Lake Clark National Park and Preserve Opens Second Public Use Cabin in Historic Prospector’s Log Home
The newly revitalized Joe Thompson cabin is now open for public use.
ANCHORAGE—Lake Clark National Park and Preserve recently opened its second public use cabin. The historic Joe Thompson cabin is at the base of the newly revitalized Portage Creek Trail on the north shore of Lake Clark about thirteen miles from Port Alsworth. This is an opportunity for park visitors to step into the shoes of a mid-century cabin builder, prospector, and commercial fisherman—visitors can stay in his cabin, hike the trail towards his prospect, and explore the Lake Clark country he lived in for forty years.
The cabin was open for a short period of time this fall and closed on November 1st. It will reopen this winter if the ice becomes safe for travel. Summer reservation opportunities will start on May 15, 2020 and will be available six months in advance. The cabin is accessible via boat or aircraft from Port Alsworth and will offer an excellent base for kayakers, hikers, and anglers to experience Lake Clark and the surrounding wilderness. The cabin is a one day paddling distance from the park’s only other public use cabin at Priest Rock. The Portage Creek Trail, which starts at the cabin, provides access to outstanding views of Lake Clark and the nearby mountains on the way to miles of trail-free alpine hiking opportunities for both overnight and day hikes.
This rustic cabin offers visitors an opportunity to experience remote Alaska cabin living for themselves. The cabin accommodates up to three people. It is equipped with a wood stove, table and chairs and a nearby outhouse. Sleeping accommodations are wooden bunks. There is no electricity or running water at the cabin. Fresh water is available in the lake but must be treated. There is no cell phone coverage at the cabin. There are no mooring buoys at this location.
“Opening this cabin and trail will open amazing recreation opportunities to residents and visitors alike while also preserving a key aspect of the region’s history,” reflects Susanne Fleek-Green, park superintendent.
Thanks to the SCA Trail Crews, the Portage Creek Trail is now ready for hikers.
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The cabin was originally built by long-time Lake Clark resident Joe Thompson in 1962. It was the last cabin Thompson built in the Lake Clark region. Thompson first arrived at Lake Clark in the mid to late 1930s where he lived for the next forty years.
Thompson was a prospector, commercial fisherman, and cabin builder extraordinaire around Lake Clark between the mid-1930s and early 1970s. After his return from commercial fishing in the summer, Thompson often would go prospecting by himself for weeks at a time. He was a hearty and skilled woodsman, hunter, and trapper who was very much at home in the Alaska wilderness. During the last decade Thompson lived on Lake Clark in the 1960s, he visited his diggings two miles east of his cabin every morning. Though Thompson’s greatest legacy was the significant role he played in the construction of six houses and cabins that are still lived around the lake. For example, Thompson helped build the Babe and Mary Alsworth homestead house, he cut logs for the Jay and Bella Hammond house, and he built the Dr. Elmer Bly house. The latter two buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, Thompson was the primary builder of the 3,800 foot Babe Alsworth runway between 1944 and c. 1950, the first runway on Lake Clark. In sum, Thompson was one of the most consequential settlers on Lake Clark in the twentieth century.
SCA Trail Crew members Terry Ayojiak (left) and Alexis Moses saw downed logs along the trail.
The trail Thompson used to access his prospect is part of the recently brushed and improved Portage Creek Trail. The trail is three miles long with 1,850 foot elevation gain leading to alpine tundra above tree line. The National Park Service partnered with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) to do the trail work. In the summer of 2019, two SCA trail crews worked on the trail while camped at the Thompson Cabin. A teen youth crew arrived in June. This crew was sponsored by BBNC and comprised youth from throughout the Bristol Bay region. The crews worked hard, climbing the hill daily, removing roots from the trail, and brushing overgrowth. These crew members worked alongside SCA trail crew leaders and NPS trail supervisors as part of their experience. In addition to their work, the trail crew attended three days of the Quk’ Taz’un ‘the sun is rising’ culture camp at Kijik on Lake Clark. This camp, put on by Nondalton Tribal Council and sponsored by the National Park Service, is an opportunity for young people to camp and learn at the ancestral village site for the Dena’ina people of Nondalton. Kijik Village was occupied year round for about 1,000 years and is a vitally important cultural site on the north shore of Lake Clark as a home and important gathering and trading site regionally. Kijik (Qizhjeh) means ‘a place where people gather,’ and trail crew members from throughout the region were welcomed into the camp as part of the 2019 gathering.
The final SCA trail crew was comprised of youth crew leaders from SCA who worked the month of August on the trail. This crew was able to complete large projects and brushed and opened the trail high on the ridgeline.
The Portage Creek Trail and the Thompson Public Use Cabin will provide visitors new opportunities to experience Lake Clark National Park including camping in a prospectors cabin and hiking his historic trail, backpacking alpine ridgelines, and camping on multi-day kayaking adventures.
SCA Trail Crew member Kyla Gloko shows off two Pulaskis while working along the Portage Creek Trail.