1929 Aerial Photos - Passport in Time

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1929 U.S. Navy Aerial Photo Indexing Project

Tongass National Forest, Chatham Area, Alaska, 1998 and 1999
by Karen Iwamoto, FS Archaeologist

In 1998, the Chatham Area offered a PIT project that involved plotting 1929 aerial photographs onto USGS quadrangles, one photograph at a time. Ed Salamacha and Bob Berg worked on the project in January, and Pete and Verla Peter came in April. These folks worked tenaciously to complete mapping of approximately two-thirds of the Chatham Area on the Tongass NF.

But some PIT volunteers can’t get enough! Much to my surprise, Ed Salamacha called later in the year after the fall issue of the PIT Traveler was mailed. He wondered if we had completed the aerial photo project; if not, he wanted to come back to Sitka to work on it some more. Even though it was not offered as a PIT project, he was interested in helping us complete the work. Ed and Bob Berg came back to Sitka in February 1999, in the midst of a very snowy winter for Alaskans, let alone southern Californians.

The area plotted by Bob and Ed this time was heavily covered with glaciers that have moved significantly in the past 70 years since the aerial photos were taken. The quad maps and aerial photos were very difficult to match up, and to compound the difficulties, the aerials were taken by planes traveling on some of the earliest flight lines flown by the U.S. Navy. These lines were flown at low elevations, and they crossed over each other in many places, which produced a situation quite different from the more or less evenly spaced lines mapped by Bob and Ed last winter! These two fellows worked tirelessly to complete as much of the forest as they could, even though the convoluted flight lines made for very slow plotting. Almost four-fifths of the Chatham Area has now been plotted for these 1929 aerial photos.

Because of the hard work of PIT volunteers, we have been able to provide researchers access to these photos. The photos have proven very useful to the Heritage Program and other FS resource staff. Now instead of four file cabinets full of relatively useless aerial photos, we have a working historical picture of land use on the forest that will be invaluable for years to come to land managers and the public.

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