Sea otters lifted their heads to look at us as we approached Port Protection one sunny August day. This tiny community, sprinkled beachside, peeking out of the thick coniferous forest, is as much of the sea as of the land. A quick glance suggests that there may be more boats than people in Port Protection. The homes are tucked into the trees all around the edges of the islands, though, and there are about sixty-five residents.
Port Protection is in Wooden Wheel Cove, and the rich waters of Sumner Strait are right outside the cove. The fishing in Sumner Strait is spectacular, so many people come here for sport and commercial fishing. Wildlife watching is also amazing here, with marine and terrestrial creatures in abundance.
Travel to Port Protection is by boat or by a seaplane from Ketchikan, Wrangell, Craig, Petersburg, or Sitka. There is a road that comes within a five minute skiff ride of Port Protection, and many residents have a car or truck at the end of the road there. The road is only open in the summer, though.
Homes are mostly powered by generators and heated by wood.
A one-dog greeting party happily noted our arrival at the dock, said hello, and then politely stood aside.
The central business in town is Wooden Wheel Trading Post, operating a fish buying station, a small but well stocked grocery and hardware store, a liquor store, laundromat, showers, fuel dock, and mail drop.
For the real Port Protection fishing or sightseeing adventure you can rent a cabin and skiff with a private dock at PortProtectionAdventures.com.
Those blue, black, and red things in the baskets under the moose? Fishing gloves, front and center, for the commercial fishermen.
Just an important little note: the ice cream is in the freezer across the hall in the liquor store.
The mailboxes are in the hallway by the ever-important community bulletin board. Someone had even pinned a letter on the board, written to their family by a previous resident, so that the whole community could partake of the news.
There are no roads in Port Protection. There is, however, the boardwalk through part of the community. We asked for directions to the school, but from someone so familiar with the place that everything seemed obvious to him. He lifted his beer toward the beach and said to follow the path. So I didn't get the instructions quite right. Plus the tide was in which covered part of the path. I took off, leading the (wrong) way, up a path off of the beach. With great determination I led our little party on a side trip through the forest. Hey, it looked like a well used path.
We never did find the end, but it was a pretty walk. Pretty steep in a few places, too.
When we got back to the beach the tide had receded enough that we could see the way to the boardwalk. Let's do this with visual aids.
The boardwalk starts under the front of the second house. Orange paint on the cross braces reminds you to duck your head. Don't worry, the boardwalk widens out shortly.
Go up the stairs and follow along to the switchback at the State of Alaska dock. Go right. This was an easy one for me, because I could see that the other way ends in the water.
Then you get to the boardwalk that goes to the school. Even if you don't want to go to school this walk is still worth going on! Easy, pretty, peaceful.
We must be getting close, I think I see a building through the trees.
The school at Port Protection is K-12 and has two teachers; one certified in math and the other certified in language arts and English! Pretty amazing and wonderful in a school with eleven students! Even though they were very busy getting ready for school to start in a few days the teachers graciously talked with us.
The kayaks are part of the school curriculum! There is also an archery program. Of course the core subjects are covered, and there are community members who add their expertise various subjects to enrich the students' education. For example, a retired actor in Port Protection helps the students with Shakespeare readings!
It was time to go back to the harbor then. We wandered back along the boardwalk as the sun started to settle, enjoying the mellow day. Then I remembered the ice cream I had bought, that the clerk had put back in the freezer to hold for us. The store was closing! I ran along the boardwalk, over the path on the beach, and lurched, gasping for breath, into the store with a whole four minutes to spare. If the people in the store noticed a middle-aged tourist, panting as she stumbled through the door, then they didn't let on. Maybe that happens a lot.
Oh! and that boat at the state dock is a way cool homebuilt made right in Port Protection by one of the very talented residents.
Everyone that we met in Port Protection was friendly in that warm, small town way that just makes you want to sit down for coffee or a beer with them.
Here's a few Port Protection notes:
There is a community building that people gather at for meetings, monthly ping-pong tournaments, pot lucks with super-scrumptious food, and, of course, the End of Season Party when fishing is done for the year.
Port Protection even has a community garden!
This is a small, remote town, so medical care is limited. Visiting nurses take care of immunizations and chronic care patients on scheduled visits. For medical emergencies patients are medivaced on a floatplane or helicopter to Ketchikan or Sitka.
At the Port Protection Solstice Festival on June 21 the town has a grand time with food, contests, and live music! People fly in from all over to enjoy this festival. Join them for this fun celebration!