ash, may collapse roofs and block access to important food and water resources for animals. For example, if you tried to drive your vehicle and used your windshield wipers, these small glass particles would scratch your windshield creating irreversible damage by losing your visibility. Volcanic ash may cause eye, nose, and lung irritation.
As dangerous as volcanoes prove to be every once in a while, they are also very picturesque with their impressive size, jagged peaks, and glacier-covered surroundings. Considered a "young" volcano, Redoubt is estimated to be about 880,000 years old. Try to imagine the candles on that birthday cake!
Named after Babe and Mary Alsworth is the small community situated on the shore of the 42-mile-long Lake Clark. The Alsworths arrived in the Lake Clark Bay area in 1942 to create a homestead. Within some time, their settlement was able to host a hardened landing strip for wheeled planes, gaining popularity through this new ease of access.
Port Alsworth is now home to the visitor center for the park, many businesses, and museum exhibits. The area serves as a jumping point for adventures like hiking, camping, fishing, boating, and more.
There are two public-use cabins both on the shores of Lake Clark. Priest Rock Cabin is 8 miles from Port Alsworth and Joe Thompson Cabin is about 13 miles. Both cabins were not built by the park service but instead by residents who used the cabins as either their summer home or a trapping/hunting cabin. They were donated to NPS to help continue support for public lands and to conserve their historic value. They are available to rent nightly for those who choose to immerse themselves in a more rustic environment and experience nature as the owners did decades ago.
From the Joe Thompson cabin, you can hike the Portage Creek Trail which partially follows the historic route to the location of a gold mining site. Today, the trail leads up Lach Mountain. It should be mentioned that both cabins can only be accessed by floatplane or by a water taxi from Port Alsworth.
Other hikes out of Port Alsworth:
Upper Twin Lake & Dick Proenneke Cabin
This article would not be complete without talking about Dick Proenneke. In the early 1960s, Dick accepted an invitation from his friends to stay at their vacation cabin in Upper Twin Lake. By vacation cabin, we mean a small isolated log cabin with no electricity, or running water and completely immersed in wild nature.
After naval life and working as a mechanic both in Iowa and Kodiak, Dick decided he wanted a simpler lifestyle away from the busy civilized world. With the help of his friends, he started building his cabin. He used his environment to the fullest cutting down trees for the cabin and even building tools he would need in the process. Dick is well known because of his extensive documentation of his life at Upper Twin Lake. He used a video camera and journaled to show and describe the effort and progress of the cabin and his lifestyle. It is no simple feat to just move to a remote part of Alaska in the 1960s and create an easy life. Dick relied on Babe Alsworth for deliveries of groceries and parts he would order. Dick lived in his cabin for 30 years, occasionally leaving to visit family. In the meantime, he journaled about his daily life at the cabin, from weather to animal interactions. Dick left his cabin in 1999 at the age of 82 due to his deteriorating health. He passed in 2003 and left the cabin and many of its accessories to NPS for guests to visit, learn, and enjoy. During the summer months, park rangers live on the property (on other rustic cabins on the premises). They welcome visitors daily and answer any questions about the cabin and Dick.
His cabin is preserved by NPS due to the exemplary construction by a master craftsman, attention to detail, and Dick's respect for the environment. In one of his journal entries, Dick says "The cabin is growing, 28 logs are in place, 44 should do it. Except for the gable ends and roof logs. It really looks a mess to see the butts extending way beyond the corners, but I will trim them off later. You can't rush it. I don't want these logs looking as though a boy scout was turned loose on them with a dull hatchet."
When you visit the site, you can also hike a few miles to Teetering Rock just beyond Dick's cabin. With an expansive view of Twin Lakes and the mountain peaks that surround the area, you can learn why they call it teetering rock. A giant boulder sits just right that when you jump on the rock you can get it to teeter back and forth.
While Dick is certainly the most well-known person who lived in Lake Clark, he wasn't by far the only individual living a life immersed in nature. Some were homesteaders while others are indigenous Alaskans who have lived on these lands for hundreds if not thousands of years. A lot of respect is owed to these generations who have truly lived a subsistence lifestyle.
As we mentioned earlier, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act which was passed when it granted Lake Clark its National Park status, additionally protected the subsistence lifestyle for those who depend on their environment. The Dena'ina live with a phrase Ye'uh Qach'dalts'iyi which translates to 'What We Live On from the Outdoors'. They demonstrate traditional knowledge that has been passed down many generations as a communal understanding of their ecosystem, commitment to core values and beliefs, and a constant ability to creatively solve problems using only what is available in such a remote place.
We live in a world where we can easily drive to a grocery store and buy everything we need, including vegetables and fruits not in season, but few know how to sustain themselves without these modern conveniences. The Dena'ina have a prophecy that these skills will be needed in the future and so they must continue to pass down this knowledge. Protecting the subsistence lifestyle is not only fundamental to preserving Dena'ina and other indigenous Alaskan communities but also serves to keep Alaska's historic culture intact.
Visiting Lake Clark
Lake Clark National Park is not on the road system and can only be accessed by plane or boat. Float planes may have better access, however, it depends on where within the park you're visiting. There are 17 private lodges throughout the park one can stay at with a variety of activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, bear viewing, boating, and exhibits to learn more about the park.
Other than the sites listed above, here are other notable destinations within the park:
Chinitna Bay: Prime Destination for Bear Viewing
Silver Salmon Creek: Bear Viewing, Fishing, and stay overnight in a lodge
Crescent Lake: Visit Redoubt Mountain Lodge, fishing, bear viewing
Telaquana Lake: Backpack the ancestral Dena'ina Athabaskan route
Whether you are taking a scenic flight, visiting for the day, or staying overnight, remember to take a moment and appreciate that a lot of the rugged terrain remains unchanged from what it looked like to those who lived here 10,000 years ago.
And as always, respect the environment and its inhabitants by following all park rules and regulations.