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Page Spencer, Part 1

Page Spencer was interviewed on May 12, 2011 by Rachel Mason and Karen Brewster at the offices of the National Park Service in Anchorage, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Page talks about growing up, her family's outdoor-based lifestyle, her parents' backgrounds, her father's work and refuge management issues, changes in wildlife populations, mining, the 1964 Earthquake, and working on the Exxon Valdez oil spill for Kenai Fjords National Park. She talks about changes in Seward, impacts from the oil spill, the stranded bulldozer up Resurrection River, her father's traverse of the Harding Icefield, skiing, hiking, and snowmachining in the Exit Glacier area, the road to the glacier, changes to the glacier and wildlife, scientific issues, and thoughts about management practices for access to Exit Glacier.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2010-05-18_PT.1

Project: Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park
Date of Interview: May 12, 2011
Narrator(s): Page Spencer
Interviewer(s): Rachel Mason, Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


Personal background and growing up in Kenai, Alaska

Her father as first manager of the Moose Range (Refuge) in Kenai

Her parents background and coming to Alaska

Education and work history

Working for Kenai Fjords National Park during the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Personal impacts from working on the oil spill

Moose Range and Kenai Fjords National Park boundaries

Her father's role in taking bulldozer up Resurrection River to re-route Summit Creek

Traveling to other parts of Alaska with her father

1964 Earthquake

Construction of Herman Leirer Road to Exit Glacier

Harding Icefield traverse expedition

Routes across the Harding Icefield

Getting to Seward from Exit Glacier at the end of the expedition

Hunting and berry picking

Travel between Seward and Kenai and dog team mail carrier

Changes in Seward -- transportation to tourism

Native people in Seward

Differeneces between Seward and Kenai

Development of tourism in Seward

Local attitudes towards creation of Kenai Fjords National Park

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


RACHEL MASON: Good morning. My name's Rachel Mason, and I'm here with Page Spencer, our interviewee, and with Karen Brewster.

We're -- it's May 12th, 2011, and we're here to interview Page about the Exit Glacier Kenai Fjords project.

KAREN BREWSTER: And we're here in Anchorage at the Park Service office.

RACHEL MASON: Okay. We're here in Anchorage at the National Park Service office.

So Page, we'd like to start out with some biographical information.

If you could tell us a little about how you -- your early days, and how you were first connected with the Exit Glacier area.

PAGE SPENCER: Okay. We lived in Kenai, had a homestead there, and my father was the refuge manager, first for the moose range and then for all the refuges in Alaska. So --

RACHEL MASON: Were you born there?

PAGE SPENCER: I was born here in Anchorage, but -- RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay.

PAGE SPENCER: No hospital in Kenai.

RACHEL MASON: Oh. What year were you born? PAGE SPENCER: 1950. RACHEL MASON: Okay.

PAGE SPENCER: So that was the old hospital over there. RACHEL MASON: Okay.

PAGE SPENCER: And I was the oldest child. Mom and dad had come there in '48 to be the super -- or the refuge manager for the moose range.

And so we lived there until the fall of '68 when we moved to Anchorage.


PAGE SPENCER: And we had a homestead on Beaver Creek, which is between Kenai and Soldotna.

And, you know, as the four of us children got old enough, big enough, and we could kind of get out and do stuff, then mom and dad just took us out everywhere, particularly on the Kenai.

And so we did the canoeing and the backpacking and the hiking and skiing, a lot of skiing over all -- you know, all of the country.

And dad had built a little sailboat, an 18 foot Tubby sailboat that we brought to Seward a couple times and took over into Aialik Bay.

So that was in -- that was in '66, I believe, when we first did that trip over to Aialik.

RACHEL MASON: How many brothers and sisters did you have?

PAGE SPENCER: So I have a sister and two brothers.

So there's myself, the oldest; then John is two years younger, Lynn after that, and then Bill after that.

And you know they're all of the Mount Marathon --


PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. I believe their records still stand. RACHEL MASON: Cool.

PAGE SPENCER: From what -- at least Bill's record still stands.

And so, you know, they had -- there was a lot of coming over to Seward in the early summer,

because Bill would camp out in people's backyards and then train.

They would all train on Mount Marathon just to get ready for the Fourth of July.

RACHEL MASON: Did you all go to school in Kenai?

PAGE SPENCER: We did. Yeah. There was -- it actually was a difficult trip over to Seward.

The road past Skilak Lake was really tough, and all we had was an old Jeep. And so apparently we came to Seward --

And there was a dead of the night run when I had rheumatic fever to try to get me to the hospital,

and I would have been about four then, and dad brought me over.

But, you know, that was -- that was just like an absolute true emergency because there was no road to Anchorage at that time.


PAGE SPENCER: So, you know, people came -- came to Seward, and then took the train up.

The train worked, but the road was not finished between the Hope cutoff and, well, Turnagain Pass now, that section wasn't done.

RACHEL MASON: How did your mother travel to Anchorage when she had you?

PAGE SPENCER: She flew up. So Fish & Wildlife had a suite of planes, and dad was, you know, one of the original six pilots that Clarence Rhode had hired.

And so he would, you know, fly her up.

I guess in my case he was on Nunivak, and so she had to charter somebody to fly. She was in labor with her first baby.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, my goodness.

PAGE SPENCER: Landed her here, and she's walking in Spenard Road to the hospital.


PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. She's tough.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. She must be.

Well, what -- what were some of the issues that the refuge -- or the moose range had to deal with in those years?

PAGE SPENCER: Particularly then, there was a lot of poaching and squatters and, you know, that kind of stuff.

And there was no scientific understanding of what made good moose habitat.

Or how much a moose would eat, or what it would take to sustain a moose population.

There'd been a big fire in 1947 over most of the Kenai.

And that flush of growth after that just helped the moose population explode.

But there were a lot of people, you know, just kind of living out on the lakes and river systems, just living off the land, and there was some big moose.

So people would come in and they'd go down Kenai Lake and down the river to Skilak, you know, and then there'd be horses and people would take them out on horse expeditions.

