January 29, 2021 Karen Lewis

The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska

The Fronteir History of Moose Pass, Alaska Book Cover

The Fronteir History of Moose Pass, Alaska Book Cover

By Willow Hetrick

The community of Moose Pass is proud to announce the completion of a new book titled: People, Paths, and Places: The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska. This has truly been a Moose Pass Community Project.

In 2016 I was asked to help write a grant, sponsored by the Kenai Mountains–Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA), to capture and display the unique history of Moose Pass before our beloved old-timers passed on. The grant was awarded later that year, and my tepid interest in history catapulted to official town historian. Using the same editor and designer as KMTA when they developed “Discover the Story: People, Paths and Places” at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center in Portage, Alaska, we set out to highlight the people that founded the town and lived there is its early beginnings, the history and significance of its location, and how Moose Pass has survived throughout the years. We titled our Project, “Discover the Story of Moose Pass: People, Paths, and History” to focus on the specific history of Moose Pass, Alaska.

Five panels (Overview, People, Paths, Places and Growing Up) were created in 2018 that adorn the new Moose Pass Public Library walls. The book is organized much like the interpretive panels. The schoolchildren of Moose Pass School researched components of the panels and conducted interviews with elders that are still in the community. This was an important component to the project as I went to Moose Pass School from K-8 grades and remember how special it was to be part of a small school that had the ability to challenge students through targeted curriculums. I consider myself very fortunate to have “grown up Moose Pass.” There are family photos of me and my siblings similar to many of the photos you see in this book: sledding down the hill to Trail Lake, jumping into the swimming hole, and holding fish as big as us from the Russian River. I was a part of the many children that would use the waterwheel for hours to shine rocks found along the shores of Trail Lake.

After the panel project was completed, the editor, Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan pushed me to consider turning the information from the panels plus the information that simply couldn’t fit on the panels into a book. Around that same time, I was given a collection of the Moose Pass Miner, the local newspaper that was published from 1938 to 1942. That spearheaded the formation of this book as the information and stories in it were too good not to share.

What is unfortunate is that an entire generation of pioneer stories will go untold and undocumented, lost and forgotten. I could not bear to let that trend continue. I found myself spending the next two years writing, editing, researching, and interviewing elders and their family in the community. With support from the Seward Community Foundation, the community was able to conduct video interviews of members of the Estes family, Clara Elge, and Bob Condit. I spent time on the phone with Mary Brian (West). The hours of footage were converted into a short one-hour video, but the discussions never left my mind. We realized that for many community members, connections and memories of the past are intertwined with the stories of their lives. These stories comprise the unique culture of Moose Pass and are often the center of discussions. Memories come alive with the photos and stories of the past. The comfort of knowing that history is being preserved brings good feelings into our minds and hearts.

We have many people to thank for this book. Most importantly, contributors of material from the community who shared their sacred family heirlooms. The Estes family, specifically Jeff and Leora; the Condit family, specifically Bob and his son, Mark; Diane Olthuis; Jeanne Follett, Dawn Campbell, Mona Painter, Rodger Painter, Marcia Shea, Doug Capra, Donna Giles, Bruce Jaffa, and Nancy Erickson.

This book would not have been possible without the financial support of the Kenai Mountains–Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area and the countless hours of editing and organization by Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan, editor and publisher of Ember Press; copyediting by Joeth Zucco, and organization and design by Nanette Stevenson.

Mile 37 of the (old) Moose Pass Highway taken near Hetrick’s property in Tern Lake Estates.
(Courtesy of Jim Taylor)

Although valued, not every story and photo were included in the production of this book. Careful consideration was given to the stories told and the material included. However, there is so much more history already in our archives and more to be had. Our next step is figuring out how to further preserve the unique history of Moose Pass and we are already brainstorming the next project to ensure protection of the unique history that desperately needs to be preserved.

The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska Now Published!

What do a potato in Ed’s pocket, a bulldozer racing backward downhill, and a bad-luck locomotive have in common? They are all stories from the new book People, Paths, and Places: The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska. With a cast of colorful characters, you might be surprised what you learn about the so-called sleepy town of Moose Pass! Pre-order your book now. Books will also be available in local bookstores as soon as they arrive in Alaska in early January.

Pre-order from Ember Press!

Pre-order from Amazon!

Willow Hetrick grew up in Moose Pass where her father managed the Trail Lakes Fish Hatchery. She attended Moose Pass Elementary for K-8th Grade and then graduated from Seward High School in 2003. Her latest master’s degree is from the University of Southeast Alaska in Public Administration with a focus on natural resource management. She is currently the Executive Director for the Chugach Regional Resources Commission, an Alaska Native non-profit organization focusing on natural resources issues. She also recently became a KMTA board member.