A years-long conservation project effort for the Shelter Cover property near downtown Cordova has culminated with the 112-acre site now permanently protected, for environmental education and recreational uses.
Copper River Watershed Project officials said the deal, led by the non-profit Great Land Trust, was completed in October, in partnership with the Copper River Watershed Project. The mission of the non-profit Great Land Trust is to conserve lands and water essential to the quality of life and economic health of communities.
The project was made possible by a generous gift from the family of the late Jack Stern, his wife, Lorna, and their children, Brad and Keri, and the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund.
The acreage, just 1.5 miles from downtown Cordova, contains abundant wildlife, a salmon stream, wetlands, and several undeveloped footpaths.
Shelter Cove’s early history is deeply rooted in mining. Old mining shafts/tunnels can still be found on the property.
Over the years that Jack Stern and his family visited Cordova and Shelter Cove, he would conduct clean-ups in cooperation with the city, volunteer fire department and local construction company employees.
The past two summers, volunteer crews organized by CRWP have cleaned up and removed most of the remaining dilapidated structures and debris from the property.
Jack passed away in 2008, and his widow and adult children then spent some time thinking about the future of the property.
In 2015 they met with GLT about conserving the property, then together with the CRWP, and came to an agreement about transferring the property to new ownership.
“Maintaining the Cordova property in its natural undeveloped state is very precious to me and in memory of Jack,” said Lorna Stern. “I admire the fact that CRWP assists in the education of young people in fish habitat restoration and watershed education in the Copper River drainage.”
Development at Shelter Cove occurred as early as 1917 and lasted through 1928.
The Sterns purchased the Shelter Cove property in 1964 after many visits to Cordova for Jack’s work with pilot Merle “Mudhole” Smith.
In the years following the purchase, the property became a popular camping spot for seasonal cannery workers, deckhands, and other transient squatters.
At one time, Shelter Cove, also known as Hippie Cove, even had an unofficial “mayor,” Gene Rosellini, who lived in Hippie Cove for many years, devoting his life to an experiment to see if it was possible to live independent of modern technology.
The Sterns lived in Anchorage for 26 years, where they raised their two children.
They were approached many times about selling the property, but always refused, not wanting to see it developed.
Lorna Stern is donating the property to CRWP with a conservation easement held by GLT, which allows for limited development on the property, such as the installation of education signs, camping structures, picnic tables, and foot trails.
“We are so pleased to be trusted with the stewardship of this property that contains rainforest, wetlands meadows, and stream corridor habitat all together – it’s a natural outdoor education setting,” said CRWP executive director Kristin Carpenter. “We plan to use the property for environmental education programs, and to develop camping structures for visiting tourists.”
While the public will be able to access the property in the near future, it is currently still private and not open for use.