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Tiny Alaska Town Offers Rich Experiences

A native revisits her rural Alaskan hometown and describes 14 free or nearly free (and a few not-quite-as-free) things to do and see in the area.

My husband has always wished he could say he's able to rip a telephone book in half. And now that he has seen Cordova, Alaska's phone book, he can!

I was born and raised in rural Cordova. It's a quaint little town with an old-timey main street, rugged gravel roads, real stop signs (no fancy stoplights blinking here--except a lonely yellow one in the school zone) and friendly folks who still smile and wave as they pass.

Cordova is located on the western edge of the Copper River Delta in the Chugach National Forest. Nestled in the Alaskan mountains, it is bordered by the Copper River and Prince William Sound. It's a mecca for those who cherish nature and wildlife in their purest forms--and the perfect retreat for vacationers, hunters, and fisherman; the air is clean, the sky blue, the water crystal clear, and the mountains untouched in their majestic snow-capped beauty. As the sun shines through the often-cloudy sky, rainbows touch the mountain tops and I am reminded of the beauty God created in His earth.

Cordova was incorporated on July 8, 1909. In the early years it was a mining town, rich with copper ore, before the fishing industry evolved. The year-round population hovers around 3,000, and grows in the summer when many of the fisherman return from their southern winter retreats. More than 450 fishing vessels are berthed in the town's harbor during the winter; the fleet swells to 800 at the height of summer fishing. The then-million-dollar fishing industry was devastated in 1989 by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The environment is still continuing its slow recovery. Even today, salmon from the nearby Copper River are widely known as the best-tasting and healthiest salmon in the world.

It's a great town to visit and a wonderful place to live--Cordovans may wake up to the sound of black bears digging in their trash cans (one bear who attempted this in the yard of some family friends is now hanging proudly on their wall), or a moose in their front yard, but they breathe clean air and truly enjoy life in the middle of nature.

14 Frugal & Fun Things to Do in Cordova
Free or nearly-free attractions in the Cordova Area.
* Visit the Cordova Historical Museum--view displays including an authentic three-seater Native kayak, a 150-year old lighthouse lens and other memorabilia from our town's history. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 1-5 pm (open year round). Admission is $1 for adults, free for children.
* Climb a Mountain or Glacier (seriously!) or stick to hiking along a trail--the Forest Service provides detailed maps of each area including conditions, trail difficulty, and length.
* Watch Wildlife--including Trumpeter Swans, many species of Duck and Geese, Bald Eagles, Sea Otters, Beavers and the occasional Moose, Deer, Black Bear, Brown Bear, or Dahl Sheep.
* Set up a Tent and Camp Outside Under the Stars--Contact the Forest Service for more information (not recommended during the winter!).
* Visit Child's Glacier--about an hour from town lies one of the most beautiful sights in the world. Child's Glacier, named for Civil War General George Washington Childs, stands 300 feet tall and is 12 miles wides, ending in a dramatic cliff of falling ice which is perpetually active. (Scott's and Sheridan Glaciers are also near town.)
* See the Million Dollar Bridge--built in 1908-1910 to bring copper ore from the mines to the dock. The railroad was abandoned in 1936 and part of the bridge collapsed during the 1964 earthquake.
* Check out "Hippie Cove" (a unique experience for any "City Folk")--just ask a local for directions. Nature lovers live on the banks of the cove in old buses, campers, and tents.
* Ski Mount Eyak--open for skiing and snowboarding as long as the snow sticks around. For more info, call (907)424-7766. The ski lift is also open in the summer--ride it to the top of Mount Eyak for an incredible view of Orca Bay and the town.
* Tour a Fish Processing Plant--Call ahead and set up a tour of one of the fish processing plants.
* The Cordova Iceworm Festival--The only known celebration of the glacial iceworm in the world! The Iceworm Festival takes place in early February each year and includes a parade, talent shows, arts & crafts exhibits, and the Miss Iceworm Pagent and Coronation. Traditional contests also include the oyster Shuck-n-Suck, longest beard, best legs, and tastiest smoked salmon, among others. A weekend not to be missed!
* Million Dollar Iron Dog Classic--every March, snowmachines (also knowns as snowmobiles or snow-gos) begin their 210-mile trek from Mile 25 of the Copper River Highway and race across the frozen land to Chitina and back.
* Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival--An amazing 14 million shorebirds, 7 million western sandpipers and 100 percent of the west coast dunlins fly into the Copper River Delta each spring--celebrate their arrival May 10-14 with the birdlovers of Cordova! It's the largest migration of shorebirds in the northern hemisphere!
* First Fish Festival--Kicks off May 16th to celebrate the arrival of the season's first Copper River red and king salmon.

A Few Not-Quite-So-Frugal but Definately Fun Things to Do
These are the "once in a lifetime" things that you definately don't want to miss!
* Charter Dream Time Charters to take you out on a fishing or shrimping charter in the Prince William Sound.
* Take a ride on the Alaska Marine Highway System Ferry to a nearby town.
* Be adventurous and go Whitewater Rafting!
* Spend the night in one of the beautiful Bear's Den Cabins.
* Grab a cup of espresso coffee from Espresso-to-go (located inside Rhonda's Hair Flair on main street) -- the best coffee in the state (and possibly the world). Their unique Copper River Blend is touted by coffee aficionados for it's robust flavor -- and it's the perfect way to warm up on a chilly Alaskan day.

Personally, my favorite outing in Cordova is stop for cup of java, meander down main street (stopping into the local Drug Store, Salvation Army Thrift Store, and natural foods store as I go) and then on to the Coast Guard or ferry docks to relax and watch the otters swim in the bay...and while I relax, I know my husband is somewhere nearby, happily climbing a mountain.

Visit the Cordova Chamber of Commerce for more information on any of the businesses or events listed above, and plan a visit soon!

Michelle Shaeffer is a native Alaskan who migrated south to warmer weather in Tennessee, but then returned and now lives in the state of Alaska with her family.

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