Strawberry Hill, Point Bentinck

Strawberry Hill, Point Bentinck

by | Dec 30, 2021

Strawberry Hill is formed by a series of uplifted beach ridges on Point Bentinck at the eastern extremity of Hinchinbrook Island, at the southern entrance to Strawberry Channel that separates the island from the mainland, about 53 miles (85 km) south of Valdez and 17 miles (27 km) southwest of Cordova, Alaska. The eastern shore of Hinchinbrook Island forms the western flank of the Copper River Delta. During the Last Glacial Maximum, the area occupied by the present-day delta was covered by ice over 1640 feet (500 m) thick. Eustatic sea level was over 328 feet (100 m) below current levels and the glaciers likely extended at least 12 miles (20 km) beyond the present-day barrier islands. For the last 10,00 years, the Copper River has bisected the Chugach Mountains and discharged directly into the Gulf of Alaska forming a massive delta. The delta of the Copper River now extends for about 50 miles (80 km) along the Gulf of Alaska coastline and is reputedly the largest wetland on the Pacific Rim of North America. The marine environment is characterized by extensive tidal flats and barrier islands of sand and silt, and an actively prograding delta front. Point Bentinck was originally named ‘Punta De Aguirre’ in 1779 by Ignacio de Arteaga y Bazán who with Juan de la Bodega y Quadra on the Spanish vessels La Princesa and La Favorita were the first Spanish explorers of the region. In 1794, Captain George Vancouver named a headland 4 miles (6.5 km) to the southwest after William Cavendish Bentinck, but that headland had already been named Point Steele in 1787 by Captain Nathaniel Portlock, so the name ‘Point Bentinck’ was transferred to its present location by cartographers. Strawberry Hill was named in 1899 by Homer P. Ritter of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey for the wild beach strawberries. Ritter had established a tide station at Point Bentinck and found a peculiar form of the tidal curve pattern where the upper portion of the tide behaved normally but the lower portion was very nearly a straight line. The explanation for this was determined to be a barrier preventing the water level from falling below a certain elevation. Point Bentinck is where a historical aviation radio beacon was situated and is now part of Boswell Bay State Marine Park.

The Federal Aviation Administration operates air traffic support and navigational facilities throughout Alaska, and two are located on Hinchinbrook Island, a currently active facility at Johnstone Point on the northern coast, and a decommissioned facility at Point Bentinck on the eastern coast. In 1946, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the federal agency predecessor to the Federal Aviation Administration, leased land from the U.S. Forest Service and established the Strawberry Hill facility on an abandoned beach ridge at an elevation of about 50 feet (15 m). The techniques used for navigation in the air depend on how an aircraft is equipped and whether the pilot is flying under visual flight rules or instrument flight rules. In the latter case, the pilot will navigate exclusively using instruments and radio navigation aids such as beacons, or as directed under radar control by air traffic control. In the former case, a pilot will primarily navigate using dead reckoning combined with visual observations, with reference to appropriate maps. This may be supplemented using radio navigation aids or satellite positioning systems. Most general aviation aircraft are fitted with a variety of navigation aids, such as automatic direction finder, inertial navigation, compasses, radar navigation, very high frequency omni-directional range, and today, satellite navigation systems. The station at Strawberry Hill consisted of radio transmission towers and beacons, a small runway for service aircraft, navigation electronic equipment, and several support structures. The site also had above-ground storage tanks that held 28,000 gallons (127,290 l) of fuel, several underground storage tanks, and extensive above-ground piping to distribute diesel fuel throughout the site. Historically, fuel was delivered to the station once per year by barge, then pumped through above-ground pipelines from a barge landing in Boswell Bay and stored in the above-ground tanks. Following the passage of Alaska statehood in 1959, portions of Hinchinbrook Island at Point Bentinck were selected by the State of Alaska under the provisions of the Alaska Statehood Act, and later in the 1970s, additional areas including the Strawberry Hill site were selected by Eyak Native Corporation under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In 1971, the facility was no longer permanently staffed but was still actively functioning until 1992. In 1992, the fuel from the above-ground pipelines was removed, and the pipeline was physically removed from the site in 2001 and 2002.

Point Bentinck is part of Boswell Bay State Marine Park which is 3,047 acres (1,233 ha) of undeveloped land adjacent to the Copper River Delta State Critical Habitat. This park primarily encompasses the high-energy sand beach fully exposed to the Gulf of Alaska and the sand flats along Strawberry Channel. This area was uplifted during the 1964 Alaska earthquake and the pre-earthquake shoreline is now more than a mile (1.6 km) inland. This created extensive tidal flats and wetlands that are now important habitats for seabirds and migratory waterfowl. Popular activities include beachcombing, hunting, boating, camping, and clamming. There is no source of freshwater within the park. The majority of Alaska’s state marine parks came into being as large acquisitions, the first being added in 1983 and the second in 1990. The state carefully chose, through the Statehood Act of 1959, the lands thought to make the most of Alaska’s coastline. The first 11 state marine parks were a result of the dream of several very dedicated people who worked to instill the idea of marine parks in the political consciousness. Seven years later, 15 parcels were added, and by 1993, ironically due to the devastation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, several more parks were added. Today, there are 35 state marine parks in Alaska, ranging from the 62 acres (25 ha) Joe Mace Island State Marine Park east of Wrangell to the massive 103,600 acres (41,926 ha) St. James Bay State Marine Park, about 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Juneau. There are 14 state marine parks in Prince William Sound. These parks, mostly undeveloped, can be found in protected coves, outer coastlines, hidden bays, and along vast open stretches of the seashore. Read more here and here. Explore more of Strawberry Hill and Point Bentinck 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.

Please report any errors here

error: Content is protected !!