Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Lorene Ellis

Lorene Ellis

Lorene Ellis and her husband, Bill, moved the family from Texas to Alaska in 1954. In 1957, they purchased Devil's Mountain Lodge from the well-known big game guide, Henry Boyden. The Ellises raised their family in this remote location, which lies at the end of the Nabesna Road, some 42 miles into the Wrangell Mountains. Bill became a bush pilot and, with Lorene's help, established a successful guiding business. They had four sons, Terry, Lynn, Cole, and Kirk, who were all involved in guiding or air taxiing in the Wrangell-St. Elias area. Kirk and Cole are full partners with their dad in guiding out of Devil's Mountain Lodge. Lynn operates Ellis' Air Taxi at the Glennallen Air Field, which flies hunters, hikers, and climbers into the Wrangell Mountains. Terry retired from the fire department in Anchorage, and is back into guiding during the seasons. When Wrangell-St. Elias National Park was established by President Carter's invocation of the Historic Monuments Act in 1979, people like the Ellises with long-standing ties to the area were greatly affected. A new regulatory and administrative structure was put in place and the National Park Service's preservation mandate often conflicted with established uses; uses which included mining, hunting, and guiding. Moreover, many local residents felt their trust was violated by policy-makers based in Washington D.C. whose interests were seldom those of the people already living in the area. The Ellises struggled under an increasingly cumbersome regulatory structure that they felt favored those with formal schooling or those with the money to hire lawyers to fill out the profusion of paperwork. The Ellis' expertise lies with the land, the animals, and the tricky business of mountain flying. Something is very wrong, they say, when the National Park Service is threatening to deny them use of the very cabins they sweated to erect, while in the next valley the Park Service expends funds to restore "historic" mining cabins that are rotting into the ground. The question for them is: "What is it that the Park Service is mandated to preserve and protect?"

Lorene Ellis appears in the following new Jukebox projects: