Upper Filmore Inlet - Passport in Time

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An Integrated Resource Inventory of Upper Filmore Inlet

Misty Fiords National Monument, Alaska, 1997
by Ralph A. Lively, Zone Archaeologist

The two PIT volunteers who participated in the Integrated Resource Survey of Upper Filmore Inlet arrived on May 29 and spent the weekend having a cookout, visiting the Southeast Alaska Visitors Center, and getting to know FS personnel who would be taking part in various phases of the program. On the following Monday, the volunteers received bear-safety and kayak training, which included two dunkings in the 40°F waters at Ketchikan to learn re-entry techniques. The PIT volunteers (Pamela Soon and Rebekka Chaplin), the archaeologists, and a soil scientist arrived at Filmore Inlet and established camp on June 3. It rained the day we arrived and, true to southeast Alaska’s reputation, for all but two of the days we were there. After getting the tents properly aligned, they stayed dry through out the trip, and the crew soon grew accustomed to the rain. Complaining about the weather, if not required, was certainly allowed.

During the following 12 days, we completed heritage resource surveys of over 21 miles of shoreline, documented wildlife in the area, identified a trespass site, and collected trash that had been washed into the area from the ocean. Travel was primarily by kayak, and over 38 hours were spent paddling slowly along the steep shorelines that surround the inlet. Where gentle slopes or grass flats were found, pedestrian surveys were conducted. The PIT volunteers assisted in identifying, mapping, and documenting two stone fish traps, a collapsed log float house, and numerous culturally modified trees. Early maps of the area indicate the presence of two Native American smoke houses used for fish processing. Although nothing remains of the smoke houses, charcoal was found in the roots of a large wind-thrown tree in the approximate area of the smoke houses, and a sample was collected for radiocarbon dating. In another project, the PIT volunteers helped to collect samples from a cutbank formed by a stream flowing through extensive grass flats and into the head of Filmore Inlet. The soil was screened, and samples were collected for radiocarbon dating to help determine the rate of soil accumulation in the grass flats. The crew also paddled south for 3 miles to monitor the condition of a large, previously re corded stone fish-trap complex, spent an afternoon helping to conduct plant-species counts, and assisted the wilderness rangers in identifying possible recreation sites. In all, each of the volunteers spent some 78 hours on project work.

Wildlife abounded in the area. Scores of waterfowl, including Canada geese, various types of ducks and mergansers, marbled murrelets, and loons, were nesting around the upper part of the inlet. The locations of three active eagle nests were identified and mapped. Both ravens and two varieties of crows, the northwestern and the American, were common, and smaller birds including the rufous hummingbird, the winter wren, the hermit thrush, the varied thrush, the chestnut-backed chickadee, and western flycatchers inhabit the area. In addition to waterfowl, three families of river otter, numerous seals, a Dall porpoise, and a mink were seen in the water. Ashore, we saw marten, deer, and a black bear, and we were serenaded by the howl of wolves and booming of grouse in the uplands trying to attract a mate. At low tide, seals could be seen on small rocky islands.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this project was the solitude. With the exception of two nights, when wilderness rangers, the soil scientist, or fisheries personnel shared our camp, we had the upper part of the inlet to ourselves. Only one plane not associated with the project flew over, and a small boat anchored for one night in the lee of an island about a half mile from our camp. As we paddled along the coast, the only sounds were those of the wind and rain, wildlife, and the roar of a waterfall several hundred feet high that could be seen in the distance.

True to form, on the day set for our pickup, low clouds and rain made flying unsafe, and we couldn’t leave until the following afternoon when a break in the weather occurred. The sight of the float plane coming in for a landing was a welcome sight, since most of our food was gone, but at the same time everyone was sad to see our wilderness experience end. I think we will all remember the quiet hours spent paddling, having to haul two weeks’ worth of food up and down from the trees at every meal, the delicious taste of an impromptu vegetable stew we cooked up one cold wet evening, and the continual rain. Throughout our stay, we practiced “leave-no-trace” camping techniques, and it is unlikely that any sign of our camp will be noticed by future visitors. Despite the frequently in clement weather, both Pamela and Rebekka have vowed that this would not be their last visit to the rain forest of southwest Alaska.
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