RACHEL MASON: Was the hunting regulated in pre-statehood times?

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. Yeah, I believe it was federally regulated.

And dad was the first refuge manager, and when he got his orders in Washington, they told him, you know, to go back --

go up there and take it back from the poachers and the trespassers.

So, you know, that was one of his primary tasks.

And he's -- I have his old -- we're getting way off track.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. No, this is great.

PAGE SPENCER: I have his old field books, you know, they gave -- that, you know, those little, tiny books that they used to give us at the Park Service,

so he had one in his pocket all the time, you know.

And he's going to Anchorage and mom would put the grocery list in there and whatnot, but he had his notes from every day.

And he would go out ranging his moose range almost every day.

You know, and -- and learning about what he -- what was out there and talking to the people that he saw and he'd fly over.

There were no wolves in the country in those days, you know, and no caribou, it was just moose and bears and -- some bears and the fish, you know. It was --

RACHEL MASON: Did your family eat moose, too?


PAGE SPENCER: Yeah, every year we got a moose.

The first year was bad because he wasn't a resident yet, so that was a spring bear.

And in those days, there wasn't a big king salmon, or there wasn't a big salmon run in the Kenai River, so there wasn't the fish like -- like people have now.

So at first -- that first year somebody butchered a cow in the middle of winter, and we apparently got a very tough quarter of that.

Pappy's bull.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you know why your dad decided to come up here and become the range manager?

PAGE SPENCER: It had been his dream forever.

And mom had been trying to get up here.

And so they -- I guess dad -- they'd met before the war, and, you know, kind of dated or seen each other off and on during the war.

They were both -- mom was a Marine and dad was an aviator.

And so then after the war, dad started working for the Fish and Wildlife Service, and he did some work in Canada and Mexico, and then they assigned him in the summer of '48 to come up here.

So he wrote to mom and said, "I'm going to Alaska, if you want to come."

And she went to Ohio on -- met him, you know, on the way, they got married, and they headed north and they drove up.

And then dad was issued a Goose here in Anchorage and he flew down to Kenai.

It must have been in September.

And he said -- he told me later in his old years, he says, "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven."

You know, he was just in his early thirties, and you know, those golden days on the Kenai, and here he's got, you know, a whole refuge and an airplane and a new world, and --

RACHEL MASON: Did your mother share his bliss?

PAGE SPENCER: Absolutely. Yeah. No, she -- she wanted -- she wanted to be even further out.

She didn't care for Kenai much, she'd prefer to have lived out at Skilak or somewhere like that. Yeah.

RACHEL MASON: Well, did both of them have rural backgrounds or were they prepared for an outdoor --

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. Oh, yeah, they were. RACHEL MASON: -- life?

PAGE SPENCER: I think everybody did. Dad grew up fostered to Quaker people in Pennsylvania.

And so he spent a lot of time, you know, just out in the woods hunting. And he had -- got a degree in Forestry,

and a Masters in Wildlife Management, which was a very new field then in Michigan, and he started a Ph.D. under Aldo Leopold,

and then the war came. And so he -- he went, and enlisted as a pilot.

KAREN BREWSTER: Then where was your mother from originally?

PAGE SPENCER: Mom's from Colorado, so she came from Gunnison.

And she was an artist and an art teacher before she joined the Marines.

And she'd done a lot of hiking and skiing in the Rockies, and whatnot.

So yeah, they were both, you know, ready for it, and he figured out what needed to be figured out, you know, as you go along.

RACHEL MASON: You said your father has passed. Is your mother still living?

PAGE SPENCER: She's still here. And if you would like to interview her, be my guest.

RACHEL MASON: What's her name?

PAGE SPENCER: Her name is Eloise Spencer.

KAREN BREWSTER: So let's get back a little bit to you. PAGE SPENCER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you're -- so we have you growing up down there, and then you said you moved to Anchorage, in what year?

PAGE SPENCER: The family moved to Anchorage in -- in the fall of '68, and that -- the day after that I went to Fairbanks to go to school.

So I did four years in Fairbanks and got a bachelor’s in Biology.

Then I went to Colorado for three or four years, and I got a Masters in Ecology there.

And then I came back to Fairbanks and got a Ph.D. in Ecology there.

So -- so I have strong roots in Fairbanks. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. And then I got to work for BLM.

I did BLM nine years working with remote sensing and vegetation mapping and mining.

And then I ran some mining -- the mining EIS's, which were concurrent with the Park Service's mining EIS's.

And then in '89 just a few weeks before the oil spill, I came here to the Park Service in the Minerals Division.

And I've had a variety of jobs, you know. And I just kind of -- I stayed here, but I had several different jobs as the Park Service reorganized and whatnot.

And then got to finish off in Lake Clark as the Chief of Natural Resources.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you just retired recently?

PAGE SPENCER: In January. The first of January. Yeah.

So -- and I probably won't go far from here.

RACHEL MASON: So at what point did you work in the -- in the Kenai Fjords or in that area?

PAGE SPENCER: I only really worked in Kenai Fjords during the oil spill.

And because -- remember I was telling you we had these trips out on -- with the sailboat, so I knew the outer coast as a child.

And then when the oil spill came and I was -- Bud and I had just gotten married just before that, and so Bud had been out on the outer coast, too,

but the two of us were the only people in the Park Service really had spent time out on the outer coast.

And I, you know, had the background as an ecologist.

And so, you know, kind of within days of the oil spill, Bud was already back -- it was right after our honeymoon, so he was already back here.

RACHEL MASON: You can mark if you --

PAGE SPENCER: Well, I mean, just in Seward.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, in Seward. Yeah.

PAGE SPENCER: And so he and I had been talking about, well, what's the impacts going to be, because we had flown out over the -- the tanker and saw the oil coming, and it was already at Sawmill Bay,

and we knew how the currents came through the Gulf and we knew that Kenai Fjords was going to get whacked.

And what should we -- what should we do about this.

And so he and I started devising a science plan basically to do the pre-oiling assessments.

