Lake Louise and the Army Point military recreation site
|Old Army recreation cabin at Army Point on Lake Louise
Lake Louise (Sasnuu Bene’ in Athabascan) is the eastern-most of a series of interconnected lakes on the Lake Louise Plateau at the Copper River Basin’s western edge.
Ahtna Athabascan Indians have occupied the region for generations. According to the Matanuska-Sustina Borough’s Comprehensive Plan for the area, these people called themselves the Hwtsaay Hwt’aene or “Small Timber People.” By the mid-1800s, the Hwtsaay Hwt’aena had villages at Lakes Louise, Sustina, Tyone and Tazlina.
In 1898 Lt. Henry Castner and his party became the first Westerners to see Sasnuu Bene’. Castner, under the command of Captain. Edwin Glenn, followed Indian trails from Cook Inlet up the Matanuska River into the Copper River Basin.
Castner reached the lake on Aug. 6, 1898. In his journal Castner wrote of the area, “To the east of us, and beyond the Copper River, ran that great spur of the St. Elias Alps … South of us stretched the snow caps of our old enemies, the Chugach Range … West of us more glaciated masses, called Talkeetna Mountains, trended north to the Alaskan Alps. We were in a tract made rectangular by four great mountain ranges, and from our position almost in its center, one obtained a view of mountain scenery unequaled anywhere else on earth.”
The lieutenant decided the beautiful lake needed a name, calling it Lake Adah, after a girl he knew. Cpt. Glenn, following Castner’s trail, reaching the lake about a week after Castner did. Glenn was also entranced by the lake, and cajoled Castner into renaming the lake in honor of the captain’s wife, Louise.
The influx of Westerners into the region, beginning at the turn of the 20th century, changed Ahtna settlement patterns. Most Natives moved away from the area for better access to jobs, education and health services. However, they still returned to hunt caribou and for other subsistence activities.
The Sasnuu Bene’/Lake Louise area also became a mecca for non-Native hunters. At first, access was limited to foot traffic and later by float planes. Not until World War II did roads penetrate into the area.
The Glenn highway was constructed in the early 1940s to link military bases at Anchorage with the Richardson and Alaska highways. During road construction, the Army also decided to set up a recreation site at Lake Louise and punched through a 19-mile road from Mile 160 of the Glenn Highway to the lake.
The Army erected its recreation site on a small peninsula called Army Point (now part of the Lake Louise State Recreation Area.) A dozen or so 12-foot by 16-foot log cabins made of logs sawn flat on three sides were erected, as well as latrines and a dock and related facilities. In August 1947, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower stayed in one of the cabins. He had planned to just overnight, but found the spot so tranquil that he spent four days at Lake Louise.
The site was apparently only used for a few years. In 1955 the Army and Air Force obtained another Lake Louise recreation site where the Army constructed 12 Quonset huts, log latrines and a boat dock. That site was damaged during the 1964 earthquake and closed in 1965.
Ray Ordorica, who lived in one of the Army Point cabins for three years in the late 1970s, wrote in his book, The Alaskan Retreater’s Notebook, that area residents repurposed most of the cabins, hauling them off or using them for firewood. The vacant and deteriorating cabin shown in the drawing, located near the top of a wooded ridge overlooking Lake Louise, is one of the last three cabins at the Army Point site.
- Ahtna Place Name Lists. James Kari. Alaska Native Language Center. 2008
- Louise, Susitna and Tyone Lakes Comprehensive Plan 2016 Update. Matanuska-Sustina Borough. June 2016
- The Cold War in Alaska: A Management Plan for Cultural Resources. D. Colt Denfeld. U.S. Army corps of Engineers. 1999
- The Retreater’s Notebook: One Man’s Journey into the Alaskan Wilderness. Ray Ordorica. Skyhorse Publishing. 2016