Ward Cove is the site of the historic Ketchikan Pulp Mill, the longest operating pulp mill in Alaska, located just 7 miles north of downtown Ketchikan. Completed in 1954 and operated until 1997, the Mill was the economic heartbeat of Southeast Alaska.
The development of the Ketchikan Pulp Company began in 1953 with the creation of the Connell Lake Dam just 2 miles to the north. Freshwater was needed to supply the mill and once the dam was completed in October of that same year, it was capable of supplying millions of gallons of water each day that flowed through a 5-foot wide wooden stave pipeline. That pipeline still exists to this day and continues to supply fresh water daily.
The Ketchikan Pulp Company, a dissolving sulfite pulp mill, opened officially on July 14, 1954. It was originally built as a joint venture between Puget Sound Pulp & Lumber Company and American Viscose Corporation. Eventually, it would become part of Louisiana-Pacific Corporation.
The location in Ward Cove, just 7 miles from the city center of Ketchikan, Alaska, was chosen due to its proximity to a deepwater port as well as the abundance of timber in the Tongass National Forest. The Ketchikan Pulp Mill was the major economic engine for the town of Ketchikan and employed more than 500 people at the height of its productivity.
The pulp that was produced at the mill was used in many different products including rayon for apparel, tires, and what we all use daily medical masks. It was also used to make cellophane and avicel – which was used in products like cosmetics and even in the “fiber added” cereal we all find on our kitchen tables. If you ate cereal as a child, chances are you were eating parts of trees that came right out of this mill.
Today, you can still find many structures that were used in the production of pulp. The precipitator towers which were once used to clean wood chips now serve as an “archway” under which coaches and vans arrive to pick up cruise ship guests. The wood chip silos, which were used to sort the different varieties of wood, remain as a reminder of a bygone era and add to the industrial grittiness of this unique location.
The main brick structure, where giant bales of pulp were once rolled and sorted, is now our Welcome Center. Great care was taken to preserve the original colors and rustic interior while bringing new life to the building with modern restrooms, food service, and retail offerings.
One of our favorite features of the Mill is the train cars. Rail was the primary method of delivering the pulp products to what we call, “the lower 48”. The rail cars would be loaded with bales of pulp, then taken on the short track to the dock where they would be loaded onto a rail barge. Those trains would then continue their journey by water. A rail barge is simply a large flat vessel that has been fitted with train tracks. They line the tracks up from land to ship and the train cars roll aboard. They would then sail down to Canada where they would transition to the Canadian railroad lines and continue to their final destinations across North America. If you get a chance, walk into one of the rail cars which have been outfitted as restrooms and one is even a great stop for a quick bite to eat now!
On March 25, 1997, Louisiana Pacific announced the closure of the Ketchikan Pulp Mill, the main source of income for the city of Ketchikan for more than 40 years. The final bale of pulp – which is now on display at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center – rolled off the production line that same day.
When the Ketchikan Pulp Mill was closed, Ward Cove was found to be contaminated with fuels, paints, and heavy metals as well as large quantities of sunken logs which affected the health of all local marine life. Thus, Ward Cove was then declared a Superfund site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and was remediated with institutional controls under the oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
In 2019, under the leadership of John Binkley and his family from Fairbanks and Dave Spokely and his family from Ketchikan, a partnership formed between Ward Cove Dock Group, LLC and Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings Ltd. that saw past the stigma of a CERCLA designation and developed a plan to responsibly repurpose this previously remediated Superfund site.
Under this partnership, a two-berth, floating cruise ship dock was built and Alaska’s newest cruise ship destination was created. The innovative design and construction of the Ward Cove project resulted in the receipt of the prestigious Associated General Contractors National Build America Award recognizing state-of-the-art projects that emphasize environmental sensitivity. The innovative design of the dock required fewer pilings to be drilled into the ocean floor, causing less impact on the sand cap. Additionally, the unique construction techniques preserve the sensitive marine environment. Today marine life is thriving in Ward Cove and Ward Cove Dock Group is committed to preserving this sensitive environment.
August 4, 2021, marked the arrival of the first cruise ship to dock at Ward Cove. This was both a momentous and challenging day. From the Covid surge that swept our country as the New Year was rung in, to the CDC slow rolling any hope of a 2021 season; to the miracle of a sure and effective vaccine; to the unanimous passage of the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act; to the Delta variants prolific and stubborn transmission; and too many ups and downs between to count, opening this port has been challenging to say the least.
Through it, all Norwegian Cruise Line has had our back in developing Ward Cove as a premier and unique destination in Alaska. When the Encore cruised silently into Ward Cove on a beautiful day in August, one word came to mind: “gratitude”.
From the economic engine of the timber industry to cruise ships bringing hundreds of thousands of guests to experience the Tongass National Forest, the renovated Pulp Mill has become a metaphor for the multiple uses of this national treasure. This project has transitioned a decaying brownfield site into a place the community takes pride in once again.
As a team, we look forward to providing our guests with once-in-a-lifetime experiences as we share this historic and significant landmark with them and provide economic opportunity to the residents of Ketchikan.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team today!