An Outdoor View: Wilder yet

Editor’s note: The last of a series of three columns about wild lands in Alaska.

A few years ago, my son, Vic, my grandson, Derek and I floated the Koktuli River, a stream seldom floated by anyone except a few moose and caribou hunters and the occasional fisherman. This remote stream flows mainly through land owned by the State of Alaska. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources manages the river corridor for “primitive use experience.” In other words, it’s open to the public for doing what we wanted to do: experience some wilderness.

Just getting there was an experience. From Anchorage, we flew in three different small aircraft, the third of which was a float plane that set us down on a pond near the headwaters of the Koktuli’s south fork. At that point, we were 200 miles southwest of Anchorage and 20 miles from the village of Iliamna.

For seven days, we were in wilderness. There was something new around every bend. A great horned owl buzzed our raft. We paddled past ospreys perching in trees. Vic caught a silver salmon on a fly, a “first” for him. Derek caught his first grayling and saw the first bear he’d seen outside a zoo. We camped on gravel bars. At night, silence lulled us to sleep. Our last camp was on a long gravel bar on the Mulchatna River, two miles downstream from the mouth of the Koktuli. We frittered away three sunny days, fishing for silvers and pike, and relaxing by the campfire. The only sounds were the river and the ducks, geese and sandhill cranes.

I don’t often use the word “magic,” but it’s apt for describing time spent in wilderness. You feel as if you’re alone in the world, and the world is new. It’s a different feeling than being in an easily accessed place, where people and signs of them are at best a distraction and at worst a threat.

Wilderness has many values, and is worth protecting, but someone is always wanting to “improve” it. Mining interests want what would be the world’s largest open-pit mine at the Koktuli’s source. Such a development would almost certainly affect the river’s water quality and quantity. Any pretense of pristine wildness would be lost, along with the region’s rich fisheries. Another threat to public land is the proposed coal mine on the Chuitna River, on the west side of Cook Inlet. Plans are afoot to strip-mine right through the river.

Threats to our land, air and water never end, and that’s why I disagree with the contention that “the government owns too much land in Alaska.” Many activities, including oil drilling and mining, can be done on public land. Just because it’s public doesn’t mean it can’t be developed.

We forget that public land is our land at our own peril. As responsible owners, we need to be aware of what’s happening on our land, and to act in its best interests. Whether the land is private or public, contributing time, energy and money to protecting it is part of the deal.

One of our responsibilities as land owners is dealing with our various government entities, the managers of our lands. It’s important to remember that government employees are our servants — and equally important that they know this and act accordingly.

Being human, our public servants sometimes do things that need to be undone or changed. They need to know what you’re thinking. They also deserve a little respect. The current fear, hatred and disrespect of government that’s infecting our country through the media is not a healthy thing.

Public lands belong to all of us, so we all need to learn the issues and take part in the debates, many of which are controversial. The wilder the lands, the more pressure there is to develop them, or at least that’s how it sometimes seems.

That might explain why many environmentalists have a knee-jerk reaction to protect wild lands. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand this reaction, and I occasionally feel my own knee wanting to jerk. After all, they aren’t making any new wilderness.

Les Palmer can be reached at

More in Life

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: A Christmas artist and a cyber safari

My attempts at adornment layouts come across as being colorfully sculptured landfills

Minister’s Message: Keep your faith focused on Jesus

Don’t let fear make you slip from faith

Hip-Hop students practice their routines for Forever Christmas on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, at Forever Dance in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Forever Dance rings in the holidays with variety show

The show serves as a fun holiday tradition and an opportunity to get on stage early in the season

Image courtesy 20th Century 
Ralph Fiennes is Chef Julien Slowik and Anya Taylor-Joy is Margot in “The Menu”
On the Screen: ‘The Menu’ serves up fun twists and earnest commentary

I was plenty interested in the film I saw in the trailers, but the one I saw at the theater was so much more

Golden Soup mixes cauliflower, onions and apples and can be made in one pot. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Golden soup offers a healthy reprieve after holiday indulgence

On the off days between the trips and celebrations I find it necessary to eat strategically

Photo courtesy of the National Archives 
This photo and information from a “prison book” at San Quentin state prison in California shows Arthur Vernon Watson when he entered the prison at age 23.
Justice wasn’t elementary, Watson, Part 2

Well before he shot and killed a man in Soldotna in 1961, Arthur Vernon Watson was considered trouble

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Thanksgiving

We at least have a good idea of what our political future looks like.

This is Arthur Vernon Watson at age 39, when he was transferred from the federal prison in Atlanta to the penitentiary on Alcatraz Island near San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)
Justice wasn’t elementary, Watson, Part 3

Anchorage probation officer Roy V. Norquist was monitoring Arthur’s movements and reported that he was pleased with what he saw

Most Read