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Opinion

Cruising up towards Sitka, Alaska

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October 14, 2011

If you’ve seen “The Proposal,” you might remember the movie plot takes place in a small, charming town in Alaska, rich in Native American and Russian influence. An uncommon stop on select Alaskan cruise itineraries, Sitka offers an array of activities for outdoorsmen, historians and shoppers alike! So get ready to go Alaska—go North, the rush is on!

The Native Tlingit originally settled Sitka when Russian explorer Alexander Baranov founded his own settlement next door in 1799. Known as New Archangel, it was destroyed in 1802 when the Tlingit attempted to reclaim their ancestral home. Baranov returned in 1804 and promptly got his revenge, retaking Sitka in the Battle of Alaska. Sitka was established as the capital of the Russian Territory. In fact, when the United States purchased Alaska in 1867, the transfer of power occurred right in Sitka. Sitka remained Alaska’s capital until 1906, when it moved to Juneau.

As Sitka is situated on an island, it is only accessible by air or sea. However, Sitka’s weather is usually gloomy, with rain falling nearly eight months out of the year. It doesn’t get warm, with only five days out of the year reaching 70 degrees, a big difference from St. Thomas. However, don’t let the weather bring you down. My favorite attraction is nice from the outside, but gorgeous on the inside!

In the center of town sits St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. A symbol of Russian influence, the Cathedral is a National Historic Landmark. Originally built in 1848, the Cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1966. In an instant, the town came together to salvage all they could before the fire engulfed it completely. One local man’s adrenaline rush allowed him to remove the heavy crystal chandelier. Among the artifacts saved included the original blueprints, which created an exact replica of the damaged Cathedral. You can go in and see all the beautiful artwork and artifacts (including that same chandelier).

I know visiting a church might not seem interesting, but if you love history and art, this is a must-see, even if you aren’t religious.

If you like to explore nature, check out Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States. You wouldn’t think Alaska contains a rainforest, but there is a little bit of everything all in one place: salmon fishing, kayaking, hiking or just plain sightseeing. You can see tons of wildlife, particularly bears and eagles.

Don’t forget your rain poncho, as the rainforest doesn’t get green by magic. If you are interested in Native American history, the Sheldon Jackson Museum houses nearly 5000 artifacts collected from various Alaskan Native groups, including Tlingit an Aleuts.

The Reverend Jackson traveled throughout Alaska in the 1800s, finding handmade crafts along the way. Hope you enjoyed this visit to The Last Frontier! Next week, we’ll head back to a warmer climate and visit where a man had a plan.

Michael Leonard is a Spanish major at UW-River Falls.