I have to admit that Hoonah has never been one of those places I’ve yearned to re-visit. My memory was of a tiny town hard hit by the closing of the cannery and the over-cutting of trees on tribal lands. The prospects for the community of less than 500 people, primarily Native Tlingit, were about as bleak and bare as the hillsides that surrounded town. Then someone had a big idea – a great idea. Turn Hoonah into an Alaskan “experience.” Juneau has a glacier, Skagway has the Gold Rush, Sitka has the Russian heritage, Hoonah has a … cannery?
By nature a salmon cannery is not the sexiest thing in the world, especially not a real cannery; but a cleaned-up, dried-out, sanitized cannery might be interesting if done right. Well, the people of the Huna Totem Company have successfully re-created Hoonah as a fun cruise destination – Icy Strait Point. The result is a series of interpretative areas in the actual cannery where the history and process of canning is explained while also showcasing Alaskan made souvenirs and local Native-made crafts including very beautiful beading, leatherwork, and basketry. In addition to the cannery visitors can enjoy a theater featuring Native performances, wildlife tours and excursions, 21 eating opportunities, a beach-walk along the waterfront including benches in front of an open crackling log fire, and for the adventurous the world’s longest zip-line.
The restoration of the cannery and the creation of the fishing/canning experience is in keeping with the history of the area however, to me, the zip-line is a big much. It’s huge – it starts way up a mountainside that is higher in elevation than the Empire State Building and ends on the beach. We were in port with the M/S Amsterdam; together I think the total number of passengers between the two ships was about 3,000 with an average age of about 78 — not your average zip-line crowd. During the four hours I was walking around I saw people on the zip-line three times. Though it looked mildly entertaining to me, I am not sure if even I would do it — which made me wonder how profitable this extensive investment is?
After investigating Icy Strait Point I took a nice half mile walk into town to hunt down a piece of pie. I found a café with a pastry case in which two slices of apple pie sat waiting. I asked the price and was told it was $5.99 a slice. The lady behind the counter assured me it was very good nevertheless I declined. She went on to explain the rising cost of transport has driven up all prices in town. The combination of being isolated on an island in a very remote part of Southeast Alaska made living in Hoonah more expensive than someplace like Seattle. I told her that I was working and not on vacation – loved pie, but didn’t really need it – to which she asked would I take it for $4.99? Now feeling guilty I said sure and she threw in a scoop of ice cream. The pie was good as promised. When I got up to leave the lady behind the counter asked, “You know where the pie’s from?” I put two extra dollars on the table and said, “Costco.” She looked at me in disbelief and then said, “How did you know?” What can I say? Some people know wine, I know my pie.
As I waited for the tender I watched as a huge humpback whale surfaced in the bay not too far from the pier. It was one of the biggest whales I have ever seen.
Though the “experience” is open to the public it is obvious that the operation is coordinated for and around cruise ships. In addition to downside of its lack of activity having it there made the whole project feel like an amusement park.