Escape to Hope
Rejuvenation Meets Recreation at Road’s End
By P.M. Fadden
It’s not yet mid-morning and already a high breeze is clearing the cloud ceiling above Chugach National Forest. Directly ahead a dead end road snakes beside Turnagain Arm’s southerly shore. The map states I’m driving to Hope, Alaska, but I’m really headed to a state of mind.
A few hundred souls call Hope their perennial home. Given to still winters and unassuming ambiance, the tiny Kenai hamlet awaits the long light of summer to blossom, offering to visitors the full gambit of recreation or relaxation, and at an all too easily forgotten pace – the sedate.
Growing contentedly at mile seventeen of its namesake highway, Hope’s historical root was mining at Resurrection Creek. Boasting unique views amongst welcome solitude, the encampments eventually coalesced, and in 1896, the settlement known today was established. A post office sprung to being within the year, and the subsequent three decades would see not only Hope’s appearance among the U.S. Census but also the creation of its school. Today, the seasonally popular hideaway is a seaside must-visit known for camping, fishing, treks and revelry.
The settlement’s inherent yet unobtrusive feel of deceleration is evident even before having reached town proper. Unsealed entrances to properties otherwise hidden by unbroken foliage mark the beginning of this community’s ribbon-slender development. Then the first sign of human occupancy skates into view. Palmer’s Ski Team is using the road for its Nordic training grounds. Red-faced teens forming a procession that seems to be praying for a downhill push to and past us as our vehicle cruises toward the sleepy center of Hope’s business district.
Little more than a loose mesh of gravel lanes, modern Hope is in fact testament to a post-earthquake population which has re-raised its tiny colony on the shore. Homes are of wood slat construction with colorful gardens growing to profusion. A charming library, housing early editions of classic works, fronts a soft, green playground amidst a neighborhood boasting art galleries, eateries and a museum.
Our vehicle rolls past these and more as we seek one site in particular from the among the community’s wealth of historic markers, Hirshey Cabin.
Delving for gold and perhaps quiet living, the Hirshey family raised its cabin and barn homestead in 1905. Six decades hence, the long-storied Good Friday Earthquake would see the cabin itself relocated and ultimately updated to carry on its lodging tradition under the moniker Alaskan Byways.
“My husband and I bought the Alaskan Byways property, and the property next door, to raise our kids in a rural Alaska area with relatively close access to family in Anchorage,” said Byways owner and fourth generation Alaskan, Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay.
Jeannine aims to nurture her growing family at Hope, and by continued development of the business, create opportunity for others to make a livelihood in the town. An avid outdoor enthusiast as well as entrepreneur, Jeannine’s intrigue at the area’s natural wonder is a commonality shared by Hope’s many annual visitors.
We knew our family’s stay would be brief, so having located the cabin, it was time for the trails. This area hosts a variety of trails, marked or not, and word of mouth sets our course for nearby Twin Lakes. From the onset, the experience is stunning.
The whole of Hope is mountainous and treed, but to move deeper amongst the peaks via unsealed Palmer Creek Road still elicits a thrill. It’s a switchback climb of just under eight miles, so the approach typically begins by car. Blinks through the tree line down slope reveal panoramic vistas of Turnagain Arm as the road wraps around the shoulder of a rock hewn ridge to reveal a wide, long spanning valley. The way narrows, inviting the novice to wonder whether they’ve stepped off “the map.”
Eventually, loosely shaped locations for camping or parking are encountered and the vehicle is left behind. From here, the journey draws us alongside running water on a path that brings the yet snow-clad summits closer and closer. The trail is rocky, but easily traveled by even a child’s foot. It snakes pleasantly through bushy country made bright by emerging wildflowers. Looking back, we realize the path we’ve walked has picked a course through ancient mine tailings. The loamy mounds seem proof that Hope’s history has shaped even this well hidden land.
All told it’s a full day’s excursion, especially when hiking with child. But to return to the refuge of Hirshey Cabin is no less refreshing than the trail.
Alaskan Byways blends seamlessly the convenience of amenity with the character of the history. My wife prepares light sides in the cabin’s country-style kitchen. I do my best to look busy beside a sizzling grill. Our 3-year old runs happy laps between her parents and a kid’s bedroom-playroom. Our hope was for a little recreation underscored by time together and both, it seems, thrive at the town of that same name.
“I’ve been coming here since early childhood,” said Jeannine, who opines that the town’s new residents are younger, bring new energy, and share the goal of making Hope a place to live as well as work.
“At Byways, many of our guests have been staying from long before I bought it. And we are far more occupied this year than in years past, so either word is spreading that we’re the place to stay or more folks are coming to town. Likely it’s both,” she said.
As a member of the budding Hope business community, Jeannine intends to purchase neighboring Bowman’s Bear Creek Lodge. Bowman’s is described by Jeannine as far more manicured than Byways’ backpacker-meets-family orientation and reaches different visitors. The writer, photographer, small business owner is also amid separate plans for additions to Alaskan Byways.
All told, Jeannine envisions a greater business presence totaling six rentals at Byways and eight at Bear Creek Lodge, which would feature a commercial kitchen.
For Hope, a town at seemingly at peace with free pace and expression, it’s the variety in community elements that support its winning whole.
“Hope is unique,” Jeannine said of its hospitality presence. “We’re all individuals who offer a warm Alaskan place to stay.”