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Allure of the Alaska Steelhead and Other Wildlife

August 28, 1988|JIM LEVEQUE | Leveque is a free-lance writer living in Lindenwold, N.J.

THORNE BAY, Alaska — Despite the fact that Prince of Wales Island is the third largest of the nation's islands--Hawaii is first, Alaska's Kodiak is second--it's the "little " things that suggest the flavor of the place.

For example, at the timber town of Thorne Bay the youths get to a classroom in a school boat equipped with radar that helps to avoid floating logs.

In the village of Craig, if you stay at the Fireweed Lodge you'll be sharing quarters with 20, maybe 30, loggers who have shoulders as wide as an open newspaper and whose favorite description of Sunday morning-after malaise is "the only way I'd feel good today is if I was dead."

Prince of Wales Island, about half an hour's floatplane flight from Ketchikan, is a fish 'n' chips kind of place. The chips come from the axes of the logging industry that dominates the wet, wild island, and the fish come from all over to spawn.

Although this island is one of the most easily reached places in Alaska to seek out the salmon and--the delight of the true fanatic--steelhead, it is also a curiously overlooked haven for people who want to just poke around in no particular hurry.

From Trails to Paving

Until the lumberjacks started taking their toll of the timber in the 1950s, about the only roads on Prince of Wales Island were game trails. Now there are about 1,000 miles of passable routing and, as lumbering expands, the number is increasing 80 or more a year.

"And 20 miles of the highway system is paved ," Jeannie McFarland said. She's the wife of a Thorne Bay forester, an instructor in the arcane craft of raffia basketry and a supplier of the raw material, pine needles, at the rate of 50 cents an ounce.

McFarland also will take you in as a bed-and-breakfast guest at her home, which, true to the very aquatic nature of the island, is built atop a log raft floating in the bay. "My basement is flooded all the time," she said.

The roads here are a wilderness experience in themselves. Visitors in a car can't help seeing a black bear, a mink or an American bald eagle within a quarter-hour of getting on a road.

Black-Tailed Deer

One form of wildlife that has drawn an increasing number of visitors in recent years is the Sitka black-tailed deer.

Steve Scheldt, a former wildlife agent and now a guide as well as operator of the trophy-hung Fireweed Lodge, said: "That particular animal was recently identified as a species all of its own, and we get a lot of business from hunters who simply must have one of everything on their walls."

Some of the hunters use people like Scheldt and some of the fishermen use guides like Will Jones, also the host at nearby Prince of Wales Lodge, to assist them in their quest.

Others take advantage of the cabins built and maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. They rent for $10 a day with firewood and have bunks for six. Those on lakes include a skiff. Some cabins can be reached by car, others by plane or boat.

Totem Pole Arts

In addition, guests to this island also seek out the art of the totem pole.

At the Tlingit Indian village of Klawock (the name supposedly comes from the screech of the raven) Dolores Peratrovich will take you on a tour through a totem park.

You can study about 24 poles, each hewed in the formal, very symmetrical style that gives them a strong appearance and dramatic visage.

This is a typical native village, as is Hydaburg 90 minutes' drive away. It's a Haida community, home to a group who in years past were in constant skirmish with the Tlingits.

Hydaburg is a fishin' town, and it, too, has a collection of totem poles--in the yard of the school.

Waterfall Resort

Prince of Wales Island, 30 miles wide and about 130 miles long, also has developed the luxury resort--Waterfall Resort in particular.

A one-time salmon cannery that's been all gussied up, Waterfall has more than 20 fishing guides to guide guests to halibut, salmon and one of the ugliest fish in the world, the ling cod.

Crews who go out on boats in the ocean are very professional and pursue their quarry as if something is pursuing them . Sometimes, however, everyone relaxes and watches the whales at play maybe only 20 yards away, or the guide throttles down so his charges can train binoculars on eagles or otters.

Waterfall is relaxing. Every walkway is a boardwalk, and there are no motor vehicles. The resort operates a fleet of 21-foot, radio-equipped cabin cruisers and offers large rooms, cottages and bungalows. It costs $1,525 per person for three nights. Extra nights in rooms and cottages cost $445 each and in bungalows $495 each.

The resort is open from May to mid-September, and the resort's floatplane will meet incoming guests at Ketchikan International Airport. For more information and reservations call (800) 544-5125, or write to Box 6440, Ketchikan, Alaska 99901.

Another lodge on Prince of Wales Island is Whale Pass Resort, P.O. Box 7975, Ketchikan 99901, phone (800) 544-4292.

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