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Seward & Kenai Fjords National Park  
Valdez Oil Spill

 

 

In 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez crashed into a rock in Prince William Sound, about 150 miles northeast of Kenai Fjords National Park, and spilled almost 11 million gallons of oil. 

 

Exxon did a very poor job of catching the oil before it spread, and by the end of the summer the sticky, brownish-black muck had soiled beaches in the western Sound, across the fjords, and all the way to Kodiak Island. 

 

More than 1,000 miles of shoreline were oiled to some degree.  Hundreds of sea otters and hundreds of thousands of sea birds were killed in the Sound and on the islands near the fjords.

Nature slowly scrubbed the oil off the rocks, and no evidence is seen of it today, but scientists say most of the affected species of birds and animals haven't come back completely. 

 

Exxon paid over $1 billion to the government in penalties for the oil spill, and that money has been used to help the area in many ways.  A $50 million research/exhibit center has been constructed in Seward, and a large portion of the money was used to buy land in the spill area that otherwise would have been logged, including 35,000 acres of coastal land in the national park.

 

In the late 1800's, prospectors coming to Alaska arrived by steamer train to the small port of Seward, blazing trails to Turnagain Arm to seek their fortune.

The town was born in its modern form in 1903, when a company seeking to build a railroad north came ashore.  They failed, but Seward was still an important port.  The federal government took over the failed railroad building effort in 1915, finishing the line to Fairbanks in 1923.

Today, the main reason to go to Seward has been Resurrection Bay and the access the port provides to Alaska.  Southwest of Seward, following the coastline, is Kenai Fjords National Park — where mountains and ice meet the ocean.  The natives probably never ventured inland, over the impossibly rugged interior of the Kenai Peninsula, leaving its heart to be discovered in 1968, when the first mountain climbers crossed the Harding Ice Field, which covers most of the 670,000 acres of this immense national park.  The fjords became a park only in 1980, when the National Park Service explored more than 650 miles of coastline.  Most of the park is remote and difficult to reach.  The most practical way for most people to see the marine portion of the park is by tour boat - the inland portion only being accessible at Exit Glacier, near Seward.

Don't miss an opportunity to kayak Resurrection Bay.  From Seward, you can travel by kayak 6 miles down the coastline along Caines Head State Recreational Area.  The overwhelmingly beautiful coastline scenery is only overshadowed by the wildlife you will see along the way — majestic bald eagles, playful sea otters splashing alongside your boat and puffins skimming the water on their lengthy take-offs.

Exit Glacier, and all the glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park, flow from the Harding Ice Field, a 1,000-foot-thick ice age leftover.  The ice field lies in a bowl of mountains that jut straight out of the ocean to heights of 3,000 to 5,000 feet.  When moisture-laden ocean clouds hit those mountains, they drop lots of rain and snow.  Up on the ice field, 40 to 80 feet of snow falls each Winter.  Summer weather isn't warm enough to melt the snow at that elevation, so it packs down deeper until it turns into the hard, heavy ice of glaciers and flows downward to the sea.

Kenai Fjords National Park is home to an amazing abundance of wildlife — humpback whales, sea lions and otters, seals, bald eagles, puffins, mountain goats and more.  A wildlife boat tour is the best way to experience the beauty of this wildlife and the imposing unforgettable  glaciers.

 

Seward harbor

Kayaking in Resurrection Bay

The blue ice of Exit Glacier

There are reportedly more than 750 humpback whales around Kenai Fjords National Park

A wildlife boat tour is the best way to see the amazing abundance of wildlife outside Seward

 

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