Larsen Bay, An Alaskan Coastal Village
Where in Alaska is Larsen Bay?
In the northwest coast of Kodiak Island, which is the biggest island in the state of Alaska, lies Larsen Bay. Larsen Bay was formerly called Uyak which is an Aleutian native word. It was renamed after a 1700s native Ungan furrier/hunter/guide named Peter Larsen who frequented the island in order to hunt and trap foxes, bears, seals, rabbits, etc. Peter Larsen lived at a neighboring island, Unga, along the Aleutian Island chain. A portion of the water that surrounds this archipelago still retains the native word Uyak for Uyak Bay.
This small village of approximately 60 people year-round can be reached via air or water. It takes 60 air miles or approximately 30 minutes (weather-permitting) from Kodiak City. Air travel especially, is subject to weather conditions which may be cloudy and foggy during the winter months. Rain or precipitation can be considered moderate as well as the average temperature fluctuates between 32˚ to 62˚ Fahrenheit.
The current inhabitants comprise mostly of Alutiiq ( Russian-Aleuts) and their multi-racial descendants subsists on this 5.4 square miles of land and 2.2 square miles of water.
The State of Alaska's Factoid on Larsen Bay
The Rest of Alaska Living At A Glance
The state of Alaska is blessed with rich natural resources. Some of the oil revenue profit is distributed to legal Alaskan residents--young and old every year. Though this seems like a windfall, living in Alaska can be harsh. The cost of living is high and even higher in the "bush." Bush means remote Alaska which can ONLY be accessible by air or water. Weather is another difficult factor to consider. Winter can be brutally cold especially in the northern part of the state.
60 air miles from Kodiak City; 283 air miles from Anchorage. 57.538540° North Latitude and -153.978440° West Longitude. (Sec. 32, T030S, R029W, Sewar
Tribal Ancestry and Russia's Influence
The earthquake of 1964 revealed a treasure trove of artifacts dating back 2,000 years. The Smithsonian Institute in 1991 repatriated 756 ancient tribal bones excavated from Larsen Bay. It was victory for the Alutiiq heritage to claim their ancestors. However, don't look for any monuments in the village to reflect this honor. The village have not erected a memoriam. You will never find a single sign of RIP. I was told that most of the bones were buried near the airport. Come to think of it, the "welcoming committee" is at hand.
Remnants of Russian influence remain obvious. Since this is a tiny village, there a few Russian Orthodox churches that were used ages ago, but are used during special holidays. The population has teetered over the years. Locals have relocated to better economic situations. During the heyday of Russia's influence in the 1700s, Russian hunters, furriers and trappers cohabited with the locals. Russian was spoken amongst the locals as well as the Alutiiq language. The American occupation penalized the speaking of Aluttiq and Russian, thus the current Aluttiqs living in Larsen Bay are not fluent with their ancestral language.
These past decades, Alaskan natives have been purposely relearning their languages and culture via their Elders. The Elders (as is defined literally), are the key in unlocking the thousand years of rich tribal history. There is a fever recording the alphabets, the stories, the legends, the songs for books and media. This, for the children and its future...a heritage worthy of pride.
What To Expect When You Come To Larsen Bay
The village does not have ALL the modern trappings that we take for granted. However, here are what makes life in the village a little easier:
- There is running hot and cold water. Larsen Bay has a hydroplant with gravity feed and a backup well contained in a 200,000 gallon steel tank. All residential homes are connected to the water piped supply system.
- There is electricity powered by a hydro dam with two reserve generators powered by diesel
- There is internet and telephone which are powered by ground cable. There are no cell phone towers in the vicinity.
- There is TV via satellite.
- There is one clear radio station that reaches Larsen Bay, and that is PBS.
- Cooking is by propane and electric. Electric is expensive, so propane is mostly preferred. Propane tanks are refillable by the City of Larsen Bay.
- There is a community septic tank supplied to all houses; therefore, all houses that are connected to the septic system have indoor bathrooms.
- There is one airport with one gravel runway that measures 2,690 feet in length and 75 feet wide.
- There is one dock harbor which was recently completed.
- There is one convenience store that is only open in the summer from May to August. The cannery hosts the summer store. The City of Larsen Bay operates a store during the winter season from September to April.
- There is one post office.
