Wednesday, July 3, 2013

June 1

I’ve never looked up the word “isolated” in Webster’s Dictionary but I think it would say “see Eagle, Alaska.” After all, how many incorporated towns do you know where the only way to get there is to drive two different remote dirt roads just to get there? And that’s a winding, narrow (sometimes one lane) rock slide prone road with GLORIOUS views. It took us three hours to drive the 65 miles but it was worth it.

Eagle is known as the biggest museum in Alaska. Many of the original buildings are still there and well preserved. The Federal Courthouse,
Customs House, St. Paul’s Church, the original local government building and Fort Egbert are all in excellent condition. During the late 1800’s the town was the supply hub for Yukon and Alaska miners. Numerous Mississippi style stern wheelers plied the Yukon River delivering people and supplies all the way from Whitehorse to Eagle. At one time almost 2,000 people lived in Eagle, today the population is closer to 160. I can’t think of a prettier town setting, perched high on the bank overlooking the Yukon River. 


 In 1897 a military reconnaissance reported starvation and lawlessness among the miners in Eagle so Fort Egbert was constructed to establish some form of civil government.

Also located in Eagle is the park office of the Yukon Charley Rivers National Wildlife Preserve. The preserve encompasses 2.5 million acres of land and is home to the densest population of Peregrine Falcons in the world.
The Han Indians have a village here. They were the first to settle Eagle in the 1800’s. In 2009 an ice jam destroyed the Han village and its cemetery.  The Han have since relocated their village just a few miles away.

In 2009 ice on the Yukon River was 55 inches thick—more than 40 percent greater than normal.  On May 3, ice on the Yukon River near the Alaska/Canada border began to break up. On May 4, a large ice jam developed about 10 miles downriver of Eagle. The high-flowing Yukon, fueled by snowmelt from the high temperatures of the previous week, soon flooded the town. Large chunks of ice were carried over the town's riverbank retaining wall and smashed into stores and buildings. The Han settlement was severely flooded and virtually destroyed by blocks of ice. In Eagle, floodwater lifted buildings off their foundations and caused havoc for the town's 120-plus residents.  

As if the damage of 2009 was not enough, in 2010 above average rainfall caused numerous rock slides and washouts along the road to Eagle. The town was cut off for the entire summer. Like the tiny town of Stewart, B.C., a “goat path” was carved out so that residents could get out to resupply. Neighbors organized convoys, made shopping lists, decided who would shop for who and drove all the way to Chicken (100 miles) or Tok (165 miles) to haul in food and necessary supplies.  It cost $18 million to repair the Taylor Highway. 
Today things are back to normal in Eagle. Not only was this a gorgeous drive (even by Alaska standards) but the town was so interesting. Eagle is well worth the drive.

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