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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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Expedition Log: July 25, 2001

Governor Tony Knowles

Tracy Arm; Juneau

Early in the morning, the expedition entered Tracy Arm, a steep-sided fjord souteast of Juneau. A little over 200 years ago, the entire length of the fjord -- more than 20 miles -- was clogged with ice, but today we sailed right up to the end of the fjord, where the Sawyer and South Sawyer glaciers fill the end of the valley. We then sailed on to Juneau, Alaska's capital, where expedition members fanned out across the city, visiting museums, stocking up on rare items not available aboard ship, and posting letters, postcards and electronic mail.

In the afternoon, Harriman Retraced participants were invited to the Governor's House for a reception, much as the original Harriman Alaska Expedition participants were invited to the governor's house in Sitka a century ago. In the evening, Alaska Governor Tony Knowles and First Lady Susan Knowles (honorary chair of the Harriman Retraced expedition) came aboard ship for dinner. Governor Knowles addressed the expedition aboard ship.


Gov. Tony Knowles
Remarks to the Harriman Alaska Expedition Retraced
Aboard M/V Clipper Odyssey
Coast Guard Dock, Juneau, Alaska

It's my pleasure to welcome the Harriman Alaska Expedition back to Juneau, Alaska's capital city. It's been 102 years and there's a lot to catch up on.

With us here today are many distinguished scientists, professors, students, artists and writers from Alaska and around the nation to document this journey and the many other guests who will have the opportunity to take part this remarkable journey.

I'd also like to acknowledge Smith College, Florentine Films, Hott Productions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Alaska Geographic Alliance, and PBS for helping sponsor this expedition, which is as much a journey through time as it is through Alaska.

Before this current expedition was organized, it was considered unlikely that the Harriman Expedition would ever be repeated. The 1899 expedition really came from a different era.

It is considered one the last of the grand explorations along the lines of Vitus Bering and James Cook.

Those explorers were on missions of discovery, filling in gaps on the map. Alaska is known as the last frontier because it was one of the last places on the globe where the coastline had been charted.

By 1899, of course, those borders were well known, but as Harriman and his expedition proved, scientific inquiry knows no boundary.

In all, they collected hundreds of crates that contained thousands of samples of birds, fish, mammals, and insects.

We are indebted to Harriman and his expedition for providing us with a detailed baseline knowledge of Alaska natural history.

It was a remarkable collection that took universities and museums years to analyze and compile and fills 13 volumes.

The expedition was also what you might call the first "Type A personality" vacation. It came right after Edward Harriman staged a corporate takeover of Union Pacific Railroad. His doctor advised him to get some rest, so Harriman invited 125 of his closest friends to come with him to Russia. And along the way, when John Muir wasn't looking, he shot a bear.

Scientific research has continued since, of course, but rarely on such a grand scale. Wealthy patrons have been replaced by grants from government and private foundations, usually targeted for a specific course of study.


Tracy Arm

During the morning, the expedition traveled down the emerald waters of Tracy Arm. (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

I am proud to serve as a member of the Pew Oceans Commission seeking to better understand our oceans to guide future policymakers. Our marine waters are essential to life on earth, but it's been said that we know more about the moon than we do of our oceans.

There's reason to be concerned about this lack of knowledge:

  • The oceans play a critical role in the earth's physical processes and climatic changes are apparent in Alaska and elsewhere.
  • We see fluctuations in populations of fish species and marine mammals that we do not understand.
  • We are now learning how pollutants migrate through the ocean currents.

Policymakers need scientific information to guide decisions that respond to these challenges and help shape our future. The same was true in Harriman's day.

Just consider how Alaska has changed since Edward Harriman first called.

In 1899, the public perception of Alaska was dominated by the Klondike gold rush. Harriman's observations helped shed light on the reality of the gold rush and the majority of miners who lost everything in their hopes for fortune.

Mining remains a major industry in Alaska today, including gold and silver, and less flashy metals such as lead and zinc. But the Gold Rush had far less impact on Alaska than oil.

When Harriman encountered the oil industry in 1899, it was located offshore, off Port Clarence near Nome. It was the whaling fleet at anchor.

Whale oil lamps, though, soon gave way to kerosene and with the invention of the automobile a few years later, national demand was growing for petroleum.

There were reports in Harriman's day of a tarry peat burned in lamps by the Eskimos of Alaska's North Slope that hinted of the oil reserves later discovered at Prudhoe Bay.

North Slope crude later met 20 percent of the nation's oil needs. And it bought opportunity and prosperity that profoundly changed Alaska's economy and population.

Not all changes were for the good. We learned the price of complacency with the Exxon Valdez spill but used the lessons learned from that tragedy to build what is now considered the worlds safest transportation system for oil.

Alaska's fisheries in 1899 were limited to canned salmon. Fishermen that year caught a record 15 million salmon and George Bird Grinnell warned that unless the fisheries were properly managed, salmon could easily go the way of the buffalo.

His concern was well founded. Now, we routinely catch ten times that amount of salmon, but Alaska's fishery management is up to the task, considered one of the best management systems in the world.


Juneau library

Juneau's public library is decorated with artwork celebrating Alaska's heritage. Note the cruise ship bow behind the building on the right. (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

Grinnell would be pleased to learn that Alaska salmon is one of the few fisheries in the world recognized as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. And with other species such as pollock and crab, Alaska produces five billion pounds of seafood products for the world annually.

Alaska success with salmon is also due to protecting the habitat that is essential to maintain fish and wildlife species.

Alaska encompasses more park and refuge land than the rest of the nation combined. About 40 percent of the state, an area roughly equal to Texas, is reserved as parks, refuges, forests and wilderness, something that would please Henry Gannett, who observed:

The Alaska coast is to become the showplace of the earth, and pilgrims will throng in endless procession to see it. Its grandeur is more valuable than the gold or fish or the timber.

But even that throng of pilgrims brought challenges of its own. The tourism industry that Gannett envisioned also brought concerns about their discharges of wastewater and smokestack emissions, overcrowding and noise pollution.

Members of the original Harriman Expedition debated back then issues of development and conservation of Alaska and its resources, and that debate continues today.

Although some frame it as an either/or debate, I don't accept that paradigm. I think development and environmental protection go hand in hand.

Certainly in Alaska that's what we have done, responsibly developing our resources such as oil, gas and fisheries to meet national needs, while protecting the environmental values that we all respect.

Some of these things you will witness during your expedition, others are far off the path that Harriman took.

Wherever your travels take you over the next month, I leave you with two thoughts. First, that your expedition enjoy the same smooth sailing that the original Harriman Alaska Expedition did.

As John Burroughs wrote: "No voyagers were ever more fortunate that we. No storms, no winds, no delays or accidents to speak of. We had gone far and fared well."

I hope similar words are written into your logbook.

And secondly, that you find the experience as informative and inspiring as they.

I won't leave you with Harriman's own concluding words. You might recall he later said, "I don't give a damn if I never see any more scenery."

But rather with John Muir's description of the Fairweather Range as they returned home:

He wrote, "Every mountain stood transfigured in divine light, the crowning grace and glory of the trip, and immortal in the remembrance of every soul of us."

May your journey be as safe, and as rewarding, and leave you with memories that are equally awe-inspiring.

Go far and fare well. Thank you.

(View the day's photos)

(Community Profile: Juneau)

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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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