Summer events celebrate 100 years of Katmai National Park

The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is covered in ash flow left from the 1912 Novarupta volcanic event.
The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is covered in ash flow left from the 1912 Novarupta volcanic event. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Katmai National Park and Preserve
Renee Brincks
Renee Brincks

Centennial events at Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve are in full swing, with a speaker series, musical performances and cultural gatherings commemorating the anniversary throughout the summer.

Covering roughly 4 million acres at the base of the Alaska Peninsula, Katmai is a popular destination for outdoor adventure and wildlife watching. The National Park Service estimates that approximately 2,200 brown bears live in the park.

"Park visitors often go to Brooks Camp in the summer, where they can observe brown bears fishing for food. That's the iconic picture here: bears gathered at Brooks Falls, when the salmon are coming in," said Mark Sturm, Katmai National Park and Preserve superintendent. "In addition, there are a number of locations on the coast and in the interior of the park where you can find a concentration of brown bears doing their thing."

All five species of Pacific salmon swim in Katmai's waters, making spots like the Kulik River, Brooks River and Naknek Lake favored destinations for guided fishing tours, as well. Hiking and backcountry camping opportunities also draw travelers to this land of scenic streams and slopes.

One of the park's most storied modern-day destinations, the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, was blanketed by ash up to 700 feet deep after the 1912 Novarupta volcanic event.

Botanist and National Geographic Society explorer Robert Fiske Griggs led several expeditions into the area following the eruption. He gave the 40-square-mile valley its name, and pushed for its protection. Katmai National Monument was created in 1918 to interpret and study volcano activity at the Novarupta site; it was later expanded and officially became a national park and preserve in 1980.

There are approximately 2,200 brown bears living in Katmai National Park.
There are approximately 2,200 brown bears living in Katmai National Park. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Katmai National Park and Preserve

"Novarupta is unique as far as volcano eruptions go, because the cavern from which the molten materials erupted was on the side of Mount Katmai. The explosion ultimately vacated that cavern and caused the mountain to collapse upon itself," Sturm said. "In the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, you have an opportunity to see the consequences of that eruption, a century after its occurrence. It's an impressive site to behold."

To celebrate Katmai's anniversary as a park, officials kicked off a series of webinars exploring the region's history, Alaska Native cultures, nature, fisheries and lodges in late June. Streamed on and archived on, the presentations feature preservationists, museum curators, botanists, academics and other Alaska experts.

Talks continue through Sept. 21, with upcoming discussions centering on Katmai's wildlife and fauna, a century of ecological change in the park, and the cultures of the Katmai landscape.

A Sept. 22 centennial closing ceremony in King Salmon-Naknek will spotlight those local cultural connections through additional presentations, Alaska Native dance performances, art and family-friendly activities. Event admission is free.

"The landscape in and around Katmai has been inhabited for thousands of years, and there are remarkable stories and traditions common in and around the park. In September, we've asked local people to speak to that history and highlight their connections to Katmai," said Sturm.

Sharing Alaska Native perspectives is part of a longer-term focus within the park, he adds.

"Over the years, the park has focused on telling the story of the Novarupta event, the biology and ecology of brown bears, and the salmon cycle," Sturm said. "We're working to expand the interpretation of Katmai and its history to include more of that human story, which has several compelling chapters."

Park officials invite members of the public to share their Katmai National Park and Preserve experiences by using the #katmai100 hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For more information on the centennial celebrations, visit the NPS website


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