Verdant Cove, Kenai Fjords National Park

Verdant Cove, Kenai Fjords National Park

by | Nov 14, 2021

Verdant Cove is on the western shore of Aialik Bay in Kenai Fjords National Park at the northern entrance to Dora Passage, about 64 miles (103 km) east of Homer and 30 miles (48 km) south-southwest of Seward, Alaska. Verdant Cove is locally named after an adjacent island in Aialik Bay and was first reported in the early 1950s by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Aialik Bay is a deep fjord formed by the retreat of the Aialik, Pederson, and Holgate Glaciers, and extends approximately 22 miles (35 km) from the face of Aialik Glacier to the Gulf of Alaska. Dora Passage is a deep water channel that separates the Harris Peninsula from the Chiswell Islands. The passage was named in 1912 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey for the SS Dora, a wooden steamship that served the coastal trade in the Territory of Alaska from 1880 to 1920. The Kenai Fjords represent a glacial landscape of ice, tidewater glaciers, deeply incised fjords, vertical shorelines, and jagged peninsulas formed by glaciers cascading to the sea from the massive Harding and Grewingk-Yalik icefields in the Kenai Mountains. These mountains are an extension of the Chugach Mountains and bisect the Kenai Peninsula close to the southeastern coast and extend into the Gulf of Alaska as the Kodiak Island Archipelago. The area is located on an active tectonic shelf and is one of the most seismically active regions of North America. The Pacific Plate is subducted underneath the North America Plate, and in the process, ancient continental rocks called terranes that are riding on the oceanic plate are accreted to the edge of the North American Plate. The shifting of the tectonic plates causes frequent earthquakes that occasionally are severe. The 1964 Alaska Earthquake caused the coastal lands to subside between 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 m). At Verdant Cove, mature spruce trees located on the crest of a gravel storm berm were killed by permanent saltwater inundation. Despite the unforgiving habitat, the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula contains evidence of an extensive cultural landscape including prehistorical and historical Native settlements.

Studies show that the Alutiiq people and their ancient cultural predecessors lived along the Gulf of Alaska for at least 7,500 years. The earliest inhabitants of the Kenai Peninsula lived in several settlements situated between the edge of the Kenai Mountains and the Pacific Ocean on the extremely limited number of habitable sites. These people migrated to the Kenai coast from Kodiak Island or the Alaska Peninsula and traded along the length of the Pacific coast. The archeological record suggests that most of the sites known today are about 800 years old, and only some of these villages were still inhabited at the time of Russian contact in the 18th century. The Sugpiat people of the outer Kenai coast have historically identified themselves as Alutiiq, which is the Sugpiat word for Aleut, since at least 1851. Early explorers rarely documented the Sugpiat due to their inhospitable territory and sparsely distributed settlements. They lived in traditional winter villages of semi-subterranean structures called barabaras. The houses were large and accommodated several families each, with a common central area, and separate rooms for family use. Some side rooms were heated with hot rocks and used for sweat bathing. These later evolved into plank houses with bark roofs. Summers were spent in more temporary structures at fish camps. The seasonal round was centered on maritime subsistence, supplemented by inland hunting and gathering. Sea mammals were hunted from kayaks, both seals and sea lions were harpooned, and whales were hunted using poisoned lances. Poisoned whales would eventually surface, and either be towed back to the village or wash up on shore, where they were butchered. Sea birds were generally taken with bolas or blunt arrows. Smaller mammals, such as sea otters, were hunted with darts or clubbed after being driven ashore.

Although nearly invisible to the untrained eye, traces of Alutiiq settlements have been discovered all along the outer Kenai coast. More than 30 indigenous archeological sites have been identified in Kenai Fjords National Park, and Verdant Cove has been the focus of several archeological field surveys and academic studies. There are five archaeological sites on record in Verdant Cove ranging from a midden site dated to about 600 years ago, to a village site dating to the time shortly after contact with Europeans around 1785-1820. The settlement in Verdant Cove was disrupted in 1170 by an earthquake that caused people to leave the village but it was subsequently resettled. A volcanic eruption on the Alaska Peninsula around 1277-1401 also caused the village to be abandoned. The village was resettled following European colonization, but when the fur trade declined, the Sugpiat of the outer Kenai coast gradually moved to Seldovia, Nanwalek, and Port Graham. Verdant Cove was then inhabited only seasonally until about 1970. This was partly a result of church influence to consolidate the people, but also because the subsistence lifestyle was unreliable compared to the relative stability of a monetary economy with jobs provided by canneries, commercial fishing, coal mining, and fox farming. By 1890, there were no permanent Sugpiat villages on the outer Kenai coast but many people still use the area today for subsistence hunting and fishing. Read more here and here. Explore more of Verdant Cove here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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