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Historic Dena’ina dwelling site found in path of Anchorage airport expansion

By Kirsten Swann 12:37 AM October 2, 2013

Draft plan for future runway covers house, cache pits at Point Woronzof

ANCHORAGE – A draft proposal for expansion at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport would place a runway straight through an abandoned Native Alaska dwelling site at Point Woronzof.

The site is described in a 1986 study by the Municipality of Anchorage Community Planning Department. The report details a graveyard, a spirit house, the remains of a sweat house and traces of up to six other houses along the bluff facing Fire Island. Today, the site still has visible house and cache pits – traces of a Dena’ina settlement more than a century old.

Steve Holley, a land technician with the AK Carbon Exchange and a Tyonek native, said he first heard of the site several years ago from an uncle, who described an ancestral tent village in the area of Kincaid Park. On Tuesday, Holley explored the area with workers from the Alaska Center for the Environment, mapping several house pits along the bluff just south of the Point Woronzof parking lot.

The site lies squarely in the path of a new runway proposed as a possible development alternative in the Anchorage airport’s Master Plan Update.

“I understand the importance of development,” Holley said. “But to cover up the memory of my people like this really disturbed me.”

Plans for the new runway are far from concrete. It’s the fifth alternative in a long-term vision for airport growth that also includes routing air traffic through Fairbanks and increasing the use of existing runways. But airport officials claim the additional north-south runway is the only alternative that could handle a future bump in air traffic regardless of weather conditions.

The Alaska Center for the Environment has been vocal in its protest of the proposed runway, which would cut through a portion of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and require filling in a part of Cook Inlet and creating a new, artificial shoreline. A spokeswoman for the center said it continues to collect data about the Dena’ina dwelling site from the Alaska Historical Society and other archaeological groups.

Representatives from the Society could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Holley, who said he was grateful for the chance to learn about his ancestors’ Anchorage roots, spoke about the importance of the little-known Point Woronzof site to his family’s past.

“To see where we once lived on a place like the Coastal Trail is a great opportunity for everyone to connect with the old Anchorage that once was,” he said.

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