The Strange Town of Port Alsworth

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7/7/19  WilderHouse B&B, Port Alsworth, Alaska

Despite over a year of planning this trip, sometimes things don’t work out quite the way you expect them to!  The last three days here in Port Alsworth is a good example.  The only reason we came to this town is because it is the location of the main visitor center for Lake Clark National Park, which, because it is a full blown National Park, is on my bucket list.  I’ll write about the park in another post, but for now I want to talk about this town.

In the first place, it almost seems like everyone in this town wants to keep their town secret.  While I could find several articles about other towns we visited on this trip, information about Port Alsworth was very skimpy.  In addition to being the home of the park visitor center, I was able to learn that it has a population of 159 (2018 estimate), that it was founded in the 1950s by Babe and Mary Alsworth, and that 6% of the population lives below the poverty line (maybe one family??).  That’s about all there is to know.

The Alsworth family appears to dominate the area as they run one of the two airplane services into and out of town, Lake Clark Air, and they also run the largest lodge in the area, The Farm Lodge.  Now the Farm Lodge is world famous for high class lodging and food.  It is a place that world class fishermen like to come to partake in the trout and salmon fishing available in the many lakes and streams of the area.  But when we started talking to the Farm Lodge folks about staying there for two or three nights, we began to understand just what ‘world-class’ means – they kept trying to push us into buying expensive excursion packages.  When we explained to them that we weren’t fishing people, they touted their photography package which, if I remember, came in at several thousand dollars per person.  They simply didn’t offer a ‘non-package’ deal which might include lodging and food at a convenient price.

So Joan started looking at other options.  She found the one we are staying at, which, although cheaper than The Farm Lodge, was still somewhat package oriented.  It turns out that the Wilder family also has their own airline, Lake and Peninsula Air, and they, too, were interested in selling us excursion packages to go with our stay here.  It seems that maybe we have committed some egregious offense by not buying one of them.

We DID charter a flight with Lake and Pen to get us from King Salmon to here and the price wasn’t bad considering that it was a charter flight.  We are also flying back to Anchorage with them tomorrow, so they are making some additional money off of us.  But ever since we arrived, the owner/operator of the B&B has pretty much ignored us.  Normally, at a B&B, or even at a normal lodge, the owner asks if everything is OK and whether you need anything.  But, although she has cleaned the unit next door to ours, she hasn’t said a single word to us since we arrived three days ago.

Our ‘B&B’ Room

This also isn’t exactly a normal Bed and Breakfast.  To me, that means that all the guests gather in a common room and the owner serves some delectable dish of eggs, bacon, and breakfast rolls of some kind.  But here, your unit comes with a deluxe kitchen with very modern appliances.  And, when we opened the refrigerator door, we found a dozen eggs, a package of bacon, two yogurt containers, and some half and half.  They don’t make breakfast for you at all – you make your own!  As something different, I’m OK with that, but it is totally different than any other B&B I have been in.

People park their planes out front, not cars. That’s the air strip!

We are also used to our hostess offering assistance in making arrangements.  After being here, for example, we kind of wondered about renting a canoe and going out on the lake.  There is no sign of any such service being available.  When we asked the park ranger at the visitor center, his reply, and he has been here for several years, is that he is unaware of anyone who offers that service.

The 3/4 mile airstrip. Our Room was at the end furthest from town!

So we can make our own breakfast, and have been doing that the last several days, but what about other meals?  It turns out that there is just plain no restaurant in this town – nowhere you can buy a meal.  Yes, the Farm Lodge, which is noted for their food, is a mile hike from where we are staying, but they ONLY cater to their own guests – we are simply not welcome up there because, I assume, we declined to pay for one of their multi-thousand dollar packages!  Oh, and if you read between the lines, there is no place to get a glass of wine either, and no store where one can even buy a cheap bottle of wine.  In fact, outside of some books for sale at the park visitor center, there is no store in the entire town.

The Bay at the end of the airstrip, but no boats for tours!

So what have we been doing for food?  Well, there is a food truck!  Yep, located at the other end of this gravel air strip, there is a food truck that sells hamburgers, hot dogs, toasted cheese sandwiches, pretty good milk shakes, and potato chips.  We’ve been eating there for the last three days.  (They are closed on Sundays, so we bought two extra hamburgers yesterday and will nuke them for dinner tonight.).   Not only are we losing weight on this visit to Port Alsworth, but we are sobering up as well!

So, what do you make of a town that has no food or drink for their guests and where the owners of the guest facilities don’t talk to you?  We’ve been trying to make sense of all this.  There are a couple of clues I think.  We learned that Franklin Graham, the evangelical, has bought up portions of the town.  He has created the Samaritan Lodge and established a church with a singular mission of ministering to wounded veterans who are having problems with their marriages.  Apparently every Sunday a new crop of veterans fly in and they spend a week in the lodge working on understanding their disabilities and how they affect their marital relationships.  The program is known as Heal Our Patriots and, on the surface anyway, appears legitimate.

Once, when at the food truck, trying to start a conversation with a local, I asked whether we were allowed over on the property just to see what the Samaritan lodge was like.  His curt response was ‘Not Really’ and that was the end of the conversation.  He had no interest in talking to ‘an outsider’.

Religion might very well be a dominant theme here.  The Bible is prominently displayed in our living room and there is a prayer inscribed on a wood plaque in the bedroom.  On the coffee table is a copy of Guns and Ammo.  (How guns and salvation are a natural mix, I don’t know!).   There is also a Bible Camp that has a large contingent of young people. It might be that there are two pieces to this town – the fishing excursions at the Farm Lodge, and the evangelical community that occupies the rest of the town.  Or, maybe, those two communities aren’t quite as separate as it might seem – I’m not sure.   

We’ve used our isolated time here as a way to catch up on sleep and further heal from our bad colds.  But I have to say that Port Alsworth is not at all a welcoming town.  Park collectors need to come here, of course, to get a Lake Clark stamp.  But I suggest minimizing your stay – it doesn’t seem we are very welcome, unless you are prepared to drop a large amount of money.  (Also, you might need to bring your own food and drink!)