A Local's Guide to Hiking in Kodiak
Sven Haakanson lived in the city of Kodiak for more than 10 years before moving on to become the curator of the Burke Museum at the University of Washington in Seattle and an associate professor at UW. He grew up in Old Harbor, a small town on the east side of Kodiak Island. A Native Alutiiq, Sven holds a doctorate in anthropology from Harvard University, and is the former executive director of the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak. He is the driving force behind the revitalization of the language, culture, and customs in this isolated region of North America. In 2007, Sven was named a MacArthur Fellow for his work at the Alutiiq Museum.
I always knew I wanted to live on Kodiak. I was born on the island, spent many years off the island going to school, and I returned home as soon as I finished my schooling. The best thing about living on Kodiak is the people. I don't know whether it is an island mentality or just because we live in Alaska, but you can always depend on people here if you need help, no matter what.
For excellent photo opportunities, Pillar Mountain provides beautiful vistas of the town and harbor, slopes of wildflowers and windmills atop the mountain. Pillar Mountain is accessible by car or by foot, and about 2.5 miles from downtown Kodiak City.
Just across the channel from downtown Kodiak is Near Island. Many travelers make the trip over to see the touch tank at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center, but don't miss out on the hiking opportunities. At Near Island, North End Park begins a short leisurely trail through the woods that connects a few small beaches. It's well marked and offers views of town and another nearby island. The Near Island South End Trail is longer and rougher, but offers excellent views of Chiniak Bay. Birdwatchers can even spot horned and tufted puffins during the summer.
Kodiak offers numerous beaches great for beachcombing, bird watching and other recreation. The drive to Monashka Bay and White Sands Beach is about 12 miles north of Kodiak City, with several other beaches tucked along the way, including Mill Bay Beach Park, popular for fishing, and Pillar Creek Beach, a sandy beach great for picnicking. White Sands is a slightly larger beach, popular among locals for picnicking, walking and bird watching. Spot gulls and bald eagles above, and even the occasional seal floating in the bay.
Just three and a half miles from town, Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park is a wonderful place to walk on nice days—even rainy days. Fort Abercrombie has an expansive network of trails of all difficulties, which wind through the forest, wander past historic World War II ruins, or follow along the cliff top, affording spectacular views. Pick up a trail map at the visitor center. In summer, visitors can spot humpback and gray whales from the rocky beaches, or explore the early-morning tide pools.
Of course I recommend visitors stop into the Alutiiq Museum, where I once worked work, and learn about how the people of Kodiak, the Sugipiat, lived over the last 7,500 years. The museum displays 190,000 local artifacts and houses a research laboratory and a store featuring handcrafted jewelry and art and books on Native history. Also watch for special events, classes, publications, and lectures held regularly.
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