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After traveling a day from the east coast...
A TRIBUTE TO HOMESTEADER WAYNE BYERS - AN ALASKAN LEGEND”
This is dedicated to our old friend and business associate, Wayne Byers. Some of you who have visited BearCamp with us over the past 15 years, or worked with us, were lucky enough to know Wayne, or knew of him.
We have been hosting you, our client friends, for the past 29 years. Some of you have been with us for a day, many for a week and many of you have joined us numerous times over those years. Those of you sharing your vacation with us during the past 15 years have heard stories of Wayne and many of you have visited our Bear Camp, where Wayne lived, alone in the wilderness. This is dedicated to his life.
At about the same time when Great Alaska was getting it's start on the banks of the Kenai River, Wayne was homesteading a unique piece of property on the remote shores of the Alaska Peninsula. In those days, with "The Homestead Act", the government gave land to pioneers that would improve the property. Our very own riverside lodge sits on an incredible parcel of land that Kathy’s Dad received as a standard 160 acre homesteading parcel. Wayne received received a similarly incredible piece...of wilderness that became a base for commercial enterprise---in Wayne's case, commercial fishing. He put out his nets, caught salmon, and sold it to the buyers that operated offshore. He later expanded the usual salmon net site of those days and built a “Saltry” to process the catch for foreign export. The Saltry is still on the property, and those of you that visited Bear Camp have stood on the bear viewing platform that was in fact attached to the Saltry.
But fishing was a summer activity. It only flourished when the salmon made their annual migration past Wayne’s cabin. In the winter, Wayne turned to trapping wild animals for their furs. He built a series of cabin shelters where he would bivouac as he tended to the week - long trips following his trap Line in the winter wilds of the Iniskin Peninsula. The income from furs of Fox, Wolf, Beaver, Marten, and Wolverine complimented his fishing earnings---until, that is, the tenders departed and left no economical way to get salmon to market... and we all know what happened to the international fur market! That was 15 years ago.
During these years Wayne held conservationist beliefs that would make a Sierra club member proud. He lived off of the land, taking only what he needed to survive. Moose meat and fish were staples. He felled trees for winter fires and respectfully covered the stumps with branches, he grew a garden, he hand built stone and wood living quarters, he buried garbage, he raised goats and chickens, he trapped rain water for his cabin and laundry----and he lived alone, in absolute harmony with one of the great bear and wildlife populations on the planet. In a realm where taking a bear was often a badge of false honor, Wayne co-existed. He was as close as one gets to a “Bear Whisperer”
We met Wayne in 1999 when our pilot Will, (whom many of you will remember), suggested we talk with Wayne about partnering for a Bear Viewing site. I guess the timing was right for both of us and we worked closely ever since. During that association all of us learned some absolute truths about nature, and about ourselves. And by all of us I mean our whole management team, our staff of guides and the many, many clients that have visited Bear Camp and to this day, who write to inquire more about Wayne’s well being than any on our staff. He was an unforgettable character and a symbol of the spirit that pioneered Alaska, and our country. We are all better for that spirit.
Yes, Wayne passed away, alone in his splendid isolation, last December. We are not sure the actual cause of death. He was about 75 and we didn’t know of any special medical issues. His diet could have contributed, his heart could have given out, and he could have frozen to death . We won’t ever know, and we don’t need to. A small group of believers flew in for a simple burial on the property that he so dearly loved and protected.
So one of the truly unique people in our world is gone. We will miss his wisdom and humor, his independence and bravery, his cussedness and his incomparable uniqueness.
And we will miss the sight of him limping down the beach, with his dog, to greet the day’s new arrivals.
Farewell dear friend. You gave all that knew you a glimpse of the courage and principles it took to challenge and live alongside the Alaska Wilderness.