And I came to Seward shortly thereafter, and spent two or three months here.

And did several voyages out on the outer coast and did a lot of reporting, and, frankly, burned out.

RACHEL MASON: Did the oil ever hit the outer coast?

PAGE SPENCER: Oh, absolutely. Oh, yeah. And it hit way up into the bays, you know.

At first, as the current came, just as it came along the edges, it was getting -- and it was still pretty slooshy oil, you know, it hadn't weathered very much,

so it was hitting all the outer -- those beautiful granite beaches with the big boulders and stuff.

And then a storm came in and shoved it all into -- you know, up into the bays.

And so we found some of it partway up into Aialik. We found some of it on the outer coast from Northwestern.

And then around Paguna and Taroka and McArthur Pass was awful.

And it made it into Beauty Bay, you know, and down, way down the coast.

And then on down through Yalik, and then, of course, it came to Katmai, and you know, in time made it to the Bering Sea.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Were you able to protect any of the -- the crucial areas in the ways that you had devised?

PAGE SPENCER: What we -- they had boom for some of the salmon streams, and they weren't real effective, but it was something.

And then what I had to do was make suggestions for the beaches that would get cleaned with washing,

that high pressure washing or collecting oil in totes and whatnot, but that --

that treatment was almost -- and often was more damaging than just letting it sit.

And so it was a real -- we didn't have a lot of treatment in Kenai Fjords just because the impact of that activity was horrendous.

You know. And also it was all in Pony Cove and, you know, the -- that outer side of Resurrection, too, down there.


PAGE SPENCER: I don't know that it got to Bear Glacier, but it was all -- all down.

But you know, we took boats out and went ashore on all those places and walked all those beaches a lot, and collected samples and, you know, brought in birds and the whole bit. It was --

RACHEL MASON: How long did you work doing that?

PAGE SPENCER: I was actually on the front lines for about two months solid.

I got -- I just completely fried out, in retrospect. It was traumatic stress.

And so I had to leave, and never went back to the oil spill.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Well, Seward itself must have been a zoo of a lot of --

PAGE SPENCER: So to shortcut all of that, there is a book.

It is called "White Silk and Black Tar," that I wrote about all that.

And so it describes what a nuthouse Seward was, and the very strange characters that showed up there. And the -- you know, just --

RACHEL MASON: Oh, good. Okay. We can consult that.

PAGE SPENCER: You can just, like, tuck that into the file. RACHEL MASON: Okay.

PAGE SPENCER: I -- I don't know if there's any copies around.

Sometimes Tidal Wave has some, and I have a very few at home still. And I have the file, I have the Word file that I wrote.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. PAGE SPENCER: So if that's -- RACHEL MASON: We'll look that up.

KAREN BREWSTER: It does sound like a bit of an overwhelming experience.

PAGE SPENCER: You will -- when the Gulf oil spill came, and the little page came that said, you know, we need all the biologists to sign up and go be resource specialists on the Gulf, and I ignored it for several months.

And then finally Joel comes to me and says, "Page, we need this filled out."

And I gave it to him and I said, "Joel, you need to understand that if I am sent to the Gulf, I will retire the next day, and I am not joking."

He looks at me and he said, "Oh, okay." I will not go to another oil spill. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.

PAGE SPENCER: And I was in contact with people at the Gulf Shores National Seashore,

and I finally -- you know, I would write back and forth to her every night, the chief of interpretation there,

and the same things were happening to them emotionally, physically, biologically, financially.

You know, it was the same damn story all over again.

RACHEL MASON: Well, I imagine your experience was very valuable for them.

PAGE SPENCER: She said it helped her get through. Yeah.

And it's just like, you know, it's going to last a long time, take care of yourself.

KAREN BREWSTER: It's interesting that, you know, being in Alaska and you lived here at the time of that spill, you know, we hear about the impact on the communities and on the fishermen and on the environment,

but there's little discussion of the impact on people like you on the ground working really hard to try and protect things and trying to keep one step ahead of everything.

PAGE SPENCER: It was -- it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

It is really hard to have that kind of assault on a landscape that you love. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

PAGE SPENCER: That you love so much. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and also it was the 24/7, and you couldn't stop.

PAGE SPENCER: And it was physically and mentally and emotionally just exhausting. And -- and we didn't take care of our people.

You know, they brought in the -- what are those fire teams. That was the first time they used a fire team for --

KAREN BREWSTER: Command teams?

PAGE SPENCER: Right. Yeah, those IC teams. They brought in an IC team for this in Seward, but in three weeks, they went away


PAGE SPENCER: -- and we were still there.

So that's a long ways from Exit Glacier.

Exit Glacier did play -- you know, we had one afternoon and we went out to Exit in the middle of that, and it was a joyful, sunny, non-oiled afternoon.

And, you know, we -- the -- the road used to be closed, oh, let's see, you know, Mile 2 or 4, some -- about Mile 2, I think, and so you would just ski up the river or ski up the closed road and go into Exit.

And the sun was shining, you know, and the Varied Thrushes are singing, and it was -- it was a wonderful, wonderful break.

RACHEL MASON: Well, to go back to the -- the '50s, I guess, when your dad first got here, and then we'll work forward.


RACHEL MASON: Did the moose range incorporate any of the lands around Seward or did you -- did he work around here at all?

PAGE SPENCER: No, it didn't. The closest it came -- KAREN BREWSTER: Go ahead.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah, go ahead and mark it anywhere you want.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. I think this is about the refuge boundary, and I think it's still pretty good there.

And so Upper Russian Lake, you know, and all this country, Skilak Glacier, Surprise Mountain, Pothole, this was all moose range, but this was national forest. And one of the --

RACHEL MASON: Yeah, could you mark the boundary there? Just --

PAGE SPENCER: I think it's right here.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, it's there. It's shown.

PAGE SPENCER: The national wildlife refuge boundary is sort of the national -- what's now the national park. RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay.

KAREN BREWSTER: So the ref -- the current refuge boundary is pretty much the same?

