Shepard Point, Orca Inlet

Shepard Point, Orca Inlet

by | Jun 10, 2022

Shepard Point is a mixed alluvial and colluvial fan on the eastern shore of Orca Inlet in Prince William Sound at Nelson Bay, which is an estuary mostly formed by the Rude River, about 41 miles (66 km) southeast of Valdez and 7 miles (11.3 km) north-northeast of Cordova, Alaska. The point is named after William John ‘Jack’ Shepard and was first reported by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1931. Orca Inlet is situated between the mainland to the east and Hawkins Island to the west and extends about 18 miles (29 km) northeast from Point Whitshed to Nelson Bay. Nelson Bay is about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide and was reputedly named for the proposed townsite of Nelson which was never developed. The Rude River drains a glaciated watershed on the southern flank of the Chugach Mountains and flows into Nelson Bay. The river was named after Gilbert T. Rude who had a distinguished career with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. The Chugach Mountains surrounding Orca Inlet and Nelson Bay consist mainly of sedimentary rocks of the Orca Group, part of the Southern Margin composite terrane, a subduction-related accretionary complex that formed during the Early Tertiary and was intruded by magma that formed granitic plutons. Rocks of the Orca Group are predominantly greywacke sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone that were deposited in a deep ocean trench by turbidity currents moving down the continental slope. Repeated Pleistocene glaciations are largely responsible for the present-day landscape of Prince William Sound. During the Last Glacial Maximum, the Cordilleran Ice Sheet originated from the north and east to cover all of the coastal area and adjacent continental shelf. The retreat of this ice began as early as 16,000-14,000 years ago. Lesser but still significant glaciations occurred during the Late Holocene with glacier advances from about 500-1000 AD, 1000-1200 AD, and what is commonly referred to as the `Little Ice Age‘  between about 1200 and 1900 AD.

The archaeological record shows that humans have occupied Prince William Sound for thousands of years. The Chugach people primarily inhabited the coastal area and are the dominant Native group in Prince William Sound. The Eyak people migrated down the Copper River and inhabited the coast from the mouth of the Copper River south to Yakutat often acting as trade partners with the Ahtna people from the interior and the Tlingit from the south. The Tlingit traveled north from Southeast Alaska along the Gulf of Alaska coast in large war canoes to the Copper River Delta. These three groups bonded in times of peace for trading purposes, yet fought each other vigorously in times of war. European contact began with the arrival of Vitus Bering on Kayak Island in 1741, followed by many explorers from Britain, Spain, France, and the United States. Russian influence in Prince William Sound increased with the establishment of Fort Saint Constantine at Nuchek in 1793. After the Alaska Purchase in 1867, the mining and fishing potential attracted entrepreneurs and immigrant workers from all over the world. Jack Shepard moved to Alaska in 1886 to prospect for gold, but by 1900, he was working as a laborer at the Orca cannery on Orca Inlet about 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Cordova. From 1900 to 1910, he was the postmaster at Orca and also the agent for the Northwest Fisheries Agency. The Canoe Pass Packing Company built a cannery at Canoe Pass in Southeast Alaska in 1912 but it never operated at that location. In 1915, the machinery was moved to Cordova where it was installed in a rented building. Between 1915-1917, the company hired Jack Shepard to build a salmon cannery at a location later known as Shepard Point that was probably already used for a fish saltery.

Canoe Pass Packing Company operated at Shepard Point from 1917 to 1920 but it was idled from 1921 to 1922. The fish were mostly caught with fish traps. In 1922, Canoe Pass Packing Company consolidated with Carlisle Packing Company and operated from 1923 to 1924. In 1924, Canoe Pass Packing Company joined Alaska Sea Food Company and created the Shepard Point Packing Company. This is the first year that Shepard Point Packing Company was used as the facility name. This was a strategic move as both companies had canneries in the Cordova area competing for the same fish. Shepard Point Packing Company continued to be successful for the next ten years, acquiring the Port Ashton facility on Chenega Island in 1930. Port Ashton was owned by Franklin Packing Company and leased to Alaska Pacific Salmon Corporation, but later sold to Shepard Point Packing Company. Blueprints and the permits for fish traps show that the Port Ashton cannery maintained fish traps throughout the Evans Island and Bainbridge Island area of Central Prince William Sound. In 1932, Pioneer Sea Foods Company merged with Shepard Point Packing Company to create the Standard Packing Company. They jointly operated Shepard Point that year. This merger only lasted a year before the two companies separated in 1933. Shepard Point began alternating yearly between closure and operation from 1935 until 1945. By 1941, the facilities at Shepard Point were considered obsolete and due for upgrading. Central Alaska Packing Company leased the cannery facility in 1942 but left it idle from 1943 to 1944 while the New England Fish Company was in the process of purchasing the facilities. They had plans to operate the facility in 1945 while the other company cannery in Cordova was remodeled. However, on March 18, 1945, most of the main cannery and wharf burned. Only six buildings reportedly remained after the fire and these were used by the Morpac cannery in Cordova to store fishing gear and cannery equipment. In 1946, the area was a logging staging area. The lagoon continued to be used for storage and repairs until the 1964 Alaska earthquake caused the shore to uplift by 6 to 9 feet (2-3 m) and the lagoon was no longer useable. There is currently an effort underway to establish an oil spill response facility on the point consisting of a deep-water dock, uplands storage and training facilities, and a road connecting the facility to the Cordova airport. Read more here and here. Explore more of Shepard Point and Orca Inlet here:

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About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (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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