- There is one public school with a flactuating amount of students from KG to Grade 12.
- The library located in the school has limited amount of material.
- There is one clinic. with one full time and one part time heatlh aide.
- There is a city hall where one Village Public Safety Officer is also housed.
- No banks. Locals would have established banking accounts in Kodiak already. Local payment transactions via a signed faxed check for each total purchase.
- Payroll checks by local industries like the cannery gets cashed during the summer. Other payroll checks are done by direct deposit.
- No mortuary or funeral home. Locals that die in the village are buried the next day without getting embalmed.
- There are five maximum lodges that are open during the fishing and hunting season. Kodiak Resort, Kodiak Lodge, Foxtail Lodge, Larsen Bay Lodge, Kodiak Charters
- Gas and diesel is sold by the City with a 3 percent tax. Some people that own boats buy fuel through Kodiak and ship these themselves.
- There are 35 homes all together
- Big items like furniture, cars, etc. have to be barged in from Seattle or Kodiak. Barge from Seattle comes once a year in May or June. Barge from Kodiak are scheduled depending on weather and boat capacity.
There are four local residents who has commercial fishing permits for the summer using beach seining, purse seining and gill netting.
Living in Alaska means enjoying the gift of mother nature. Larsen Bay alone is a cache of natural wealth. All along this community is a consistent panoramic view of the mountains, the waters, its fauna and flora and its wild animals. Larsen Bay residents share this space with grizzlies. The locals and the bears have been co-existing with unwritten pact of tolerance.
The several seasons I worked in this village without a vehicle prompted me to take walks with my dog to the post office or to the store which is a few minutes away. On certain days, it was not unusual to see the bears by the creek having their salmon lunch. As long as no person bothers them, they don't bother back.
There was one time when I was by the other side of the creek where my dog ran to chase the bear. I was so scared that the bear would harm my dog. But the bear just ignored her and I was able to recall my dog. The closest encounter I had was when I stepped out of the lodge's door. The grizzly bear was finishing up the halibut carcasses which was not properly disposed of by the owner.
The locals have told me that there had not been any major attacks on people or dogs. But there were one or two houses ransacked by these four-legged burglars.
Water is Life Around the Village
Icicle Seafoods is the only cannery in this village which provides employment for most outsiders during the peak summer season. Icicle Seafoods is a full processing wild salmon plant that provides frozen and canned salmon to the U.S. market. Processed salmon is shipped to Seattle and distributed in the U.S. and worldwide. It is during the summer, that the village's population explodes to three times its local year-long inhabitants of 60. The foreign students who sign up for grueling work shifts may find this island a sanctuary of peace or pure boredom.
Most of the population depend on subsistence. Subsistence is living off the land or harvesting of wild natural resources influenced by tribal and traditional ways for non-commercial purposes. Subsistence is managing federal lands and water to ensure abundance and safe practices. Fishing and hunting is a daily normal activity. Since Larsen Bay is surrounded by salt water and is nearby fresh water, the villagers harvest a variety of fish and other sea creatures. Residents are all subject to the Alaska Fish & Game rules and regulations. Whatever the number of fish caught, or animals shot, residents are obligated to report. There are penalties for illegal fishing and hunting for residents and out-of-towners alike.
Subsistence fishing is from May to September.
King crab fishing is by subsistence only. Limit 3 per household per year.
The Sport of Fishing & Hunting
There are a handful of lodges that provide charter trips for fishing and hunting at different seasons. Most lodges have boats for saltwater fishing and rafts for the river. Some of the best fishing and hunting spots are also reached by float planes. Float planes could either land on the water or a sandbar. The lodges can rent rooms or cabins with en suite bathrooms or shared bathrooms. Meals are almost always provided with the trips. Larsen Bay has earned an excellent reputation for fishing for halibut and salmon as well as black-tail deer and duck hunting.
Here is a brief breakdown of the what the seasons offer:
Fishing & Hunting Season
Dolly Varden - May to August
Rockfish - June to August
Halibut - June to end of August
Silver Salmon - July to September
Blacktail Deer - August to December
Clams - November to March
Sea Urchins, Octopus, Gumboots - year round during low tide
King Salmon - (Returning King salmon has been so low in numbers that the nearby rivers have been closed for fishing.)
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