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. I don't think they took any of the refuge to make the park.

One of the early things that sort of happened here is that this creek here called Summit Creek -- so we have this big red run that's coming up through the Russian River, and a big spawning and rearing lake in Upper Russian,

and this Summit Creek here normally flowed out the Resurrection River.

And it's very glacial because it's dirty and glacial because it's got glacial headwater.

But it -- on this delta here, it changed paths, which is easy to do, and it was starting to flow into Upper Russian Lake.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. Could you mark that?

PAGE SPENCER: Yes. So it was about here that it -- that it started.

RACHEL MASON: Right on the crack.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. Started. It went down through this swamp, and it started flowing somewhere down through here.

So this was -- and so now there was glacial water going into Upper Russian, which would ruin the spawning and rearing habitat for the red salmon run.

And so dad and some other guys from Fish and Wildlife Service got an old surplus bulldozer down here in Seward,

and they walked it up the Resurrection River in the wintertime, over the ice, and through --

apparently through the ice at times, it fell into the river a few times.

And they got here and they built a berm right along the edge here. So that's a berm.

RACHEL MASON: Can you write "berm"? Yeah.

PAGE SPENCER: To try to redirect Summit Creek back down the Resurrection River instead of going into the Russian River.

And that berm is still there, and it, you know, is still pretty much holding.

And the bulldozer is still there. And it's very cool. RACHEL MASON: Why did they leave the bulldozer there?

PAGE SPENCER: Because they thought that they might need to rebuild this.

They didn't know, you know, kind of -- you know how glacial systems are, they're kind of flashy, and it was just a big gravel delta.

So it doesn't take much. It's kind of like the -- the river that goes into Bradley Lake, but also comes into Kenai Fjords,

and they're worried about water flow one way or the other.

And that's just the functionality of how the glacier melts and how the gravel is arranged on any given day. It's a very similar situation right here.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Could you write "bulldozer" there, too, wherever it is.

PAGE SPENCER: Well, the bulldozer -- I know whether I should put this, but I will.

So they left it here at the berm.

And then Luke Elwell, who had the lodge here at Upper Russian, after a few years, decided that he needed the bulldozer.

And so he went over there and he managed to get it this far, and he kind of gave up on the bulldozer project. And it's still there. And --

RACHEL MASON: What year was it that they first brought it out there?

PAGE SPENCER: I'm not sure. There was a newspaper article about this, oh, 15 or 20 years ago in the news, and the dates are in there.

RACHEL MASON: Was it in the '60s or --

PAGE SPENCER: No, it was in the '50s. KAREN BREWSTER: I've heard it was in the '50s. PAGE SPENCER: It was in the '50s. I was -- it was the middle '50s. RACHEL MASON: Oh.

KAREN BREWSTER: But, yeah, I've heard about it being up there, but I didn't know that it was your dad. That's neat.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. And so then when dad was ill in the late '90s, we were all sitting around supper one night talking about this, he was telling us about this, and we said we should go see that thing.

And so we launched this expedition. I flew in with my sister, went to here, and the boys bicycled in this way.


PAGE SPENCER: And so we all met up here, and we went and found this damn dozer.

And it was -- it's one of those kind, you know, with the chains that lifts the -- lifts the blade.

It's a really old one, but it's -- it's still sitting there, you know. RACHEL MASON: It's still there.

PAGE SPENCER: Looks like it probably could be fired up again.

RACHEL MASON: And what was Luke Elwood going to use it for?


RACHEL MASON: Elwell. PAGE SPENCER: Yeah, Luke and Mamie had a lodge here, and so they were big game guides.

And you just never know when you're going to need a dozer. RACHEL MASON: That's right.

KAREN BREWSTER: It's Alaska, you never know.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. Yeah. And there was one just down at the end of the lake.

And so, you know, probably for making the trails and stuff like that.

Most of their supplies were flown in, but they also, you know, brought stuff in.

I don't think they used horses, but, you know, it was a long trip coming up.

RACHEL MASON: What did he run into that prevented him from taking it any further?

PAGE SPENCER: I don't know why he gave up that project. It may have just quit running, and he -- you know, when you're kind of a -- RACHEL MASON: Ran out of gas. PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. Two person operation.

KAREN BREWSTER: It's interesting that they took -- your dad and them took it up there in the wintertime. I wondered how they got up there.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah, it was winter. That's basically the best way to take heavy equipment.

You know, this is a pretty wide river and it was iced -- the flow was down, it was iced over, so it could sort of be walked up.


PAGE SPENCER: And as I understand it, it did, in fact, fall in the ice a couple times and had to be winched out.

And I -- I'm not sure, but I think that a Super Cub may have come to the end of its life somewhere in here, too.

It was a big project, you know. But it was, like, you know, there was an environmental need, there was a resource to deal with it, they just -- they just went and did it.

You know, I often have thought, gosh, what if he'd had to do NEPA for that. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.

PAGE SPENCER: It never would have gotten done in time.

RACHEL MASON: It seems so practical.

KAREN BREWSTER: There were no rules that said you couldn't take a dozer up there.

PAGE SPENCER: No. I mean, people were placer mining the streams with no settling ponds, nothing, you know, so it was -- you wouldn't hardly notice a dozer in the winter.

KAREN BREWSTER: So at that time were there people mining up the Resurrection Valley, or --

PAGE SPENCER: I am not aware of that. And I'm not -- I don't know if any mining -- and I might be -- you should ask Logan this, whether there was mining in this valley.

You know, there was mining over there by Primrose, there's a mine up in here somewhere.

RACHEL MASON: Could you mark that? PAGE SPENCER: It's just a big -- big --

RACHEL MASON: A little circle.

PAGE SPENCER: Oh there it is, Primrose Mine. So that's a mine -- that was a hard rock operation.

And then there's a bunch of stuff up there above Grant Lake, the head of Grant Lake, and then there's a bunch of stuff at Falls -- you know this was all a hard rock operation up Falls Creek.

