Published March 23rd, 2011
The oldest NPS unit in Alaska, the 113-acre Sitka National Historical Park commemorates the 1804 Battle of Sitka, last major conflict between the Russians and Tlingits. Set along the coast, totem poles and temperate rain forest are combined on the historic and scenic trail within the park. The site also includes the original 1843 Russian Bishop’s House, one of the last surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in North America. The more-than-year-long celebration of the park’s centennial culminates with the dedication of a specially commissioned totem pole on April 9, 2011, designed and carved by local Tlingit artist Tommy Joseph. You can see his work at the The Southeast Cultural Center in Sitka, also well worth a visit. “The park is unique in a number of respects,” says Mary A. Miller, superintendent. “We are the oldest park in Alaska, and also the smallest, but we host the second-largest number of visitors. We are also an urban park, surrounded by the community of Sitka. And, we have a fabulous partner, the Sitka Cultural Center, co-located in our park Visitors Center. Just as the park is focused on preserving our natural and cultural property for future generations, SCC is dedicated to preserving Native art forms and culture, with world-renowned artists working each day.”
Russian America, native people of the Pacific Northwest and the magnificent coastal rain forest feature prominently in Ivan Doig’s The Sea Runners, a thrilling novel of high adventure and derring-do, set in 1873 in Russian Alaska, where four men steal a canoe and escape from a labor camp in Sitka, 1,200 miles to Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. The inventive Michael Chabon also chose Sitka as the setting for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, his wildly entertaining alternative history of the Jews. Historic photographs by E.W. Merrill are courtesy of the National Park Service.