A Local's Guide to Sitka
Mystery novelist John Straley has worked as a secretary, horseshoer, wilderness guide, trail-crew foreman, millworker, machinist and private investigator. He moved to Sitka in 1977 and has no plans of leaving. John's first book, "The Woman Who Married a Bear," was published in 1993 and won the Shamus Award for the Best First Mystery of that year. His third book, "The Music of What Happens," won the 1997 Spotted Owl Award for Best Northwest Mystery. His work has been featured on National Public Radio’s "Fresh Air" and CBS Sunday Morning. In November of 2006 he was appointed as Alaska's 12th Writer Laureate. His latest book, "What is Time to a Pig?" was published in 2020. John was honored by the Alaska Legislature in 2017 for more than three decades of public service to the state of Alaska in the fields of poetry, law, and literature.
I love Sitka. I love every shoreline, historical landmark and larger-than-life character that makes Sitka the perfect place for me to call home.
1. Beaver Lake Trail
Beaver Lake Trail has a steep elevation gain in the first quarter mile, but then is relatively flat and loops around a small lake, taking you through some ancient old-growth forest and one spectacular section of high muskeg meadow with views of the surrounding ridges and peaks. It’s only a 3-mile hike, but with enough sweat factor at the start to make you feel virtuous. To access the trail, head to the old pulp-mill site, then turn uphill onto Blue Lake Road. At the first fork in the bottom of the valley, turn right into the campground and then park by the bridge over the river.
2. A good read in Sitka
Old Harbor Books has a remarkable selection and one of the best Alaska and natural history collections anywhere. The manager will sell you a book and order anything you want, and is always willing to converse on the subjects of environmental causes and social justice. This is the headquarters of the left-wing/libertarian and cranky intelligentsia of Sitka. I have sometimes lost my standing by being away for too long or by daring to disagree with one of the many local pundits you can find either browsing the shelves or drinking in the adjoining coffee shop in the back. But like family, no matter what I seem to have done, they always seem to welcome me back.
3. Kettleson Memorial Library
If you are more in the mood to borrow and not buy, Sitka Public Library is on the waterfront by the Centennial Hall on Lake Street. With Internet access and wireless connections there is more clicking of fingers on keyboards than there used to be, but there are still soft chairs and big tables at which to sit and think, and there is still the perfect view of Sitka Sound. The staff is welcoming and well informed and that makes this library a real community center, open to the curious tourist and the local loafers alike. Be sure to check out the life-size Tyrannosaurus rex crashing through the ceiling of the children’s library.
4. Walk across O’Connell Bridge at sunset
Life in a small island town can have its own challenges, and on more than one occasion a short walk on this elegant span has restored my sense of equanimity. There is a distant volcano gathered up in red robes, small boats coming and going from the islands, and the tribal house and Pioneers Home fronting a tidy little town. Eagles and gulls worry the air above the fish plants, and somehow from the bridge at sunset, our little world seems at peace.
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