April marks the 20 year anniversary of the town of Gustavus, Alaska incorporating as a second class city.  This episode shines a light on our community.  Gustavus sits on the glacial outwash plain formed by the retreating glaciers of what is now known as Glacier Bay National Park.  Thanks to the effects of those terraforming glaciers of centuries ago, there are no quaint neighborhoods climbing the hillsides or picturesque walks along the docks as in many communities in Southeast Alaska.  It is flat here, flat as a pancake! and folks are spread out, thanks also to the gradual sale and development of early homesteader acres of a century ago.  Population has grown from 50 to 650 in those hundred years, so there’s a school, post office, grocery store, gas station, community center, and various small businesses.  They are all spread out, too, along 8 miles of paved road between the airport and the Park, with no concentrated downtown to speak of.  But we also have a long glorious stretch of sandy beach and a World War II airstrip long enough to accommodate Alaska Airlines jets during summer months.  Score!

The town is small, but with a personality as big as the Alaska landscape around us.  Absent those scenic hillside neighborhoods, take a look at what we see and are inspired by every day:  Excursion Ridge in the Chilkat Mountains to the east, the Beartrack Mountains to the north, and the Fairweather Mountain Range to the west.  Homesteaders were definitely of the pioneering mindset, creative and resourceful and resilient.  They built their homes and came together as a community to answer other needs as they arose.  Farming enterprises were not commercially successful, but fishing was, and eventually catering to visitors with lodging, food, fishing and wildlife viewing experiences.  As the world changed around us, eventually Gustavus responded to those changes with a stubbornness and drive to make the best of our challenges and quirky characters.  Incorporation as a city and then regular ferry service via the Alaska Marine Highway were both hot topics, neither one accomplished without spirited debate and several rounds of voting by residents.

Before it was the City of Gustavus, before it was the homesteaders’ community of Strawberry Point, before the neighboring landscape of Glacier Bay was being formed by a huge sheet of ice advancing and retreating during the Little Ice Age, the area was home to numerous fish camps and a permanent settlement of the Huna tribe of the Tlingit people.  After being pushed out by the ice, they relocated across Icy Strait and established the community of Hoonah, now our closest neighbors and linked to Gustavus by twice weekly ferry service.  The Xunaa Shuka Hit Tribal House in Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay is a tribute to the ongoing relationship of the Huna people with their ancestral homeland, and the long awaited recognition by the National Park Service of their history in this place.  Gustavus is honored to share the awesome power, beauty and still unfolding geologic stories of Glacier Bay with these neighbors.  And as always, I’m happy and honored to share my images of this extraordinary place with you!  Happy anniversary, Gustavus!

Gustavus Alaska artwork by Alaskan artist Lillian Ruedrich.  Click here to see the entire collection of Alaska landscape art notecards and prints from Scenes From Home.