Prince William Sound: An Alaskan Gem

Prince William Sound is humbling. There is something sweet about feeling truly microscopic in the shadow of towering peaks caked with glacial ice fields.  The deep, vibrant blue ice creeps down to sea level, a demonstration of the powerful forces that carved the landscape. The intricacy of the shoreline is unparalleled. Each inlet possesses its own character, some are forgiving and offer a smooth anchorage with just a few mosquitos, others are lined with uncharted submerged rocks and clouds of ravenous flies.  At times, the best spot to sleep is on anchor. Slowly swaying back and forth, water slapping against the hull of the trusty work skiff. Well, “trusty”. It is inevitable that some troubleshooting will occur.  We have lost propellers, hotwired the motor after the electrical failed us, pulled up the anchor by hand. This is expected, embraced and overcome. This is laughed about while fishing for salmon after work while warming our toes by the campfire as humpbacks feed nearby. The deep belly laughs are impossible to fight. When in Prince William Sound, they always find a way out.

Nellie-Juan College-Fiord Wilderness Study Area (WSA), located in western Prince William Sound, serves as the backdrop to this summer season with the Society for Wilderness Stewardship. The 2.2 million acres of pristine, diverse and profoundly stunning land is a classroom, the knowledge held within its boundaries is infinite. I admittedly find myself starry-eyed, ignorant to the inescapable truth that there is sign of human imperfection and influence along these remote and distant shorelines. The composition of the WSA is dynamic, experiencing accelerated shift in the last few decades. The rapidly changing climate is impacting glacial ice at an alarming rate. Tidewater glaciers are receding from sea level, salmon streams are unable to support healthy spawning populations, vegetation is suffering due to lack of rainfall and exposure. This summer was the hottest on record in the neighboring city of Anchorage. 90-degree heat has never felt so unsettling. Fires have been burning uncontrollably, blanketing surrounding peaks in dense smoke.  This land is begging for rain to bring relief.

It feels remarkable to find a place on this planet to love so deeply in such a short amount of time. I am reminded of the importance behind human connection with the landscape. If others fall in love with this landscape, perhaps they will be inspired to protect it, too.


Ellen Ray is a Wilderness Fellow in USFS Region 10 working on the Nellie-Juan College-Fiord Wilderness Study Area.
Ellen graduated from California Polytechnic State University in 2017 with a degree in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration. Throughout her undergrad, she worked as a backpacking guide and discovered a deep love for untouched wilderness. Understanding how essential it is to protect our natural land, has focused her studies on finding a sustainable balance between the economic, social, and environmental aspects of tourism, maximizing the positive impact of the industry. She spent last summer working on the Tongass Natural Forest where she fell in love with Alaska's boundless open spaces and wild landscape. This year she is thrilled to return to Alaska- this time to the Chugach. Throughout the season she will be developing a Solitude Monitoring management tool for the Nellie Juan College-Fjord Wilderness Study Area.  In her free time, Ellen finds endless enjoyment in playing music and hiking as high and as far as possible. She could not be more excited to work with SWS for another season.  
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The Society for Wilderness Stewardship is a non-profit, charitable organization under the 501 (c)(3) section of the Internal Revenue Code.