Definitely not a Folly, Mr. Seward

Seward, Alaska~ Aerial view

Seward, Alaska is a charming city that has so many great things to offer that are quintessentially Alaskan. The city of Seward was named for President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, the man who negotiated the purchase of the state of Alaska from Russia in 1867.  Seward signed a treaty with Russia for the purchase of  Alaska for $7 million. Despite the bargain price of roughly two cents an acre, the Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress and by many of the American public as “Seward’s folly,” or “Seward’s icebox,”.  After the Civil War, Seward saw the potential in the land and was an advocate of  territorial expansion. He was eager to acquire the tremendous landmass of Alaska, an area roughly one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States. The city of Seward’s official motto is: “Alaska starts Here” and certainly showcases so many of the things that Alaska has to offer.  So you may have been ridiculed at the time Mr. Seward, but you knew a good thing when you saw it…..and what a beautiful land it is!

Relatively easy to get to,  Seward is only a 2 1/2 hour drive from Anchorage on the scenic Seward Highway. The city is nestled between the mountains and the sea and has the beautiful Resurrection Bay as it’s playground. Surrounded by glaciers and landscapes that support an abundance of wildlife and fauna, the Resurrection Bay was formed by millions of years of glacial activity and is now a deep fjord 35 miles long on the southeastern coast of the Kenai Peninsula.

Kenai Fjords National Park~~ Photo from Major Marine Tours

Also found stemming from Seward is The Kenai Fjords National Park. This park was originally established as a National Monument in 1978, and became a National Park under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. Most access to the park is via tour boats out of Seward. Several wildlife and glacial cruises are available. Out on the water traveling along the coastline, it is a great way to see glaciers, marine mammals and seabirds. A view of the Harding Icefield, which covers over half of the acreage in the Park, is an amazing relic from the last ice age and truly takes one’s breath away. The huge fields of ice advancing between the mountain caverns and a calving glacier are amazing and can sometimes make a person feel relatively small, in the scheme of things. Nearly 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield. The boat tours are worth taking the time when visiting Seward.  Exit Glacier is the only portion of the park that may be accessed by road. There are two Visitor Center’s available: one at Exit Glacier and one on Resurrection Bay in Seward. The park itself is open year round, but it’s important to note that both Visitor’s Centers, and many boat tours, have only summer operations: from May to early September.

It’s a fisherman’s paradise here and many charters are available. A good start would be a visit to The Fish House at 1303 4th Ave. They have lots of information on charters, equipment and anything and everything you need for fishing. Not only is it for fishing, it’s a pretty cool hardware store, too with a few little souvenir items. For more information check out their web site at: https://www.thefishhouse.net/  Sport Fishing in the area includes Halibut, Salmon and Rockfish.  Seward is known as one of the top five ports in Alaska for commercial fisheries.

Puffins at the Sea Life Center

The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward is celebrating their 20th year of operation. It opened in 1998 as an educational aquarium and rehabilitative center for marine animals. It is a wonderful place to get up close and personal with marine life creatures that you normally would not have access to. They have a wonderful aviary with an array of seabirds to view. In the lower level viewing area there is an amazing tank that you can view sea lions swimming and diving right in front of you! In addition to the various fish displayed there is an octopus, who always seems to be a big hit with the spectators. Also at the Center is a “touch tank” where you can gently touch and feel what sea cucumbers and starfish actually feel like. An amazing experience, but that arctic water is REALLY cold; touch tank experiences are usually brief! Of course there is a gift shop for obtaining a souvenir of your visit. It is good to know that your purchase goes to help support the Center as both a public aquarium and the stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems. I think I would be remiss, if I did not include in this discussion about the Alaska Sea Life Center, the devastating event in history that in some ways spawned the creation of this wonderful center: the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.  On March 24, 1989 the Exxon Valdez supertanker spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. I remember that devastating event and even today some consider it the worst man-made environmental disaster. After this disaster, years of litigation and civil settlements helped to create new wildlife rehabilitation programs in addition, of course, better regulations regarding the transportation of crude oil.  The Alaska Sea Life center was also created by collaborative efforts of local marine scientists and also Alaska legislature appropriations.  For more information on this must see destination in Seward, see their site at: http://www.alaskasealife.org

“Fog Woman” by Jennifer Headtke (part of the Raven Trilogy)

Walking around the streets of Seward you see wonderful examples of the rich heritage and artistic influence as depicted in all the murals around town.  In 2008, Seward was voted the “Mural Capitol of Alaska”  and an organization has been established to promote and maintain the artwork. The murals cover a diversity of topics including the history of Seward, commercial fishing in the area, the Iditarod trail, the natural world and the heritage of the Native Alaskans.  So when taking a walking tour of Seward, have your camera ready and your eyes open…you will see murals just about every 2 blocks.  There are several murals that I missed, guess I better go back! Also, there are at least 6 art galleries/gift shops that display wonderful artwork by Native Alaskans and art that is reflecting the Alaskan spirit.

So head down the Seward Highway and Put your traveling shoes on. JES

6 replies

  1. I would like to add my two cents:
    not only is the Alaska SeaLife Center’s main mission an admirable one, but they are also a model in energy efficiency and Alaskan inegnuity! Here’s a story on the topic http://acep.uaf.edu/projects-(collection)/alaska-sealife-center-seawater-heat-pump-demonstration-project.aspx
    I’d also like to add that William H Seward is not always regarded in such high esteem,I recall a village in SE Alaska where a shame pole is being carved for him. I did not catch the full story, but a shame pole is similar to a totem pole, but rather than employing totemic honor and reverence, it is a lasting dedication to the shame wrought by the subject.
    Also Also…I like Seward, Its a charming little city that has a Norwegian Fishing village vibe mixed with Alaskan and American frontier “git ‘er done” spirit. A true Gem!

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    • Dan: Thanks so much for your feedback and interesting comments. It is awesome that the Alaska SeaLife Center is such a good model for “green” building standards and energy efficiency! I would like to see that “shame pole”…interesting concept. I could think of a few other prominent folks that would warrant a pole of their own. (wink) Well, Seward is a lovely town and I hope to return someday. I would like to track down those murals I didn’t spot.

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