Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek

Curriculum topics

Here is your guide to help you decide where you’d like to start learning about this region. The stories of Kenai Mountains Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area integrate natural and social sciences, as well as the art and science of historical research. Vibrant history may be explored across a range of topics and eras, or through the experience of colorful individuals.

This topic guide is meant to help you design lessons about Southcentral Alaskan corridors.

These topics include resources from a variety of text, multimedia, and online resources.

You’ll find historic maps and news articles.

Notes on Resources (links to curriculum materials):

The secondary-level Trails Across Time curriculum, a common reference in the listed topics, asks students to look around them and practice active inquiry. Lessons are explicitly tied to state content standards and are based on materials in the book, Trails Across Time.

The reading guide to Trails Across Time offers study questions and complementary activities to the book.

Elementary and middle school teachers may be interested in the Teacher’s Guide to “This is Now, That Was Then” DVDs.


Even today, the Eastern Kenai is a raw, sparsely settled land. One could examine many distinct ‘waves’ of exploration which sought to discover and exploit the region’s secrets. There were trading and traveling Alutiiq and Dena’ina peoples, the Russians looking for sea otters, the Europeans vying for the Northwest Passage, the gold seekers searching for their fortune, and the modern adventurers seeking to climb mountains that had never before  been scaled.


Of the natural forces of the Kenai, perhaps geology and glaciation have had the greatest impact upon the human history of the region. The Kenai, and much of Southcentral Alaska, is composed of terranes of land assembled to the south and transported here by plate tectonics. Eras of glaciation gouged wide valleys and exposed gold deposits, both which were exploited by miners seeking their fortune.

1964 Earthquake

5:36 p.m., March 27, 1964. This was the most transformational five minutes in the recorded history of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula. As a result of the shaking and tsunamis, ports were destroyed or landlocked, bridges were crumpled, and basic economic infrastructures were leveled. What we see today is a result of the rebuilding of the Eastern Kenai following the Great Alaska Earthquake.

Individuals: People with a story

Dedicated to those individuals whose stories rise above others. Some are heros. Some were visionaries. Some were simply at the right place at the right time. Some were notorious. All have stories that lead color and texture to the region’s history.

Individuals: Furry

Dedicated to those individuals and species whose stories rise above others. Some would growl. Some would yip. All have stories that lead color and texture to the region’s history.

The Indigenous People

 Among the early people that originally lived in the Kenai region are the coastal Alutiiq and the Dena’ina (linguistically connected to the interior Athabascans.) In the cool, wet, coastal climate, indigenous people found the area rich with culinary resources. Hunger was probably rare. Perhaps this is why the Dena’ina call this area “Yaghenen” …The Good Land.


If a photo is worth a thousand words, a map probably comes in at a million words.  Here are some selected maps that educators and students may find useful.  Some of the websites that are especially useful is the Library of Congress  and searching the Alaska Digital Archives.  Also, commercial sites, such as can be incredible resources of rare maps that might not be found elsewhere.


Throughout much of the 19th century, the Kenai Peninsula was a quiet, sparsely settled area. This all changed in 1889 when Alexander King returned from the upper Cook Inlet region with four pokes of gold. The rush was on. The towns of Sunrise and Hope sprang up to service the mining industry.  At one point, Sunrise had the short lived distinction of being the largest city in the territory of Alaska. Though the rush was comparatively brief, it laid the ground for the economic development of the region.

Mount Marathon

It was at the turn of the century. The legend says it started with a bar room bet. Who can make it up the 3000 foot Mt Marathon and back down in an hour? The bet was lost but the event was born. But there’s much more to this mountain than an Independence Day foot race.

Russian Alaska

Vitus Bering, a Dutch officer for the Russian navy, was charged with finding, mapping, and claiming the coast of Alaska. On his second journey he finally caught sight of land to the east of Prince William Sound. However, not only was land discovered, but also the sea otter. This brought about the first economic rush into the region.

Transportation: Dog sled

Before roads or rails or planes, travel was arduous.  Mountains, rivers, thick forests, and endless stands of alder and devil’s club made for tough traveling.  Despite the harsh weather, winter actually made for the easiest conditions to traverse the land.  Dog sleds had been used by indigenous people in the interior for ages, and  it didn’t take prospectors long to adopt the mode of travel.

In 1918, in an effort to connect the port of Seward to the interior gold fields, a winter trail was blazed. At the time this was known for its terminus: “The Seward Trail.”  We now call it by the gold fields it connected on the other end: “The Iditarod Trail.”

Transportation: Rails and Roads

At the beginning of the century, John and Frank Ballaine came to Alaska with the dream of building a railroad from a coastal port to the interior gold mines. The task took several bankruptcies and more than 20 years to accomplish. This section takes a look at exploiting the Kenai corridors for the construction of rails and roads.

Transportation: Steam Ships

Before air travel, steam ships were the connection between Alaskan ports and to the outside world. Steamships were responsible for bringing supplies, mail, and people to these most distant shores.  The trip from southern ports was lengthy, could encounter storms, and of course occasionally ended tragically.

Slices of Life: Christmas

Perhaps the best way to understand life in early Alaska is to examine and compare Christmas in the newly settled land.

Slices of Life: Growing up on the Kenai

Imagine being a kid growing up during various phases of the region’s history. What was done for school, for fun, for friends?  This slice of life takes a glimpse at living as a kid  in a region that rapidly changed from wilderness to what it is today.

Slices of Life: In the Northland

Life in Alaska is far from conventional. There are benefits and hardships inherent to living in a land that is full of resources yet often lacking in amenities.  From the earliest times, indigenous people, homesteaders, miners, and even more recent residents have made do creatively in order to live in southcentral Alaska.

Slices of Life: Making a living

The economics of the Eastern Kenai has largely been resource driven. In order to make a living, particularly in the earlier days, it required a fair bit of grit, resourcefulness, and willingness to try just about anything.  This page explores the economics of this region.

Women of the Kenai

Too often, when thinking about the early days of the Kenai, men tend to dominate the landscape. Needless to say, although fewer in number, women fashioned huge contributions to this new land. Among these were Mary Lowell of Aluutiq and Russian descent– homesteader of Resurrection Bay, Nellie Lawing– nationally known entrepreneur and big game hunter, Syliva Sexton– local business woman, and others.