The Road Not Taken (Or Even Built) To Cordova, Alaska

Road to Nowhere in Alaska.
Bumper sticker on pickup truck: "No Road; Cordova Alaska" 

Alaskans Don't Want "A Road To Nowhere" -- They're Just As Likely To Not Want A Road At All. 


Around a hundred years ago, Cordova, at the mouth of the Copper River, was easily accessible from the upper Copper River Valley by way of the Copper River & Northwestern Railway.  Copper mines in Kennicott shipped ore to Cordova over the train tracks, where it was then sent by boat to the Lower 48.

The railroad track was built, at great cost and peril, between 1907 and 1911. There were 129 bridges along the 196 mile track, and the railroad ran alongside steep cliffs, and even over moving glaciers. It linked its turnaround point, Chitina, over to the mines at Kennecott, and then down to Cordova along the dangerous Copper River.

In Alaska, large corporations like the Kennecott Corporation, which ran the copper mines, and was owned by New York interests such as the Guggenheims, tend to give up easily. In 1938, without any fanfare whatsoever, the corporation abruptly ran its last train out of Kennicott in September.  

After that, local people ran custom retrofitted automobiles up and down the tracks for awhile. (You can see some of them in the weeds at Chitina, and there's one at the Wasilla Museum of Transportation.) Then they started tearing up the tracks as building material. 

Map of the lower Copper Valley and Prince William Sound.
At Chitina, the railroad went east to Kennicott & McCarthy.  

Part of the track -- between McCarthy and Chitina -- eventually became "The McCarthy Road." The section starting in McCarthy, at a place called O'Brien Creek, which was the link to Cordova, never did become a road, and the trestles, bridges and other parts of the old railroad were either taken away, or rotted and collapsed. Down in Cordova, the Copper River Highway was built along the tracks, to a place called "The Million Dollar Bridge." During the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, the bridge was seriously damaged. 

Cordovans, who could be reached only by boat or airplane, began to get used to the idea of being cut off from the rest of the state overland.

Eventually, Governor Wally Hickel of Alaska began pushing for a road to Cordova. The idea was met with mixed enthusiasm. Around half of all Cordovans were said to support the idea. The other half -- like the owner of this pickup -- didn't like the idea at all. Environmentally, making a road proved too difficult, and Cordova remains isolated from the upper Copper Valley. 

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