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When Scott Phelps moved to the remote Kodiak Island village of Port Lions five years ago, he and a partner opened a small grocery store. Eighteen months after opening the store, they closed it and Phelps went to work part-time for the competition. In 1992, anxious to improve his earnings and sow the seeds for a more secure economic future, Phelps launched a guiding service, Kodiak Sports and Tours.

In addition to his own hard work, the young entrepreneur hopes a new program known as the Kodiak Island Connection Project will help increase the number of bookings he receives. He also expects the effort to help neighbors market their goods or services and improve cash flow to the community.

"It's a way some of them could have their own little business," he says. Adds 32-year-old Phelps, "The main reason I'm interested is not for myself. Our community is in serious financial trouble right now."

The project, initiated by the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference (SWAMC), with help from the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce and the Kodiak Area Native Association, is intended to serve as a link between island communities. Essentially, the intent is to inform residents about what others are doing and what opportunities may exist.

If successful, Kodiak Island Connection Project will build commerce among communities in the Kodiak Island Borough, creating jobs and keeping more dollars circulating in the borough that otherwise might benefit Seattle or Anchorage.

"We're not proposing to start anything new," says Marideth Sandler, executive director of SWAMC, a non-profit regional development organization. "We're just trying to make the link." Although business primarily follows a one-way street, with goods and services moving from the city of Kodiak out to the island's six remote villages, the connection project is expected to help turn that one-way street into a two-way thoroughfare, with villagers providing goods and services to the rest of the island, she explains.

Among village-produced items that might be marketed are beadwork, masks, dried flowers and berries. Services could include net repair and other marine-related operations. Also, villages willing to develop a small tourism industry could lure visitors interested in fishing, hunting and -- in Ouzinkie -- biking, says Sandler.

The idea for the project came to Sandler last summer after a tour of the island's communities revealed that, in many cases, residents in the city of Kodiak were unaware of what village residents had to offer. Since then, she's discovered that gift shops in downtown Anchorage also are interested in village-produced items. As part of the project, SWAMC plans to conduct some small-business training on topics such as marketing and recordkeeping and to publish a Kodiak Island business and service directory.

At a meeting this spring in Kodiak, about 20 people interested in the connection project shared their ideas and concerns. One of those in attendance was an elder and guide from Old Harbor. "I felt honored that he was there," says Sandler. "I felt we were going in the right direction."


Kodiak's history is closely tied to its relationship with the sea and the lingering influences of early Russian settlers. The island's past also is marked by foreign conquests and natural disasters. Archaeologists have sifted through the remains of scattered settlements and estimate that, through time, more than 2,000 prehistoric coastal villages existed, some a mile long and with as many as 1,500 residents.

It is believed that the area was first settled between 7,000 and 8,000 years ago. Early islanders were hunter-gatherers who developed skills and tools to harvest from the sea.

An often brutal occupation by Russian fur traders beginning in the mid-1700s nearly destroyed the thriving, sophisticated Koniag Native culture, considered one of the most highly developed of the Pacific Northwest. Some experts believe Kodiak's Native population numbered between 20,000 and 30,000, but declined dramatically after contact with white hunters.

In 1784, Russian explorer Grigor Shelikof and his followers settled in Three Saints Bay on the southeast shore of Kodiak Island, establishing the first settlement in Russian America. The hunt for sea otters intensified. Eight years later, with Alexander Baranov in command, the colony was moved north to what is now the city of Kodiak.

Sea otter hunts continued, and by the early 1800s whaling crews also were harvesting in the area. Because of vigorous hunting, the numbers of otters and whales were greatly diminished by the end of that century. Salmon soon emerged as Kodiak's predominant industry.

In June 1912, Mount Novarupta, across Shelikof Strait on the mainland, erupted, blanketing Kodiak with up to 18 inches of ash and forcing the temporary evacuation of hundreds of terrified residents. Salmon and other wildlife habitats were severely affected.

In 1939, the military began moving into the area with the construction of a Navy submarine base and air station. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the military's presence had greatly expanded. Several thousand army personnel were stationed at Fort Greely and the city of Kodiak's population soared. It's estimated that at one time during the war, as many as 20,000 soldiers, construction workers, sailors and marines lived in the area. (The Fort Greely established there should not be confused with today's Fort Greely near Delta Junction in central Alaska.)

The second natural disaster of the century, the 1964 earthquake, wreaked havoc on Kodiak when a series of tsunamis, or tidal waves, battered the island. Several Native villages were devastated, while canneries, beachfront homes, shops and much of Kodiak's downtown business district were washed away.