I've been up in there. And so those -- you know, those buildings are all kind of falling down.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah, there's quite a few mines marked on here.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. So there was quite a mining district in the Kenai Mountains, and you've -- you've probably talked to --

KAREN BREWSTER: But not in what is now the park.

PAGE SPENCER: Except for that stuff out in McCarty.

And there was a little operation in Paguna, but most of the stuff is out there in Beauty Bay and Surprise Bay, there were -- you know, there was a whole lot of mining out there and some of it fairly recent into the '70s.

But I'm not aware of anything kind of on this mountainside.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Where did they get the dozer from to -- to take up there? PAGE SPENCER: It was Army surplus. RACHEL MASON: Oh, it was. Okay.

PAGE SPENCER: So there'd been an Army camp here in Seward, you know, because they had the defense watching and defense structures out on the edge of the bay,

so there was lots of old equipment available in those days.

KAREN BREWSTER: They had a lot of road building going on, too, probably. PAGE SPENCER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you know how long that trip took them to get the dozer up there? Did your dad say?

PAGE SPENCER: I don't remember. I'm trying to think.

KAREN BREWSTER: Then how did they get out?

RACHEL MASON: They must have walked out. KAREN BREWSTER: They hike back out?

PAGE SPENCER: They must have hiked out or maybe, you know, walked down to Upper Russian and flew out.

You know, there's lots of -- lots of flying going on in these days. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

RACHEL MASON: Was your father pleased to go back to the dozer?

PAGE SPENCER: Well, he didn't go himself.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, he didn't.

PAGE SPENCER: He was too sick. But he was sure glad to hear our stories, you know. RACHEL MASON: Yeah. You took pictures.

PAGE SPENCER: We took pictures, and we managed to get a picture of all four of us kids rowed up peering over the blade of the dozer.

So, yeah, it was -- it brought back lots of good memories for him.

You know, he had a wonderful life on the moose range.

And, you know, up until he kind of also got moved to Anchorage and the bureaucracy ate his lunch, too, but those early days on the Kenai, it was just heaven.

RACHEL MASON: Did you go with him on any of the -- of his trips?

PAGE SPENCER: I did as I got older. You know, in those days, there wasn't the prohibition on taking your family, and so I went to Nunivak with him several times and my brothers went to Cold Bay with him.

And, you know, so I was able to get out into other parts of Alaska and see -- you know, I was already --

I already knew I was going to be an ecologist, and so I could see these other ecosystems and other -- other parts of Alaska.

KAREN BREWSTER: Why did he go out to Nunivak?

PAGE SPENCER: Well, there's a refuge out there which had musk ox on it, and so he went out to count the musk ox every year.

He became the -- in, I believe, '59, he became the supervisor of all the refuges.

So there's kind of like a manager for each refuge, and it's not quite like the regional director that we have in the Park Service because there's other divisions above that, but it's the regional director for all the refuges.

And so he did that. He became that job, as well as the refuge manager for Kenai, and served in that capacity I think until well into the '70s.

Yeah. And so he was going to all the refuges and he would just fly, you know, Widgeons and Gooses and Beavers, and he just --

RACHEL MASON: What -- how did the '64 earthquake affect your family? I'm sure there's another book about that.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah, that's not -- that was an article. RACHEL MASON: Oh.

PAGE SPENCER: Actually, I was up at Independence yesterday remembering this because we -- mom and dad both were skiers, and so they raised us to be skiers.

And one of the things that we would do a couple times a year would be pack up the car and go up to Hatcher Pass, which we called Independence at the time.

And you -- the bunkhouse was open then, and so we could just stay in the bunkhouse and there's a little rope tow, and we'd go up there and ski for three or four days at a time.

So we were up -- we had just gone up there and just arrived at Independence when the earthquake hit.

And then the avalanches, all the chutes ran and closed the road. And then the bridges broke.



RACHEL MASON: What did it feel like up there?

PAGE SPENCER: I was recalling this to my friend Irene Lindquist the other day, and it's like it's the first time in my life I realized there was something bigger than dad.

You know. This is, like, this is something that daddy can't fix.

And it just -- it went on and on. It was long.

We were in the top of the bunkhouse, all four of the kids, and the steps in that bunkhouse had short little risers and they're not even, and so we were just like thump, thump, thump, thump, thumping all the way down, you know, three stories of these stairs.

Well, the whole thing is shaking, and the avalanches are pouring off the sides of the mountains.

There's a D-8 Cat in the parking lot that's jumping up and down like popcorn in a hot skillet.

And it just kept going and going and going and going.

And then that night, you know, the aftershocks were going, and the shutters are banging all night.

And the lights, you could see out there to Palmer down in the valley, it was all dark down there.

There was no lights in Palmer where usually -- you know, we had a light plant, so that was working up there.

RACHEL MASON: That must have been a tense night.

PAGE SPENCER: It was a tense night, but then, you know, there we were. We couldn't get out.

The sun was shining. We had our skis, we just spent the next three days skiing.


PAGE SPENCER: And then they built a makeshift bridge over the Matanuska River, so we got back to Anchorage, but then all the stuff around the head of Turnagain Arm, of course, was mush.

And so we flew home, left our car in Anchorage and dad flew us home in a government plane. But...

KAREN BREWSTER: So were there other families up there at Hatcher Pass?

PAGE SPENCER: There weren't. We were the -- the people who ran it, and I can't remember their names out of Palmer, and us, and maybe a couple other people were the only ones there.

And no one else could get there, so...

It actually wasn't a big disaster, it was -- it was kind of fun.

But yeah, and when we got home, you know, the house was -- I mean, everything was jumbled off, but the house was in good shape, and we lived inland, so we didn't -- we didn't have anything.

The swamps all sank. When you go around the edges, the swamps were all cracked, and the swamp part sank, and then, you know, cracked off of the -- cracked off the other part.

RACHEL MASON: When you flew home were you able to see from a distance any of the damage that was done?

PAGE SPENCER: I don't remember it. You know, I don't even remember if we took off over Turnagain.

