The Hobbit Hole, as the Inian Islands Campus has long been known, is a five-acre historic homestead surrounded by an unbelievably rich ecosystem of pristine temperate rainforest and Pacific inlets and fjords. Perched between world-famous Glacier Bay National Park and the nation’s largest National Forest, the Tongass, the Hobbit Hole is in the midst of the largest contiguous stretch of protected wildlands on the planet.
The Hobbit Hole sits on a natural harbor of the Inian Islands, which are designated Wilderness, the highest level of protection that can be bestowed on our public lands. The Inian archipelago lies in the middle of Icy Strait, the northernmost waterway connecting the open Gulf of Alaska with the protected nursery waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage, stretching 1000 miles south to Washington State. This makes Icy Strait a major migration route for untold thousands of creatures: its frigid waters are teeming with humpback whales, diverse seabirds, and all five species of Pacific salmon on their way to their natal streams. It’s a short hike or paddle to access a phenomenal diversity of ecosystems, from Pacific fjords to thriving kelp forests, from old-growth temperate rainforest to cool riparian zones, from tidal mudflats to the 15,000 foot peaks of the Fairweather Range.
The Hobbit Hole’s strategic location means that it has been peopled for millennia. A summer camp of the Tlingit people, this place remains to this day an important part of their ancestral homeland. Their stories of tragic events, of peril and self-sacrifice, have imbued the islands with symbols of sacredness – the animal crests of the octopus and porpoise worn by members of the Chookaneidi clan link them inextricably to the mythical events that occurred there, and the name of the place, Dakhaá Xhoo [Among the Sleeping Man], is a spirit name that conveys special meaning.
Although the establishment of a fox farm in the early 1900s excluded the Hoonah Tlingit from the use of their summer camp, they were able to maintain their strong ties to the Inian Islands as their economy shifted from the annual subsistence cycle to commercial seine fishing. It was the wealth of salmon harvested by the Hoonah fleet from the turbulent waters of the Inian Islands that moved the community into the modern era, and even though the Inian Islands were closed to the seine fleet in 1974, the people of Hoonah still identify with great pride to that time and place of their history.
When the Howe brothers bought the homestead in the 1970s, a new community of fisher-people came to call at the inner lagoon, and a new legacy – now named The Hobbit Hole – was born. The Tidelines Institute is the next step in this historical progression, transforming this special place into a field school that benefits from the rich biodiversity through learning and experience.