Southeast Alaska’s picture-postcard town, Petersburg (pop. 3,200) sits at the northern tip of Mitkof Island along Wrangell Narrows. Great white walls of snow and ice serve as a dramatic backdrop for the town. “Peter’s Burg” was named after Peter Buschmann, who built a sawmill here in 1897, followed by a cannery three years later. With ample supplies of fish, timber, and glacial ice, the cannery proved an immediate success—32,750 cases of salmon were shipped that first season.
Unlike boom-and-bust Wrangell, the planned community of Petersburg has kept pace with its expanding fishing base. A number of the present inhabitants are descended from Norwegian fishers, who found that the place reminded them of their native land. The language is still occasionally heard on Petersburg’s streets, and Norwegian rosemaling (floral painting) can be found on shutters of the older homes.
Petersburg is a prosperous and squeaky-clean town with green lawns, tidy homes, and a hardworking heritage that may appear a bit cliquish to outsiders. The country around Petersburg is filled with opportunities for exploration by those who love the outdoors, but this off-the-beaten-path community still views tourism with a degree of skepticism.
Although Petersburg has a lumber mill, fishing remains the main activity, with salmon, halibut, herring, crab, and shrimp all landed. The odor of fish hangs in the air, and bumper stickers proclaim “Friends don’t let friends eat farmed salmon.” With four canneries, Petersburg has the largest concentration in Southeast Alaska, and it is also home to a large halibut fleet.
Getting to Petersburg
Petersburg is strung out along Wrangell Narrows, with the ferry terminal (907/772-3855) a mile south of the town center. During the summer, ferries run almost daily both northbound and southbound from Petersburg. They usually stop for an hour or two, long enough to walk into town or at least check out the nearby harbor. The ferry terminal opens two hours before ship arrivals and generally stays open a half-hour after it departs. For reservations and schedules, contact the Alaska Marine Highway (907/465-3941 or 800/642-0066, www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs).
Metro Cab (907/772-2700) and Midnight Rides (907/772-2222) charge $6 for transport from the airport or ferry to town.
Petersburg Airport is a mile southeast of town on Haugen Drive. Alaska Airlines (907/772-4255 or 800/426-0333, www.alaskaair.com) has daily service to other Southeast Alaska towns and the Lower 48. Pacific Wing (907/772-9258, www.pacificwing.com), Kupreanof Flying Service (907/772-3396, www.kupreanof.com), and Nordic Air (907/772-3535) all provide air charter service to Forest Service cabins.
Temsco Helicopters (907/772-4780 or 877/789-9501, www.temscoair.com) offers helicopter flightseeing. Sunrise Aviation (907/874-2319 or 800/874-2311, www.sunriseflights.com) often has seat fares to Wrangell.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition