Whittier, Alaska: A Hidden Gem Where Wilderness Meets Community

By Ivan PetrenkoFeb 23, 2024 08:37 AMNews
Alaskan mountains reflected in lake's water
Alaskan mountains reflected in lake's water. Source: unsplash

Nestled in Alaska's breathtaking landscapes, Whittier may seem like an unassuming town with its modest population of fewer than 300 residents. Yet, it stands as a remarkable gateway to the majestic wilderness of Alaska, including cruise ship docks, a significant railhead, numerous glaciers, and a lush temperate rainforest. This unique town is much more than meets the eye, embodying a fusion of adventure and community like nowhere else.

Whittier is accessible by land only through a 2.5-mile one-lane tunnel, a relic of World War II. This passage carves its way through a mountain, presenting travelers with a dramatic entrance into a world where nature's grandeur is omnipresent. The town's landscape is a picturesque blend of Prince William Sound's waters, a cascading waterfall, and the newest addition of a cruise ship terminal, enhancing its allure as a tourist destination.

Dave Dickason, Whittier's mayor, highlights the town's unique setup, combining critical transportation hubs with a tiny residential population. However, Whittier's essence goes beyond its infrastructure. The town's heartbeat is its community, primarily housed in the Begich Towers Incorporated (BTI). This 14-story building, originally a U.S. Army barracks, now serves as a self-contained community with its amenities, reflecting the town's adaptability and resilience.

Whittier's charm and potential for adventure are drawing an increasing number of visitors. From hiking trails like the Portage Pass to kayaking and jet skiing in Prince William Sound, the town offers an array of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. According to Charlie Howard, co-owner of Glacier Jetski Adventures, Whittier's unique position and protected waters make it an ideal spot for experiencing Alaska's wilderness up close.

Despite its growing popularity, Whittier faces the challenge of balancing tourism growth with preserving its small-town community feel. The influx of visitors, especially from cruise ships, raises questions about sustainable development and maintaining the town's character. The community's focus is on creating spaces that benefit both residents and visitors, ensuring that Whittier remains a welcoming place for all.

As Whittier continues to evolve, it stands as a testament to the possibility of harmonizing nature's magnificence with a close-knit community. Its residents are poised to welcome the world into their unique corner of Alaska, ensuring that the wilderness and community spirit thrive side by side.

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