"An allusion has been made to the Homestead Law. I think it worthy of consideration, and that the wild lands of the country should be distributed so that every man should have the means and opportunity of benefitting his condition." - Abraham Lincoln, 1861
Homesteading is truly one of the unique aspects of Alaskan history. Much like the land rush in Oklahoma in the 1880's, homesteading opened up some of the finest lands in the United states, to any who had the wherewithal and inner drive to stake that land as their own, and to "prove it up" in the eyes of the goverment.
The homesteading act was not applied to the wild lands of Alaska until 1898 that the legislature applied the act to the relatively new territory of Alaska.
Alaska was still too remote for most folks, and the growing season was far too short to set up successful farming, so by 1914 around 200 homesteads had been applied for. During the WW2 and Vietnam, homesteading became a bit more popular and communities began to sprout up in some of the more incredible and game rich areas of the soon-to-be state. Before the final homestead was awarded in Alaska (in 1988 on the Stony River in Alaska) 2 truly 1 of a kind homesteads were awarded that form the backbone of our Great Alaska Adventures.
Homesteaded in 1947
Great Alaska Adventures co-owner Kathy Haley's father Walt Pederson homesteaded the property at the main lodge in 1947. After returning from WW2, Walt began a career as a pilot, bringing folks down from Anchorage to survey land for homesteading on the Kenai Peninsula. As a pilot, he had an eye on the incredible property where the lodge now sits- at the confluence of the Moose and Kenai, where the calm moose river forms the perfect landing spot for his beloved Super Cub float plane, which he put on skis during the winter.
It was the end of 1947 that he moved onto the homestead and operated air taxi, taking off of the Moose River. Folks traveled from as far aways as Germany, and Walt would fly them down from Anchorage (there was not road, remember!) and house them in the old "shelter cabin", an old log cabin which was used for the dog mushers on the overnight mail run between Seward and Kenai.
Wayne Byers first saw Chinitna Bay in 1958, commercial fishing with a friend. They pulled into Chinitna bay on a blustery night when they needed harbor...Wayne took one look at that "gentle land" and knew he'd be back. Wayne applied for homestead in 1967, choosing a one of a kind 17.5 acre site on a spit of land between Mt Iliamna and Cook Inlet. (He could have gotten a bigger one, but didn't want to have to pay taxes on it! His was a true homestead, with the only access to the property by air or water. He "proved up" is property in the shadow of Mt. Illiamna, set net fishing for salmon, Trapping in the winter and subsistence hunt in the summer and fall, making out a respectful living off the sweat of his brow. He sold his fish to Snug Harbor Seafoods, who sent a tender to pick up the fish and drop off fuel and supplies. He became a set netter by summer and a trapper by winter. In his time in Chinitna Bay, he covered thousands of miles all over the Iniskin Peninsula and beyond on his snow shoes.
Always saying, "A good trapper is only as good as the game he leaves behind," he was an expert hunter and fed himself and his beloved dogs off the land and the seas for 47 years.
Mr Byers was a true bear "whisperer" who lived with the wildlife and harvested the game needed to live off. In the early 90's, Wayne was gettin on in years and struggling a with the physical toll commercial fishing, subsistence hunting and of course building and maintaining a homestead "off the grid" with his bare hands was taking.
Snug harbor went out of business, and with it Wayne losstof his ability to sell salmon and get critical supplies. He struggled to survive, and one winter while working the trap line, Wayne suffered frostbite and the lost of most of his toes. His feet never quite recovered, and it became harder and harder for him to survive the harsh conditions of winter in Chinitna.
Laura and Walt divorced in the late '70's, and Kathy's Mother Laura received the homestead property at the confluence - it was an amicable parting of ways, and Walt kept the portion of the homestead land all the way up the Moose River, towards what would become the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. He would make a home there on a lake he created to fly his beloved Super Cub from his second homestead..
Laura then continued to operate the homestead at the confluence as the Pedersen's Moose River Resort. In addition to a campground, over time the resort became essentially the social center for the local burg of Sterling. When the Red salmon were running, everyone who was anyone was there! Laura served as a de-facto pawn shop and bank as well. Kathy helped her in the tackle shop, which sold everything from lures like Laura's own creation "Moose River Bullet" to ice cream and some very interesting hamburgers!
It was hard and wonderful life and without it, Kathy wouldn't be the person she is today, and Great Alaska wouldn't be the place to come and connect with the real Alaska because it IS the real Alaska.
About this time, Wayne was introduced to Great Alaska Adventures founder Laurence John through a pilot who flew for Great Alaska, and also for Wayne and some other homesteaders in the Silver Salmon Creek and Chinitna Bay areas, and in my Father, Wayne felt a kindred spirit of adventure, and the two got on famously. Over time, a deal was struck to lease a small portion of Wayne's land as a private fly in "BearCamp" where folks could spend time in the true wilderness experiencing the amazing wilderness that was Waynes home. Wayne finally had a source of income that could sustain him without compromising his love of the areas wildlife or give up his beloved homestead..
As time went on, Wayne spent more and more time at the camp, and less and less time actually fishing. What was once a rare "Wayne sighting" for guests watching bears, eventually became an almost daily occurrence, as the once self described "hermit" became an amazing source of history and true Alaskan" for the Great Alaska guests. Many guests felt meeting wayne was the highlight of their BearCamp adventure.We lost Wayne during the winter in 2014, and his homestead has been maintained exactly as it was, and plans are in place to turn the homestead into a museum of sorts for folks to share. Thanks for reading.
Once the homestead was established, Walt set to work on the land. The original property was wet and marshy, but it was also perfectly laid out as a Lodge location- the mighty Kenai river joined with the serene Moose River to form a perfect Lodge and grounds. After clearing parts of the land and building a few cabins, he brought in a road parked his bush plane (a Maul) in the protected, calm water of the Moose River..
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