Viewed from the top of a nearby mountain, the town of Gustavus disappears into the coastal temperate rainforest. No roads lead to it. No resorts or shopping malls give evidence of its small human population.
Two hundred and fifty years ago, Gustavus did not exist. Instead, a massive ice field spilled out of what is now neighboring Glacier Bay, its tongue protruding south into Icy Strait. Sediment deposited by glacial outwash formed new land: the plain where Gustavus now sits. The glacier’s dramatic retreat left a scoured landscape that has rapidly been recolonized by bears and moose, whales and sea otters, eagles and cranes. A living laboratory of ecological succession and rapid climate change, 3.3 million acres of this region is now protected as Glacier Bay National Park.
The Gustavus forelands are part of the ancestral homeland of the Hoonah Tlingit people. Forced to abandon their villages by the glacier’s rapid advance, they established a new permanent settlement at present-day Hoonah while continuing to use the Gustavus area for seal-hunting, fishing, and berry picking. Colonization by white settlers began in the early 20th century. While initial relationships between Hoonah and Gustavus were generally friendly, subsequent decades saw strained relations between the two towns. Today, members of both communities are working to heal that relationship, with Xunaa Shuká Hít, the new Huna Tribal House at Glacier Bay National Park, being one notable emblem of that progress.
Tidelines’ 18-acre property therefore sits on ancestral land and abuts a vast swath of protected land. To the east courses the eponymous Good River. Hop in your kayak and float the half mile down to Icy Strait – the northernmost stretch of the Inside Passage, where humpback whales breach and eagles soar for their supper. Or, take a stroll a few hundred yards west, leading you to the region’s few waystations for vast flocks of migrating sandhill cranes. Keep going and you’ll soon reach Glacier Bay National Park, a labyrinth of steep fjords and calving tidewater glaciers. Or head north, and wend your way into the wild reaches of the Beartrack Mountains. The campus itself is adorned with lupine and wild rose, visited by moose and bear.
So embedded in the landscape, our students will live interdependently both with the natural and human communities of Gustavus, Alaska. Despite its small size and remote location, the town is a thriving and vibrant place. Park scientists and commercial fisherman, noted nature writers and professional musicians all call Gustavus home. Living as they do in the “last frontier,” Gustavus residents are skilled hunters, fisherman, carpenters, and gardeners. While giving back to the town of Gustavus, Students will have the chance to immerse themselves in this extraordinary community, apprenticing themselves to its lifeways.
Drawing on the beauty of its setting, the abundance of its resources, and the expertise of its people, Tidelines Institute shares with the world the educational promise of this unique place and contributes to its flourishing.