Fifteen Kodiak residents died, 158 homes were demolished, 40 percent of the downtown area was destroyed, and the fishing fleet was severely crippled. Losses totaled more than $45 million. In the years since, Kodiak has been rebuilt, and its fishing industry has become one of the nation's most important.


Some 200 islands, 16 of them considered major, form the Kodiak archipelago, a cluster of rocky, mostly uninhabited islands that cover 10,500 square miles along the western edge of the Gulf of Alaska. Of those 10,500 square miles, only 4,900 are on land; the remainder are below sea level. The entire Kodiak Island Borough encompasses some 20,000 square miles and extends across Shelikof Strait to include land on the Alaska Peninsula.

Together the islands extend approximately 260 miles from the Barren Islands on the north to far-flung Chirikof Island on the south. The island group lies just south and east of the Kenai and Alaska peninsulas.

Kodiak Island, which is about 100 miles long and up to 67 miles wide, is the largest island in the group and the second largest island (after Hawaii) in the United States. The city of Kodiak sits near the island's northeastern tip.

Like its neighbors, Kodiak Island is mountainous, prompting locals to dub it "The Rock." Its western reaches, however, contain broad valleys and coastal lowlands. Vast sandy beaches can be found at the heads of protected bays.

Kodiak Island, nearly two-thirds of which lies within the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, has hundreds of miles of shoreline, a dozen large lakes, marshes, bogs, meadows and wetlands. Brown bears, eagles and salmon thrive there. Deep bays and fjords stretch into the island's interior, and as a result, no place on the island is more than 15 miles from ocean water.

Other major islands in the Kodiak group include Afognak, 700 square miles; Sitkalidak, 117 square miles; and Shuyak, 69 square miles.


The author of a book about life on Kodiak doesn't mince words when talking about the weather. Writes Nancy Freeman, "Somehow those descriptions of Kodiak Island weather as generally cool and damp with many days of cloud-covered skies do not say it loud enough. Those mild winters you read about are cold, and fierce gales lash the island with monotonous regularity, 'mild' winter or 'cool' summer."

Technically, Kodiak lies in the maritime weather zone, which is characterized by relatively mild winter temperatures, thanks to a warm Japanese current. Temperatures during the summer average in the high 50s or low 60s. Visibility often is obstructed by rain, drizzle, freezing rain, snow, sleet or fog. Wind gusts of up to 50 knots can occur year-round. During severe storms sustained sea winds of up to 100 knots are not uncommon.

April and July are Kodiak Island's driest months, with May, September and October the wettest. Fog is most prevalent June through September, while February has the distinction of being the stormiest month. Annual precipitation levels can widely vary, with 15.9 inches recorded in 1945 and 178.1 inches measured in 1956.

Conditions in Kodiak include:

* Average summer temperature range is 45 degrees to 60 degrees F.

* Average winter temperature range is 26 degrees to 45 degrees F.

* Extreme temperatures are -5 degrees and 86 degrees F.

* Average annual precipitation is 54 inches (includes 75 inches of snow).

Conditions in Larsen Bay include:

* Average summer temperature range is 41 degrees to 62 degrees F.

* Average winter temperature range is 21 degrees to 45 degrees F.

* Extreme temperatures are -5 degrees and 83 degrees F.

* Average annual precipitation is 23 inches (includes 22 inches of snow).


As it has for centuries, Kodiak Island's -- and the borough's -- economy depends almost exclusively on one thing: fishing. The port of Kodiak routinely ranks among the top three ports in the United States in terms of commercial fish landings and the ex-vessel, or wholesale, value of those catches. In 1990, Kodiak ranked third in the nation in both size of catch and ex-vessel value, with 272.5 million pounds valued at $101.7 million.

The authors of a report on the state's seafood industry, prepared in 1989 for the Alaska Seafood Industry Study Commission, identified Kodiak as one of three Alaska regions in which the seafood industry represents the dominant economic activity. Thanks to diversification, the versatility of fishing fleets able to change gear depending on what species are available for harvest, and the development during the 1980s of a thriving groundfish industry, fishing now is a year-round business.

Fifteen Kodiak area processors handle the catch, which includes salmon, cod, pollock, halibut, crab, shellfish and herring. As fishing goes, so goes the area's economy.

In the last decade, surimi production from pollock has increased. Jerome Selby, mayor/administrator of the Kodiak Island Borough, points out that fishing industry supporters would like to develop the capability of making locally caught fish supermarket-ready, rather than continuing to send harvests Outside for value-added processing beyond the present heading and gutting operations.

Aside from fishing, tourism is gaining importance in the Kodiak economy. Visitor industry officials estimate that the island hosts about 10,000 tourists annually, many of whom are interested in hunting, fishing and boating. Officials plan to continue promoting the area as the perfect get-away for Anchorage residents.

