If you’ve been to the Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park headquarters, you may have noticed a statue of Ed Apperson, the first on-site state park ranger at Abercrombie.
What’s missing in the replica is the green Department of Natural Resources State Parks truck, which Ed drove as he kept a watchful eye on activities within the park boundaries.
Ed had a special affinity with Abercrombie. It was his special “child,” and like a parent who proudly gazes on his precious offspring, Ed had a sparkle in his eyes when he talked about the way in which Abercrombie grew from being a haunt for wild parties and residence of vagrants to an official recreation ground which the people in Kodiak could call their own.
Because of his connection with Fort Abercrombie, Ed was referred to as Mr. Abercrombie. This affiliation was fondly brought up during a memorial service for Ed on Tuesday at the Legacy Funeral Home in Anchorage. Ed, who was 93, died a week earlier at the Alaska Native Medical Center from injuries sustained after a fall at the Apperson home on Adak Island.
Ed was buried at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery with full military honors.
Ed was a patriot who desired to serve his country. At age 17, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps before the Air Force became a separate entity. He served in Korea during the U.S. conflict with North Korea. Ed shared his military knowledge as a teacher of the ROTC program at East High in Anchorage. He also was a substitute teacher in the Anchorage district.
The Bear Paw Kodiak quilting guild awarded Ed with a Quilt of Valor, honoring his service in the U.S. military.
Considering Ed’s patriotism and his service to his country, it was significant that he was the overseer of Abercrombie, which initially was a military outpost in the days preceding World War II.
I allude to Abercrombie’s historic background in the chapter of an upcoming book on Kodiak. Here is what I wrote:
Abercrombie State Park, located three miles north of the city of Kodiak, is a hiker’s paradise. Even if the park is taking it on the chin from an ornery mid-winter blizzard, you can bet that some hearty soul will be clearing a path through the forest with her snowshoes or cross country skis, or standing beneath the wings of a snow-laden Sitka spruce tree, jumping out of the way just in time as a capricious gust of wind shakes up those branches and sets off a miniature avalanche.
Even when the well-worn paths are glazed by a hard freeze after a long period of rain, some unprepared hiker will be trying to negotiate the steep, ice-packed trails, grabbing onto bushes and tree limbs to keep from slipping and sliding.
The people of Kodiak take pride in their park, and they’ll tell you that it’s one of the nicest pieces of real estate in the state — right in their backyard, practically.
It is an enchanting wonderland of stately Sitka spruce trees, flowery meadows, craggy cliffs and rugged coastline.
But what made this piece of real estate a park in the first place was its role as a military installation during World War II. Back then it was called Fort Abercrombie, named after Lt. Col. William R. Abercrombie, a company grade officer who played a major part in the U.S. Army explorations of interior Alaska during the late 19th century.
There are all sorts of remnants that remind hikers of Abercrombie’s military history. Bunkers and quonset huts are camouflaged in brush and moss; a gun emplacement is poised on a ridge overlooking Monashka Bay as if it were ready to fire on enemy targets, just as it was in the mid-1940s.
Most hikers are caught up by the natural beauty of Abercrombie. But many come to pay homage to the men who were stationed here in the early 1940s, building bunkers and outlooks, doing their patriotic duty to prepare for a possible attack from Japan.
It’s unlikely that the Seabees that built Fort Abercrombie figured out that one day this piece of property would be hailed as one of Alaska’s prize parks.
But they certainly realized that Abercrombie was special. In their loneliness, soldiers must have stood in the woods at eventide and relished the sun streaming through the lofty tops of the evergreens. In their hunger for something tastier than bland C-rations, they must have gorged on luscious red salmonberries in the forest or feasted on Dolly Varden they caught in Lake Gertrude with makeshift poles.
They must have gazed at the rambunctious churning waves of Monashka Bay and forgotten their boredom and watched that same bay in its quiet mood, enjoying the peacefulness of the striking blue waters.
On Jan. 30, 1969, the military installation was officially established as an historical park. In 1970 Abercrombie was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
People take refuge in Abercrombie, the park, which quells the little wars that go on in their minds and hearts. Even amidst the machinery and buildings of war — the gun emplacement, the bunkers — there is a peacefulness that rejuvenates the soul.
The rusting canon perched on the cliff aiming toward Spruce Island is an iron-clad scorpion that has lost its sting. You are safe to wander the paths that meander along the crooked edges of craggy cliffs and to sit quietly in the forest without fear of shrapnel screaming through the thicket or bombs falling from the sky. In Abercrombie we are at peace.
In September 2001, just weeks after the United States suffered terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., a volunteer party of young and old gathered at Abercrombie to upgrade the trails. There was something refreshing, soothing and healing about working in the park on a warm autumn day.
They were there to build, to smoothen rough trails, to make the place better.
And we can thank Ed Apperson for helping make those trails more accessible to all who want to take in the beauty and history of Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park.
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