Celebration of 50 years on the Alaska Marine Highway


SourDough News | May 8, 2013


1965 photo, Forest Service Interpreter D. Robert Hakala.
In this 1965 photo, Forest Service Interpreter D. Robert Hakala poses with some of children who participated in one of the first onboard ferry programs.

Captain John Falvey of the M/V Malaspina.
Captain John Falvey of the M/V Malaspina holds a Tongass National Forest coffee table book while speaking to the crowd. Photo by Jeff DeFreest.

On Wednesday, May 1, the M/V Malaspina docked at Berth 3 in Ketchikan, Alaska. With its smokestack gleaming golden against the cloudy sky, the ferry appeared a fitting tribute for the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Marine Highway System. On the inside, the ship’s brass was polished and the floors shone, ready for an open house celebration. A mighty bellow came forth in salute to the passing of another AMHS ferry, the M/V Columbia.

It was exciting to be on board the Malaspina to celebrate the Forest Service’s 50-year contribution in public service onboard the ferries.  From information stations to kid programs, the Forest Service has been with the ferries on many of their routes over the last 50 years.  The program continues this year on the Matanuska, with interpreters being aboard this ferry two routes a week that include stops in Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Kake, Wrangell, Ketchikan, and Prince Rupert. 

Every crew member I met said similarly, “We are glad to see you on the ferries again.” 

“It is our pleasure to be here,” I replied, smiling broadly.

While the Ratfish Wranglers including artist Ray Troll played on the car deck, kids of all ages collected prizes from fishy activities and competitors in the salmon appetizer context vied for a Golden Ticket, a chance to win 500 miles on the ferry this year. 

On Thursday, the trip around Revillagigeddo Island was full of excitement.  Passengers filled the vessel that floated a northerly route being accompanied by Dall porpoises weaving in its wake.  By the mouth of the Chickamin River the fog had lifted enough to see the shorelines, and the vessel spent time in at the head of Rudyerd Bay in the Misty Fiords National Monument and later circumnavigated around New Eddystone Rock.  The water became calm and glassy. 

Later, as we turned north from Point Alva and entered familiar landscapes around Tongass Narrows, two small humpback whales played in the waters at the back of the boat. After several interpretive programs and trivia challenges, bird watching, a coloring competition and awards, the Forest Service information station and 50th display was almost out of brochures and the Order of the Walrus cards had been handed out to passengers.

The crew gathered for desserts. Tongass coffee table books personalized by Tongass Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole were presented to the captain and crew.  It was the perfect ending to our first day of celebrations.

The Malaspina left Ketchikan at 4 a.m. the next day for Wrangell and Petersburg. By Saturday the ship had arrived in Juneau, after receiving a blessing of the fleet by bagpipes. The ferry traveled to Tracy Arm accompanied by Forest Service Naturalist Laurie Craig. Passengers saw significant ice in the avalanche chutes and waters of these glaciers.  They viewed spring bears and mountain goats.

It was a great beginning to an exciting season.  Congratulations to the State of Alaska Marine Highway and its staff, Captains and crews, and to all the Forest Service staff over the years that have contributed their expertise for this great partnership.


By Faith Duncan, Interpretive and Conservation Education Program Manager