Lois Hansen, executive director of the Kodiak Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, points out that sport fishing is expected to increase with growing awareness of the area's potential. "The Kenai area is so crowded, and Kodiak offers some of the best fishing in the world," she says. Hansen also expects the growth of ecotourism to benefit Kodiak's visitor industry.

The 1990 figures from the Alaska Department of Labor indicate that manufacturing, specifically the manufacturing of food and related items, accounted for the majority of the Kodiak Island Borough's jobs, with government and the service sector ranking second and third. Logging on Afognak Island and prospecting for the possible development of oil along Shelikof Strait also contribute to the Kodiak economy.

State labor figures indicate that in 1991 the Kodiak Island Borough had a labor force of 6,962 and an overall unemployment rate of 7.6 percent. The overall state unemployment rate that year was 8.5 percent.


The city of Kodiak is the commercial, transportation and government center for residents of the Kodiak Island Borough and, to an increasing extent, for residents of other Southwest Alaska communities. "Kodiak is really trying to be much more of a Southwest Alaska regional hub, instead of just a hub for the island," says SWAMC's Sandler.

Kodiak plays a vital role in Southcentral water transportation. It serves as a transshipment center, particularly for Southwest Alaska fish cargos, and as the hub for the Gulf of Alaska's marine container logistics.

In addition to local government offices, numerous and federal agencies also have offices on Kodiak Island, including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Army National Guard, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Weather Service, Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Coast Guard.

Kodiak's business community offers professional legal, banking and real estate services, as well as retail outlets that include fishing gear, propane and boat repair. A new Safeway grocery store opened to long lines in 1987, and three new malls, one containing a multiscreen movie theater, have been built in recent years.

Also located in Kodiak are a 25-bed hospital, a branch of the University of Alaska, a fisheries technology center, St. Herman's Orthodox Theological Seminary and the Kodiak Baptist Mission, a home for troubled youth in operation since 1893.


In 1990, U.S. census workers counted 13,309 residents of the Kodiak Island Borough, a number local officials say fell short by some 2,200. Likewise, the census put the population of Kodiak at 6,365, while local officials say it's closer to 7,230. Selby, the borough mayor, says the area has experienced a 3 percent to 5 percent population increase in each of the past 12 years.

Based on the federal count, African Americans represent just 1 percent of the island's population, with residents of Hispanic origin accounting for 5 percent. In recent years, the city of Kodiak has become home to a growing number of Filipinos, many of whom work in the fish-processing industry. Vietnamese workers also have been drawn to Kodiak because of fish processing.

American Indians, Aleuts and Eskimos account for 16 percent of the borough's population. Affecting that average are six outlying villages that are predominately Native. The highest concentrations of Aleut residents live in Karluk, Akhiok and Larsen Bay.

Seasonal population fluctuations, especially in Kodiak, are common, with Outside workers arriving for the high-demand summer fishing season. The U.S. Coast Guard, which has been on Kodiak since 1947, has approximately 1,000 active-duty personnel and 1,500 dependents living on the island, making it the largest Coast Guard operation in the country.

Local officials estimate that only 3,500 of the island's residents live on the road system.

Area Natives are represented by the regional corporation Koniag Inc., as well as the non-profit Kodiak Area Native Association and local village corporations.

The following 1990 census figures provide a demographic sketch of the borough:

* Population: 13,309 (1980: 9,939)

* Median age: 29 years

* Proportion of population under age 18: 31 percent

* Eskimos, Aleuts and American Indians account for 16 percent of the population.

* Median value of a home: $111,500

* Per capita income: $20,537 (1989)


As it has for centuries, the lifestyle of many of those who live on Kodiak revolves around the sea. Commercial fishing, as well as subsistence activities, are important to a great number of both village and urban residents; many depend on the sea for their livelihood as well as for the food they put on their tables.

A 1986 study found that the average per-household subsistence harvest in rural villages was 1,611 pounds, compared with 460 pounds for households along Kodiak's road system. In both cases, well over 80 percent of the harvest came from the sea.

In the eyes of some, life on Kodiak is not as easy or as comfortable as in other places in Alaska, prompting one author to describe residents there as "feisty, independent and resilient." Outdoor activities, including hiking, beachcombing, kayaking, fishing and hunting, are popular, and state and borough parks offer camping, tennis courts, softball fields and picnic areas.


Air and ocean transportation are, of course, vital to Kodiak and its remote island villages. Regularly scheduled commercial and commuter flights land at Kodiak State Airport and connect the city of Kodiak with towns on the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage TABULAR DATA OMITTED and points beyond. There also are a municipal airport and public and private floatplane facilities for use by air taxis and private pilots.

