By Marie L. Monyak
January 23, 2006
Ketchikan, Alaska - Dennis
Benson, an amiable fellow with the lengthy title of US Forest
Service Recreation, Lands, Minerals & Heritage Staff Officer
for Prince of Wales Island was the guest speaker for the Friday
Night Insight Program at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
this past Friday evening.
Although Benson has only been a Staff Officer in POW for a short time, he has in fact worked on the island previously in recreation maintenance and construction.
Prince of Wales is the third largest island in the United States and Benson's love for it was obvious in his enthusiasm. POW is contained within the Tongass National Forest and is comprised of 2 million acres, 80% of which is public lands. There are 11 towns ranging from the largest, Craig, to the tiniest, such as Port Protection or Point Baker.
A short photo presentation, accompanied by earthy flute music set the stage. Photos of the remarkable scenery, wildlife, native artifacts, flora and fauna had the audience captivated.
Benson's interactive portion of the presentation was centered on information about the early development of POW to include the Native communities and their influence, the fishing industry, mining and logging. The latter part of the presentation focused on the various and numerous outdoor recreation activities.
"You can drive to it!" Benson said with much enthusiasm. "1300 miles of roads make POW unique in Southeast Alaska." With the use of the Inter-Island Ferry Service (IFA), which has proved to be affordable and reliable, anyone can ferry their car to the island and explore the many areas POW has to offer from coastal areas to lakes, rivers, mountains and alpine zones.
Beginning on the Western edge of POW is the outer coastal region which is remote, rugged and ever so beautiful. Moving toward the interior are the tall, dramatic mountains that provide a backdrop for the inland channels. Finally, one reaches the eastern side of POW that is bordered by Clarence Straight which the ferries navigate to reach their destination at Hollis.
Showing an eagerness to assist visitors, Benson repeatedly stated, "Call me if you have questions." He provided numerous handouts to those in attendance: the Tongass Visitors Guide, the Prince of Wales Island Guide, a large map of the island with the numerous recreation areas marked and a lengthy list of web sites that should be accessed in preparation of a trip to POW.
Benson said, "The Forest Service provides two campgrounds and 19 cabins, soon to be 20, with the addition of a new cabin at 12 mile arm. There are 18 diverse trails ranging from very difficult to developed boardwalk paths. There are also picnic area, wilderness areas and special designated area." There is something for everyone regardless of physical ability.
Hiking, beachcombing, fishing, kayaking, hunting and exploring are a few of the activities that Benson concentrated on. Something unique to POW, are the caves and karsts which offer a different type of exploring than most people are accustomed to in Southeast. The island is littered with large sinkholes known as karsts, many with streams flowing through.
El Capitan is the biggest and longest of numerous limestone caves, or grottos, under the rain forest. Although walking in the cave is mostly on boardwalks, one must first climb 370 stairs to reach the entrance, not for the weak hearted! Tours are conducted by the Forest Service from May to September but reservations must be made two days in advance by contacting the Thorne Bay Ranger District.
"Waterfalls are abundant and beautiful, most often compared to Hawaii," Benson laughingly said, "with the exception in Hawaii being that salmon don't swim up to them!"
The floor was opened for questions from the audience. "Is there still gold on POW," asked one participant, who received the answer, "Maybe." "How many cabins are accessible by car?" "Five to be exact but there are several that can be reached by rowboat and the boats are provided by the Forest Service," was Benson's reply.
Staff Officer Benson made it abundantly clear that the Forest Officers are there to help and assist in any way they can, they're only a phone call away. Many of those that attended this presentation might be finding their way to POW in the near future. Happy trails!
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