And, you know, if we come -- just going south, there weren't buildings and stuff, it's just the mud flats, and I don't remember.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you would have used Merrill Field at that point, right?

PAGE SPENCER: No, we were operating out of International because Lake Hood was -- was working then, and so Fish & Wildlife --

that OAS hangar now, the old one, was the Fish & Wildlife hangar, and so that was the center of operations for aircraft.

And dad came in and out of there a lot. So --

RACHEL MASON: Well, were you aware of it when Herman Leirer started to build the road to Exit Glacier, or did you hear about that? That would have been about in the late '60s.

PAGE SPENCER: I'm not aware of remembering that. What I remember is when dad said when they came out of Exit Glacier, it was a very long day, and they got --

made their way down to the bottom of Exit, and there was no road.

And so they came on into Seward down the river.

RACHEL MASON: After they had already crossed the glacier? PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. RACHEL MASON: Huh.

PAGE SPENCER: And so if -- if there was, in fact, a road being built out there, it must not have either been very far, or the river might have been in better shape to ski on,

but he said it was a very long day. And --

RACHEL MASON: And then they had to -- PAGE SPENCER: -- they were tired and hungry.

RACHEL MASON: -- to walk on into Seward.

PAGE SPENCER: Yes. And so then there's, you know, I forget how many miles.

I used to ski that a lot, but you know, there was --


PAGE SPENCER: -- yeah, another 6 or 8 miles to go with packs. KAREN BREWSTER: And they skied it? PAGE SPENCER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So why don't we go back and --

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Let's talk about that glacier crossing.


RACHEL MASON: First of all, why did they want to do it?

PAGE SPENCER: Oh, jeez, I don't know. You just do these things, you know. 'Cause it's there.

Mount Truuli, is that the name of it, was the -- I think it's the tallest mountain on the Kenai, and it had never been climbed, or at least not recorded climbed.

And so I think maybe Babcock or some -- whoever was running the expedition, maybe Vin,

just kind of said, "Oh well, we should go across the Harding Icefield and, you know, climb this mountain."

And I think most of those people were based in Anchorage. There was nobody else from Kenai that I'm aware of -- oh, and Homer.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yule was from Homer. PAGE SPENCER: Yule was out of Homer.

RACHEL MASON: And that was after your family had moved to Anchorage?

PAGE SPENCER: No, that was before. That was the spring of '68.


PAGE SPENCER: And so, you know, dad just kind of joined this expedition.

And so he went to Homer, and I suspect Yule got them, you know, up Kachemak Bay, I think he probably boated them up to Kachemak Bay and they went up the Fox River. And I think --

RACHEL MASON: Were they friends with your dad?

PAGE SPENCER: Oh, yeah, we'd known the Kilchers.


PAGE SPENCER: You know, the whole Kenai Peninsula was one little community.

And we used to take sailboat down to Kachemak Bay and go across Kachemak.


PAGE SPENCER: And so, you know, we knew the Tillions and all the --

So all these -- all these families, you know, were pretty much -- you know, we were just kind of friends. Yeah.

RACHEL MASON: Interlinked.

KAREN BREWSTER: I was wondering how your dad got involved in the expedition. Do you know?

PAGE SPENCER: I don't know specifically, you know, how it all kind of got launched, but probably somebody just says, "Oh, we're going to do this, do you want to come?"

And, you know, he was young and fit and it looked like an adventure.

RACHEL MASON: Where did they start out from?

PAGE SPENCER: From Homer, I believe. RACHEL MASON: From Homer.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. And that's what I was saying, I think -- I think Yule took them up the bay in his boat,

and so somewhere on that muddy delta they must have landed and gone up the Fox River.

And I'm not sure what glacier they took to go up on to the ice field.

I don't think it was -- you know, I don't think they went over the top to Tustumena, I think they must have gone up the back side of Dinglestadt or something like that.

So they got up on the ice field from the head of the Fox, so that was a hike.

And then got up, you know, kind to the top of it, and then they spent a day, I think it was only a day to climb the mountain.

And then, you know, probably two or three more days to traverse,

and then this long day to get probably from the top of Exit maybe near where the weather station is now.

You know, probably further back on the ice field than that.

RACHEL MASON: What -- did they have radios to communicate with or -- PAGE SPENCER: Oh, no.

RACHEL MASON: -- or anything like that?



RACHEL MASON: It was just out of -- out of communication.


KAREN BREWSTER: Or I was wondering how they navigated, though, do you know?

PAGE SPENCER: Compass. Yeah. They would be -- and the weather seemed to be good most of the time.

So, you know, map and compass, you know, everybody was very skilled at that.

And I don't -- I don't think it was even an issue. Nor was communication. I mean, this is just how we did stuff in those days. RACHEL MASON: Right.

PAGE SPENCER: It was just like sending -- even in the, what '80s or whenever, when we sent Bud out to the outer coast, I mean, he was gone for three months.

Maybe once in awhile we'd send a boat out to see if he was hungry.

But there was no calling in every morning, you know, there was no take your partner, there was no sat phones, GPS's.

None of that. I mean, that's all -- all of that stuff is within my career in the Park Service, you know.

That we -- you know, likewise, when I did field work for BLM, we would just take a helicopter and go. And two weeks later, you know, we'd come back.


PAGE SPENCER: So it was pretty wonderful, actually.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did your dad ever talk about that trip and what that was like doing that crossing?

PAGE SPENCER: He -- he -- my father was a very quiet man, and so he didn't say much.

And that's why I brought the pictures because they almost tell more of the story and -- that and the article probably tell more of the story than I ever got out of dad.

RACHEL MASON: Are these pictures that he took during --


PAGE SPENCER: Yeah, he wasn't that great of a photographer, but he, for some reason on this trip, his artistic eye came out and there are some really wonderful shots. And --

RACHEL MASON: That's great.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. And so the ones -- many of the pictures in that article are his.


RACHEL MASON: How long did it take them to cross over?

PAGE SPENCER: I'm not sure. I suspect about a week. RACHEL MASON: Uh hum.

