I just returned from a short trip to Valdez to meet with Stan Stephens Cruises and Valdez Fisheries Development Association and one thing that really stood out was simply how connected we all are in Alaska. After 17 years of doing business in Alaska I find that Alaska is actually a very small community and it is rare to go to a meeting where I don’t at least know someone connected with whom the person or business that I’m meeting with.
I believe Alaskan’s connection to each other goes beyond the fact that we have a small population spread across the largest state in the US – but also we are connected with our love for the majesty and adventure. I find the overall spirit of Alaska and Alaskans is the adventurous spirit. Fairly fitting that coming home from Valdez, we were aboard the “Valdez Spirit”, a 82 feet passenger vessel.
Whenever I have the opportunity to travel for business I try and take along one of my boys (I have 5) 🙂 and this time my second son, Joshua, came along. To make it a little more of an adventure, we decided to simply board the Ferry from Whittier with just our bikes – thanks Granny for dropping us off and picking us up. 🙂 I truly love the Alaska Marine Highway system and our trip on the Aurora to Valdez was restful bringing back multiple memories of all the little bays we have anchored in over the years. We had planned on camping in Valdez but due to the forecast, made the wise decision to book a couple B&B’s for each of the nights. With the pouring rain we were very thankful to be sleeping indoor. Our first night we stayed with Laura at her B&B and speaking of Alaska connections, Laura is also the bookkeeper for Valdez Fisheries Development Assoc. the clients we would be meeting in the morning. Now, how is that for connected? Since the office and hatchery were 5 miles away and rain was coming down, Laura was kind enough to give us a ride in the morning.
After the meeting, where we had the opportunity to learn about the history and impact of VFDA and the plans for the new website we will be developing, the director Mike Wells gave us a personal tour of the Hatchery. Joshua was very excited to see all the pink salmon stacking up as they worked their way into the hatchery for processing. A worker would allow a certain amount into an area and then give them a small shock that made them stay still long enough to extract the eggs and milt from the salmon. We then went to where the eggs and milt were combined and fertilized. The tour of the hatchery was a highlight of our trip. Thanks Mike and Regina for taking the time to show us around. Another interesting tidbit; Mike’s father started the hatchery many years ago and Mike grew up watching the hatchery evolve into the amazing facility that it is today. If you think about how the hatchery impacts both the commercial fisherman and the sports fisherman you can even further start to see how connected everything is, ie. even the B&B’s benefit from the tourism that comes in from the sport fishing.
After our Hatchery tour, we had intended to take the Columbia Glacier Tour with Stan Stephens Cruises but due to weather bad we just went out to coffee to discuss the new website. I had the opportunity to meet Stan who started the operation in 1971. The second generation of Stephens are now at the helm of the business and here is a little more about them. I had the opportunity to meet with Colleen Stephens to learn more about the business so that I could catch the vision for the new design we will be working on. As Joshua crawled through the lower berth of the Columbia Spirit, Colleen shared stories of spending the summer sleeping aboard with her sisters and growing up in the business. Stan has left an amazing legacy and I am very excited to be connected in a small way as Sundog Media LLC works to take the website to the next level.
Instead of riding back on the ferry, we had the opportunity to ride back on the Valdez Spirit as the crew was heading to Whittier in the morning as well. So, we put our bikes on the back deck and hitched a ride. It was an excellent opportunity to see the Stephen crew in action and I was impressed with their professionalism, customer care and the knowledge and experience cheerfully shared by captain and staff. We worked our way fairly close to the Columbia Glacier and it brought back good memories of pushing ice bergs around with my boat, the Sundog. One side note, I don’t suggest standing on one of these ice bergs unless you enjoy a good swim, but that is another story. Thank you, Colleen and team, for the ride home.
At one point traveling back to Whittier we stopped along side a commercial seiner. As the net was gathered and the fisherman worked to drag the quivering mass of pink salmon over the side of the boat, I could not help but think about how we had just the day before watched how this fishery comes to life by the hands of the hatchery workers. Yes, we are indeed connected here in Alaska, and I am proud and thankful to be a part of it. Who knows, maybe some day my children will be working at Sundog Media serving the future generations of our customers.