Harbeson Homestead Joins the Great Land Trust Effort

In early 2010, we got a phone call from George Harbeson who was interested in talking about his family homestead and their interest in conserving the property in honor of his parents. Over the course of three years we had many visits with George and his siblings to draft the conservation and listen to their stories of homesteading when they were young, their numerous wildlife encounters including seeing baby Beluga whales frolicking at the mouth of O’Brien Creek and sticklebacks marooned in puddles on the flats, as well as many touching memories about their parents. We are so thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to know this special family and to be part of honoring their parents by helping them conserve their family lands.

The following was submitted to GLT by George Harbeson when asked to write an article for our newsletter about conserving their homestead:

Page 3 O'Brien Creek Conservation Easement Photo by Carl Johnson

Harbeson Homestead Joins the Great Land Trust Effort
By George Harbeson Jr.

George Harbeson (Sr.) of Marcella, filled with the pioneer spirit of adventure, plans to leave his present home, towards the end of August, and with his family start off on a 5,000-mile trip by car to Wasilla, Alaska. He hopes to complete the trip in seventeen days…

So began our family’s fifty-nine year (and counting) ramble with Alaska, as reported by a local New Jersey newspaper. We arrived in Wasilla in late August 1954, where my father was hired to teach. In 1959 he filed homesteading papers on a small isolated but scenic parcel near Knik and our waltz with the natural environment stepped up a notch. It was high adventure for us kids, but was a dance which for several years must have given my mother nagging misgivings, for while living so integrated with the environment can be rewarding, so, too, it can be an ordeal.

We camped out in the woods the first summer and built a basement to live in until finishing our log home atop it in 1967. The land embraced the basement on four sides and… the sky watered us through our tarred flat roof. Evidence of nature’s grip in winter was seen in the quarter-inch of frost lining some of the inside block walls.

Our three-quarter mile drive in from the Knik-Goosebay Road provided spectacular Cook Inlet scenery, but was often fraught with much travail: mud and deep ruts, ice, snow, rain, dust, and vehicular breakdowns.

We slogged about in the woods acquiring firewood, hauled water, explored the tidal flats and surrounding forests, visited with wildlife, set out subsistence nets for salmon, fished the creeks, picked berries, tended gardens, rescued a raven and a seal, two-stepped to the ‘64 quake, and wandered about with abandon in Nature’s schoolhouse—accompanied by the terrain and weather and the classrooms of the changing seasons at every step. And all under the vast realm and drama of Cook Inlet and its broad expanse of sky.

George Sr. and Katy Harbeson (1963).
George Sr. and Katy Harbeson (1963).

But that environment sustained both my parents at the end of their lives, especially in my mother Katy’s unfulfilled wish during the final days of her cancer to return to the natural solitude and peace of our homestead home.

When our initial homesteading efforts began decades ago, well-known Alaskan Virginia “Ginny” Hill Wood had then advised us Alaskans, “This is the last great wilderness left under the American flag, almost the world. Our children and their children deserve to find some of it as wild, unspoiled, as unique, and as exciting as we have found it.”

Thus, my sisters and brothers Lee Anna, Becky, Richard, and Peter, and I, along with the spirit of our parents George and Katy, feel gratified that our partnership with Great Land Trust will share and honor Ginny’s vision, Alaska, and the environment.

For those interested in a firsthand account of Wasilla, Knik, and the Harbeson and other families’ experiences in the years after the era of the Matanuska Colonists, George’s book, Homesteaders in the Headlights, is available in independent bookstores and gift shops around the state.