PAGE SPENCER: You know, because of the getting up the Fox River and --

RACHEL MASON: And did you ever hear what kind of food they brought with them, or --

PAGE SPENCER: No, but from --

RACHEL MASON: -- what they cooked?

PAGE SPENCER: -- what I know, you know, I think it was probably instant mashed potatoes and pemmican bars, and bread and cheese, and tea.

You know, that's -- that was just kind of what -- dried fruit.

RACHEL MASON: Rudimentary trail food.

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. And that's -- you know, that's all that we ever had.

So all this -- all the expeditions that we always did as children, that was the fundamental diet.

And instant oatmeal was a huge invention.


KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I'm wondering if you know anything about how they knew what route to take.

You know, how did they choose to come out at what's now Exit Glacier?

PAGE SPENCER: Well, there were maps, you know, these -- so they had this that was physically this.

And this was the closest exit to a road. So that would make sense. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

RACHEL MASON: Were there any past trails that crossed it or routes that people had taken in past crossings?

PAGE SPENCER: It is my understanding that this is the first documented traverse, and I always say by -- by Whites.

I assume that aboriginal people went across here, but there was no previous record of, you know, for "fun" expedition across.

So no, there were no -- but you know, you get up there and it's just -- there's not a lot of crevasses.


PAGE SPENCER: It's just a big, open -- and you know, in those days, there was a fair amount more snow than we have now, and it was spring,

and you know, they traveled roped up all the time, you could see that in the pictures.

But -- and I imagine it was probably pretty tricky getting out Exit because it's -- you know, it's nasty.

And it's extended out quite a bit further. One of those pictures shows, you know, it's from the top looking down,

and so you can see how far out the ice -- the ice went, it's out to the -- you know, this kind of moraines out here.

But -- and the, you know, climbing the mountain, they used ice axes and stuff like that, but by and large, you know, it was a pretty smooth, easy trip.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Did they walk to somebody's house when they came down, or --

PAGE SPENCER: I don't -- I haven't heard that. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.

PAGE SPENCER: You know, what I suspect happened is that they made it down to the river and hitchhiked into town,

and probably headed for the first restaurant they could find and started eating. RACHEL MASON: Yeah. I'm sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and it's interesting, though, you said that after they came off of Exit Glacier, they skied out. There was enough snow --

PAGE SPENCER: And ice, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- in spring there was still enough snow and ice.

PAGE SPENCER: Well, March. Yeah. I think this was a March trip. And so, yeah, there's -- there's still.

And, you know, even when I was down here with Bud, we would frequently ski in and out either on the road or on the -- on the river itself in March.

KAREN BREWSTER: And the river's frozen enough that you're not dealing with open water and overflow?

PAGE SPENCER: Well, you work your way around.

You know, it's -- sometimes you can find up the sides and, you know, sometimes it forms an over -- overpan that's hard enough to support you

and you can get on those and sail for a while.

But, yeah, it's just -- it would be low flow at that time, you know, and they may have had to wade across, you know, the channel a couple times, but --

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Did you ever do any hunting in this area?

PAGE SPENCER: We didn't hunt here because there's so many moose over there, you know.

There -- there was no reason to come here to hunt. RACHEL MASON: Yeah. PAGE SPENCER: So --

RACHEL MASON: For any species or any -- any specially good berries or anything like that?

PAGE SPENCER: No, because the Kenai itself was so rich. You know.

And the only berries over here, you know, those high bush blueberries, huckleberries, is about the only thing that we didn't have on that side.

And so we just -- you know, cranberries, low and high, blueberries, that was our dominant thing. Moose.

Sometimes hares, you know, if they were up. We did a lot of beaver trapping over there, but again, it was just all, you know, kind of close to home.


KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it sounds like the road over to Seward was just bad enough that it was a disincentive to go on a regular basis.

PAGE SPENCER: Well, it was. And in the wintertime, you know, it was glaciered and so -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really?

PAGE SPENCER: Oh, yeah. So that, you know, the road where Skilak Lake is, and there's what we call the old road, which goes right down the lake, and then they put in the new road.

I can't remember when that was, probably in the '60s.

So the old road comes up across a series of hills that leak ground water all winter long and then glaciates, and so it's like this,

and if you're trying to drive across that, you know, there's no grader or anything cleaning it out.

So it's -- you know, they were still taking mail from Seward to Kenai by dog sled when we first moved there.


PAGE SPENCER: Partly, I think, through the Resurrection, and then -- and there also is --

they must have also come through here because there's a cabin up out of Cooper Landing, you can see it from the road, just --

just south of the Y, or you used to be able to see it, what I was told was a part of that mail route.

And it went through our homestead. So there was Otto's -- Otto -- I can't remember Otto's last name.

He was the last dog sled mail runner in Kenai, and so he lived --

RACHEL MASON: He lived in Kenai?

PAGE SPENCER: -- he lived in Kenai near the Fish & Wildlife office, and so you know, he kind of was in and out of our family.

RACHEL MASON: When did he quit doing it, about?

PAGE SPENCER: It would have been in the very early '50s


PAGE SPENCER: -- that they -- they no longer did that.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Well, I wonder if you could tell us generally what kinds of changes you've seen over the communities on the Kenai Peninsula over the years.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I mean, like Seward, you went there as a kid and then you went back in the in '89, what was that like?


PAGE SPENCER: Well, it -- wow. I remember going over there when I was about 12. It had a dock, for starters, you know.

RACHEL MASON: Which you didn't have in Kenai?

PAGE SPENCER: The earthquake took care of that. I found an old -- I'm scanning our old family pictures right now, and I found an old picture of Seward that the docks were still all, you know, out there where Alaska Steam came in.

It was just a lot smaller, you know, it wasn't -- Seward developed into a tourist town, and before, when I was a child, it was basically the -- the boat; you know, it was kind of the transfer of materials.

Our grocery order always came in over here. And so they'd just unload that on the dock.

It was -- and then put stuff on the train, or we had a truck that actually would bring our groceries to us over in Kenai.

