One of the delights of our small ship cruise of Southeast Alaska was that it went to the small towns along the coast where the large cruise ships aren’t allowed or can’t reach because of navigational difficulties. Petersburg was one of them. What a delight to wander and take a peek at how they live their lives without the influence of huge numbers of people disembarking from large ships. The sales clerks seemed to welcome our questions and conversations.
As we left the ship and walked down the dock we were greeted by an eagle, or was the eagle making sure no riff-raft got in? He let us in.
This looks like a pretty typical main street for a town of about 3,000 people. It didn’t take long, however, to see how living on Mitkof Island, in Alaska, in a town just around the corner from Fredrick Sound, is different. My mind smiled as I observed how the environment shapes their life. For one thing, they know the bodies of waters around the many islands as well as we, in the lower-48, know interstate highway systems. It is these canals, sounds, straits, narrows, and rivers that allow the Alaskan Ferry System to operate, and what people use to visit the neighboring towns. In fact these waterways have been named the Alaskan Marine Highway.
Fishing is the backbone of the economy in Petersburg. Tourism is also important as the Alaskan Marine Highway ferries, a few small cruise ships and pleasure boats dock there – so the frame shop and the drug store have some Alaskan made items for visitors to buy. There is a very nice gift shop with beautiful items made by Alaskan artisans – I bought some earrings. JB enjoyed our walk down main street because there are two hardware stores (he’s my hardware guy). He noticed the huge sections dedicated to fishing gear and hunting.
If I lived here I think I would have to switch from photographing old wooden barns on country dirt roads to traveling the waterways to capture old wooden boat houses and ships. There aren’t many roads outside of town and there isn’t any farming – even the “man cave” is all about fishing.
Petersburg is at the northern end of Wrangell Narrows (called The Narrows by locals). This is one of the most difficult navigational stretches in Southeast Alaska because it is narrow and the tides can fluctuate as much as 20 feet. That could be one mighty surge of water as The Narrows fills and empties. Seems to me the people who live here must structure their day around the tides, as most fishermen and captains of larger pleasure boats carry the tide book to track high and low tides.
As we were walking around town, we saw interesting evidence of the importance of fishing for the people who live on the narrow strips of land between the water and the mountains.
This town made me wish I was younger so I could travel through the inland waterways using the ferry system so I could stay longer at each place. There was a lot to explore that we didn’t have time for – we were told when the ship would be leaving port.