Elfin Cove, Chichagof Island

Elfin Cove, Chichagof Island

by | Feb 23, 2023

Elfin Cove is an embayment that extends south from Cross Sound for 1 mile (1.6 km) and narrows to just over 100 feet (30 m) on the western shore of the Inian Peninsula at the northern end of Chichagof Island in Tongass National Forest, about 80 miles (129 km) west of Juneau and 34 miles (55 km) northwest of Hoonah, Alaska. In 1935, a post office was established with the name Elfin Cove, reputedly after the name of a locally owned boat, and the name was published on maps by the U.S. Forest Service. The bay was originally called the Gunk Hole, referring to the gunk, or mud, typical of shallow tidal sloughs and marshes that can only be navigated by gunkholing in small shoal draft boats. The sediments accumulating in Elfin Cove are derived from the highly erodible surrounding rocks. The Inian Peninsula is bisected by a geologic fault that juxtaposes the Alexander terrane to the east with the Chugach terrane to the west. The rocks of the Chugach terrane surrounding Elfin Cove are part of the Schist Unit, a formation that developed during the Jurassic period comprising greenstone, schist, phyllite, chert, and limestone. These rocks weather relatively quickly and the resulting sediment is deposited in Elfin Cove creating a habitat that supports diverse invertebrates including Dungeness crabs.

The protected harbor of Elfin Cove has historically been a popular anchorage for fishing boats operating in Cross Sound and Icy Strait as well as those in transit between the Inside Passage and the Gulf of Alaska. In the early 1900s, Ernie Swanson anchored in the harbor for several fishing seasons and began working with Juneau Cold Storage to start a fish packing business. Swanson initially used a floating house where he would buy the catches from local fishermen, salt and ice the fish, and use larger boats to transport the pack to Juneau. This saved each fisherman a two-day trip to Juneau from the fishing grounds. The immediate success of Swanson’s business allowed him to expand and build a boardwalk and a dry goods store which remained in business until his death in 1971. With the building of Swanson’s permanent store, a village slowly developed with residential homes built alongside a restaurant, bar, laundry house, and post office supporting a population of a few dozen people.

Commercial and recreational fishing vessels increase the population of Elfin Cove during the summer, and the community is occasionally visited by tour vessels with up to 100 passengers that can tax its limited infra­structure. Power is generated locally, potable water comes from a spring, and there are no regularly scheduled modes of transportation. There are no roads but the community can be traversed by a network of boardwalks with stairs and ramps. Medical services are volunteer-provided, and the community is self-sustaining but at risk if an emergency were to arise. At the top of the ramp from the Gunk Hole harbor is a small museum, housed in the former school building that closed when the population of children in the village dropped below the minimum of ten. The network of boardwalks leads to the outer harbor, passing a small gear store and repair shop, some lodgings, a building that houses showers and laundry, and a combination general store and liquor store. Read more here and here. Explore more of Elfin Cove and Chichagof Island 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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