RACHEL MASON: How often did you get groceries?

PAGE SPENCER: We did that twice a year, we would have what's called the grocery order.

This is way off the Exit Glacier, but --

RACHEL MASON: Well, it's part of the background of what it was like living there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Life in Seward. It's the background of life in Seward, yeah.

PAGE SPENCER: So you know, it was just -- it was pretty much just the townsite, you know, that we have now, and there was a whole shipping -- it was a shipping port.

And so, you know, almost all the goods and materials that Alaska used came that way. You know.

And then they would go by train to Anchorage and on to Fairbanks, but this was the major port of entry.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. And then was the railroad a big part of Seward in the past, too?

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah, because the railroad came right into town, you know, it wasn't -- it didn't stop out here out by the Small Boat Harbor where it is now, it came right -- right to the south of town there.

And so stuff would come straight in on the boats and be unloaded straight onto the train, and then, you know, taken to wherever it needed to go.

And so it was a -- you know, it was a big shipping port.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Were Alaska Natives a noticeable presence in Seward back in the -- back in your young days?

PAGE SPENCER: Not in my memory. They were in Kenai.

RACHEL MASON: Uh hum. Oh, really? PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. Yeah.

RACHEL MASON: The Kenaitze people?

PAGE SPENCER: Right. Because that was originally a Native village for fishing, but in Seward, it --

I don't believe it was, certainly not right here, perched on the side of the mountain, it wasn't really a Native village.

There probably was stuff over here at the mouth of the river, and maybe even, you know, probably at the edges, but that was all acc -- probably accessed by water.

And you know, it's such a rich water land and such an alder choked mountain land that I don't think people went,

you know, maybe for goats or something, but there wasn't a lot of use, I don't think, up in the mountains.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Well, how did -- how did Seward compare with Kenai?

Because you were mentioning that Kenai was full of people homesteading and living off the land.

Were -- were there people like that in Seward, as well?

PAGE SPENCER: Not that I'm aware of. You know, there really -- this country did not lend itself to homesteading.

There had been surveys, agricultural surveys in the thirties and forties, I believe -- excuse me --

and people had decided that the Kenai Peninsula flatlands were a good agricultural potential.

And so Homer was good for that, Ninilchik, Kenai, but Seward is cold and mountainy, and, you know, the soils are just gravel.


PAGE SPENCER: It's just not an agricultural place. And so I am not -- there may have been one or two people who tried to homestead here,

but I'm not aware of it to the extent that it was over on the flat side.

And then on the flat side, you know, there were set netters and, you know, a lot of people, seasonal work, fishing, there was a military base there.

Over here it -- the economy was primarily transportation.


PAGE SPENCER: You know, just moving stuff.

There had been military before, but then they -- you know, that all kind of faded out when the war was over.

But, you know, the dock was here and the railroad was here and the Whittier situation wasn't working out real well, and so this --

this was absolutely a primary source of -- you know, the people came here, the Alaska Steam came here from Seattle.

My grandma came, you know, several times on Alaska Steam, and we'd come over here to pick her up at the dock.

And that poor woman. Grandma was not a homestead girl.

RACHEL MASON: Oh. And then you'd take her to Kenai?

PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. Yeah. She -- I'm sure she thought mom had lost her mind.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Well, when did Seward become a tourist town?

PAGE SPENCER: That was actually really starting to get going just before the oil spill. So that would have been the late '80s.

RACHEL MASON: So after the park -- PAGE SPENCER: Yeah. RACHEL MASON: -- was formed.

PAGE SPENCER: Because the park -- the park, you know, kind of became something for that tourist industry to gel around.

And so -- I'm sorry, I can't remember. Kenai Fjords Tours, I think, was the first outfit, and they just started with a small boat.

And then -- so the boats we used in the oil spill, we used their boats, chartered their boats in the oil spill,

the Spirit and the Shaman, and those were -- the Spirit was brand new and it was big.

Tiny by current -- I mean, I don't think you could carry 20 people on it, but they were the first. And then one other outfit was running one boat.

And so they would do fishing charters, as well as started this kind of wildlife tours, and they would take people around into Aialik Bay, and sometimes up into Holgate.

But, you know, there wasn't very much. And then kind of it seemed like after the oil spill, and frankly, with the arrival of Anne Castellina,

that the park kind of opened up this country to a tourism opportunity.

And the residents of Seward are very economically minded, commercially minded.

You know, they don't have and they didn't have a government basis for anything.

So they really were looking for economic opportunities.

And when the cruise ships started -- you know, they quit going to Whittier and the cruise ships started coming in here, and it was just like, oh, jeez, here's a lot of opportunity.

And so several more little -- little cruise ship companies started up, and then they --

I think the current big one, Kenai Fjords Tours, kind of bought them out and now has all those great, huge boats, and you can just kind of -- it's an industrial operation almost.


PAGE SPENCER: But in the late '80s is probably when it really got started. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.

PAGE SPENCER: That and the jail got going. They lobbied hard to get that jail.

The sawmill was started up, you know, by one of the Native corporations, so they were stripping wood out of logging Prince William Sound or lands over there, and bringing -- bringing the wood here.

And logging up here around Cooper Landing -- or Kenai Lake and Moose Pass, there was a bit of logging up there.

RACHEL MASON: Well, were you conscious of a public feeling when the park was formed there in Seward?

Were they -- were they positive toward the idea of a national park coming to that -- ?

PAGE SPENCER: I can only speak kind of from an Alaskan perspective. RACHEL MASON: Right.

PAGE SPENCER: And -- because the whole ANILCA thing was so mixed. RACHEL MASON: Yes.

PAGE SPENCER: And because my parents were both firmly some of the original environmentalists, dad was one of the founding people for the Alaska Center for -- or Alaska --

KAREN BREWSTER: Conservation Society?

PAGE SPENCER: Right. Yeah. So -- so I came to this with a very firm conservation ethic.

So there was a lot of really mixed feelings. I think Seward was probably pretty antagonistic to it in the beginning.