The city of Kodiak provides public dock facilities, including a ferry dock, the main city dock and a container terminal. Additionally, there are two small-boat harbors, a dock at Women's Bay, a boat yard that provides ship-repair services and extensive private dock facilities connected to beachfront processors.

The Alaska Marine Highway's M/V Tustumena ferry offers passenger, vehicle and cargo services that connect Kodiak with Seward and Homer, and thus with Alaska's road system. The ferry makes occasional runs down the Alaska Peninsula to Dutch Harbor. Tug, barge and trucking firms also service the area.

The number of road miles on Kodiak is a matter of muddled mathematics. Some say there are less than 100 miles of roadway, although the state alone maintains at least 114 miles of roads. Other estimates note 150 miles of roads. The major highway follows the island's coastline from Cape Chiniak on the south, through the city and then north to Mill Bay, ending at Monashka Bay.

In addition to receiving Anchorage's newspaper, Kodiak residents may read the Kodiak Daily Mirror and the monthly Home Port Kodiak, a newspaper devoted to fishery and marine issues. The Alaska Commercial Fisherman, a biweekly newspaper published in Anchorage, also is of interest to many on Kodiak. The Alaska Blue Book lists three Kodiak-based radio stations, one of them public. Television reception is provided by the Rural Alaska Television Network.


Tourism is becoming an increasingly important industry throughout the region, and local tourism officials say they expect the growth to continue. During the first four months of 1991, the Kodiak Island Convention and Visitors Bureau received 685 requests for information from would-be visitors. During the first four months of 1992, they received 1,417 requests.

For those who enjoy the outdoors, Kodiak Island offers everything from beachcombing to whale watching, with boating, horseback riding, flightseeing, hunting and scuba diving scattered in between. World War II buffs can visit Fort Abercrombie, while those interested in Kodiak's Russian history can visit the Baranov Museum, Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church and the Veniaminov Institute and Museum associated with St. Herman's Orthodox Theological Seminary.

In addition to Russian artifacts, the Baranov Museum also features displays of Koniag and Aleut culture, as does the Alutiiq Culture Center, home of the Alutiiq Dancers. The Kodiak Area Native Association plans to replace the cramped center with a new, 17,000-square-foot cultural center on Near Island, which is reached by bridge from Kodiak Island.

The center, phase one of which should be completed within the next five years, will have display and storage space, an exhibit gallery and administrative and classroom space. Total cost of the center is estimated at $11 million.

For those interested in the region's natural wonders, the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge's visitor center offers information on area wildlife. The region's concentration of largely uninhabited islands and protected waters make for excellent kayaking, camping and general poking around.

Annual events on Kodiak include celebrations of the Russian Christmas and New Year, the ComFish trade show in March, the Pillar Mountain Golf Classic in early spring, an annual crab festival in May, the Alaska State Fair and Rodeo in August, and presentations that same month of "Cry of the Wild Ram," a community production staged each year in the city's outdoor theater. In 1992, Kodiak is observing its bicentennial.


Following is a list of the incorporated cities and villages within the Kodiak Island Borough, their forms of government and tax rates:

* Kodiak Island Borough: Second-class borough; mayor/council government; no sales or special taxes

* Akhiok: Second-class city; mayor/council government; no sales or special taxes

* City of Kodiak: Home-rule city; city manager and mayor/council government; 5 percent sales tax; 5 percent transient room tax

* Larsen Bay: Second-class city; city manager and mayor/council government; 3 percent sales tax

* Old Harbor: Second-class city; city manager and mayor/council government; 3 percent sales tax

* Ouzinkie: Second-class city; mayor/council government; 3 percent sales tax

* Port Lions: Second-class city; mayor/council government; no sales or special taxes


The vast majority of land within the Kodiak Island Borough, including roughly two-thirds of Kodiak Island itself, lies within the national wildlife refuge system. The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge stretches across Kodiak Island and other land within borough boundaries. Land across Shelikof Strait falls within the Alaska Peninsula and Becharof national wildlife refuges.

Much of the region's remaining land is held by Native regional and village corporations, the state of Alaska and the U.S. Coast Guard. Land in the northern reaches on Afognak Island lies within the Chugach National Forest. As in other parts of the state, local governments and private individuals represent the smallest percentage of landowners.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Kodiak Island, Alaska
Author:Hill, Robin Mackey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Previous Article:Space shuffle.
Next Article:Recruiting regional business: Kodiak business managers seek customers among Southwest Alaska neighbors.

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