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"Out the Road" - The Story of an Alaskan Island Road System

Out the Road


Petersburg, AK on Mitkof Island, Alaska is about 3,000 people, forever it seems.  It is one town in Southeast Alaska with enough flat land to be laid out in a proper grid. The foot print doesn’t change.  In old black and white photographs the harbor, Sons of Norway Hall, canneries, and the Lutheran church high on the hill are already there.

As progress marched inevitable on, the road system’s expansion allow people to build homes along the shores outside of town.  Frederick Point homes could only be accessed by boat or a muddy trail through the old growth forest.  Until the city built a boardwalk; a raised wooden trail as far as City Creek.  I remember a pleasant family hike out to the bridge. Returning was kind of scary. I recommend if you accompany two rowdy little boys (the future founder of Alaskan Seafood Guys and his best friend the great-grandson of the town’s founder) you don’t let them race back to town on a boardwalk especially, if they ride bicycles with training wheels! Their fall off the board walk scared my wife and I.  Their landing in the swampy muskeg proved soft and wet for them.  Eventually, the boardwalk was replaced by a gravel road that split off the dump rod.

I know the history of the other road out of town by reading the two volumes of “The History of Mitkof Highway”.  Mitkof Highway is the state highway that takes you out the road.  The first attempt to expand south of town was a “corduroy road” out to Scow Bay from the ferry terminal. A corduroy road consist of pulpwood sized logs lined up side by side  in the muskeg.  Scow Bay is where the tides rising from the North and south ends of the Narrows meet at high tide.  A pretty ideal situation for a maritime transportation hub.  The abandoned fat-bottom barge was called a scow.  A ramp built to it created a dock.

The next stop for the Mitkof Highway was Papkes Landing, a loosing collection of scattered homes on Mitkof Island and boat ramp so boats could access evermore remote homes on Kupreanof Island. Plus Fall Creek a great place to catch salmon.

Next stop; Blind River Rapids another great place to catch salmon returning to the hatchery.  The same two rowdy little boys would get dropped off there just as the tide rose high enough for the schooled salmon to climb the rapids, some good fishing then. As the tide went out they fished the pools with stranded salmon or collected the lures they lost at high tide, ate a sandwich and waited for the tide to return.  I picked them up 12 hours later. We never let them fish early in the morning though. That slot was reserved for black bears.

Finally, Mitkof Highway reached  Blind River Picnic Ground .  Across the river was the hatchery, always fun to explore and Crystal Lake Power plant.  And the bridge!  The bridge where both future Alaskan  Seafood Guys, all the kids of Petersburg and their fathers (after a little teasing) jumped into the black water of Blind River.

At this point Mitkof Highway turned into a slick muddy rutted gravel road that lead to the Forest Service “Three Lakes” road and Man-Made Hole.  The latter was an effort to create a fishing hole in the headwater of Ohmer Creek with dynamite.  (Hmm.) Now it is a beautiful rectangular pool lined with alders and wrapped by a trail.  At the sunniest spots hangs a rope swing.

Next stop the Forest Service road to Snake Ridge, Ohmer Creek Campground and a beautiful trail system which every few years is destroyed by flooding or beavers trying to stop the flooding

On to Olson's Log Dump.  Back in the day loggers use to cable a bunch of logs together to form a rectangular “raft”. Then they dumped loose logs in the raft.  Rafts rested here until tug boats could haul them to saw mills during calm weather.  When I first got here the remains of rafts destroyed by sudden storms dotted the shores

Next stop is where the state decided to build another ferry terminal.  Part of the deal was they would paved all of Mitkof Highway.  The terminal is abandoned now but the highway remains.  Other stops are;

           Greens Camp a continually improved campground on Sumner Straits.

           Banana Point a boat ramp for Petersburgers who trailered their boats here to  access Sumner Strait or a convenient place for your Wrangellite friends to come pick you up.

           Blaquiere Point is another boat ramp offering access to the Stikine River

 At this point the paved highway turns north and run half a mile into a dead end in the middle of no where.  Why does the road end here? Because the now lost “Complete History of the Mitkof Highway” in two volumes planned for a bridge across Dry Straits to the mainland where the Miktof Highway would follow the Stikine river to the Canadian road system.  Only the Stikine-LeConte wilderness was established in 1980, squashing the plan.

And that brings the road like our story to the end.


Author - William Moulton