A Day in Seldovia
The beautiful coastal town on Kachemak Bay
by Anne Sanders
When the captain of Mako’s Water Taxi informed us we were in for a bumpy ride, I was eager for a fun trip across Kachemak Bay. We embarked from the Homer Spit with the waters of Jakolof Bay and Seldovia as our destination. With a hot cup of coffee in hand and a rain jacket, I was prepared for the fresh breeze and light splashes of water as we collided with wave upon wave of choppy ocean. Thankfully, not being prone to seasickness, the twenty minute cruise over to Jakolof Bay was like a long amusement park ride (and we didn’t even have to stand for hours in line to enjoy it).
After crossing the open ocean we passed into Eldred Passage which is sheltered by Cohen, Yukon, and Hesketh Islands. Each island is covered with spruce and hemlock trees and skirted by smooth gravel beaches with an occasional cabin perched on a cliff or hidden in the dense forest. Opposite the islands were the large mouths of Sadie Cove and Tutka Bay leading the way to even calmer waters and emerald green forests.
The predominance of fishing in the coastal cities of Alaska was apparent as we watched fishermen in small boats making their way through the water all around us. Lines of colorful buoys identified fishing nets, and the limited number of available openings at the dock indicated the overwhelming need for water transportation in this small community far removed from the main road system.
When we stepped off the docks we were immediately met by Mary Jane, owner of Across the Bay Tent and Breakfast Adventure Company. Mary Jane drove us 11 miles to the small town of Seldovia on Jakolof Bay Road, an old logging road. Along the way we would occasionally catch glimpses of the ocean.
When we arrived in Seldovia Mary Jane drove down main street, taking her time, and pointing out all the sites and businesses—showing us just how small and close-knit the town really is. Walking around echoed this fact, especially when we stopped at the only grocery store for something to drink, when the only bakery was closed for the next week because of a wedding, and when we were told the city had hired only one man to take care of all the gardens at the different public buildings and parks.
The town of Seldovia has been through many economic phases throughout its history. It began as a meeting place for native Alaskan tribes around the area, then Russians came during the fur rush in the late eighteenth century and established a hunting post. They later brought their religion and other cultural influences. The name Seldovia actually derives from the Russian word Seldevoy, which means “herring bay.” Herring fishing ended up becoming a major part of Seldovia’s economy with herring salteries in the 1920s.
Along with herring salteries, the salmon canning industry was another economic boom for Seldovia. The herring salteries ended up having to close because the amount of fish waste thrown in the ocean caused the vegetation in herring spawning areas to die off. The salmon canneries eventually expanded to include the processing of halibut, crab, and other fish, but the entire industry was destroyed by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.
Another major hit to Seldovia’s economy was the construction of the Sterling Highway that connected Homer with Anchorage. Before the highway Seldovia had been the main hub for ships trying to gain access to the Cook Inlet. The area has seen the coming and going of fox fur farms, logging, mining, herring salteries, and fish canneries.
The transitory nature of Seldovia’s economic past is an unfortunate characteristic of many rural cities around Alaska, but for today’s visitors it adds to the allure of the small town along with the natural beauty surrounding it.
Seldovia’s historic boardwalk, originally built in 1931, is a charming section of town bordering Seldovia Slough. The slough was full of large dog salmon, and although they are considered by most as inedible, it was fun admiring their large size and seeing dozens of them swimming around the shallow water.
The boardwalk had to be rebuilt after the 1964 earthquake that sunk areas of the town around four to six feet. The extent of the damage wasn’t immediately apparent until at high tide the sea waters washed over the boardwalk and into businesses and homes.
There are multiple hikes to do in Seldovia and the surrounding areas, but when you only have half the day to explore like we did then the “Otterbahn” may be just the excursion you’re looking for. The trail begins behind the Susan B. English School, Seldovia’s only public school, and weaves through the forest for over a mile heading to a private beach.
At low tide you can return to Seldovia along the shoreline, or walk in the opposite direction where there is another beach with a public pavilion that is connected to the road system back to Seldovia.
When the time for our departure came, we walked the historic boardwalk one last time, peeked over the bridge at the Seldovia Slough for another look at the dog salmon, and walked along the short dirt road to the Seldovia Airport. Along the way we happened to look up and found a bald eagle perched on a tree directly above us. After a while it left us to join its mate on another tree a few hundred yards away.
We were scheduled on the last flight of the day with Smokey Bay Air, which provides a multitude of services such as bear viewing, flightseeing tours, charters, and daily flights in the Kachemak Bay area. The pilot was the only soul on the tarmac and immediately welcomed us into his plane.
It’s a little strange, yet comforting when the pilot of a small 6-seater airplane goes through a safety and emergency briefing. It evokes confidence when a pilot takes the time to run through all the procedures even when the exits are obvious and the flight will only last a matter of minutes. “Just long enough for small children to fall asleep,” our pilot answered when we asked how long the flight would be. As we took off from the runway sleep was the last thing on my mind and I quickly realized the flight wouldn’t be long enough for all we were about to see.
Although I enjoyed the boat ride across the water, seeing the town of Seldovia, the surrounding coastline, and the expanse of mountains ranging inland from the air, was an excellent trade-off. I fiercely tried to take it all in: the winding road to Jakolof bay, the dots of green tufted islands poking out of the water, the patches of logged forest, the harbors, the fish camps, and the white v-shaped wakes of motor boats skimming across the water. If only time could be frozen so our minds could adequately take in the overload of images one can see from the air!
When we landed at the Homer Airport, my husband and I were already planning our next trip to Seldovia. We had a nice introduction to the remote city, but felt the real charm of Seldovia would come from an extended stay with enough time to experience the peace and freedom of living in a place encompassed by a rich history, endless mountains and the majestic expanse of Kachemak Bay.