NOSB paper

This paper was written as part of the 2003 Alaska Ocean Sciences Bowl high school competition. The conclusions in this report are solely those of the student authors.

The Development of the Alaskan Ginseng Industry in Hyder, Alaska


Jan Tomsen
Andrew Mew
Steven Wilson
Caroline Schultz
Kelsey Alexander


Team Mad Mad Mad Mollusks

Chugiak High School
PO Box 770218
Eagle River, AK 99577

Chugiak team photo


The purpose of this paper is to propose a plan for developing and maintaining a sustainable economic resource in the town of Hyder, Alaska. The solution comes though the growth, harvest, drying, packaging, and shipment of the plant Opolopanax horridus, or Alaskan ginseng. This spiny shrub, also known as Devil's Club, is a valuable and plentiful resource. The medicinal uses of horridus have long been utilized by American Indians, and have contributed greatly to relieving the symptoms of fevers, stomach ailments, coughs, colds, tuberculosis, as well as various other diseases.

The plan will be implemented in a variety of ways allotting for seasonal and regional differences. Several different showcase goods will be provided, including teas, tonics, and other health supplements to various locations via separate shipping companies around the world. A new cooperative system will be established in Hyder, which splits the workloads, and profits, of the industry, among all members of the cooperative.

Additionally, the ginseng can be grown, harvested, and packaged in the economically challenged town of Hyder, where unemployment is rampant and optimal climatic conditions prevail. The ideal weather, terrain, road, and the Alaska Marine Highway access, all contribute to making Hyder a perfect setting for a revolutionary industry for Alaskan ginseng.

Hyder, Alaska

Set on the outermost fringes of the Alaskan Panhandle lies a town torn by it's own diminishing value as a settlement and conflicted over the community's very nationality. This town is Hyder, Alaska. Often deemed the "friendliest ghost town in Alaska," this burg may soon become a phantom - a shadow of a happier, more forgiving yesteryear. As the rest of the nation's communities grow, Hyder has seen only a bitter collapse as its mineral deposits have slowly given way to nothingness. Hyder's once abundant fisheries have declined, now resting at only a fraction of what they once were.

The town of Hyder is the only currently existing settlement in southeast Alaska south of Skagway that is directly connected to the North American highway system. In spite of it's accessibility, Hyder lacks the economic base absolutely crucial to survival in today's American economy. With an unemployment rate of 46%, this town is in desperate need of an economic jump start.


The town of Hyder lies at the northern most tip of the Portland Canal. A 70 mile long fjord, the Portland Canal extends northward from the Portland Inlet which empties into the Pacific Ocean. The majority of the canal is used as a physical border between the United States and Canada. The U.S.-Canadian border slants northeast just to the south of Hyder, placing it just feet inside of the United States. Hyder is only 2 miles from the larger Canadian town of Stewart where most of Hyder's residents work and conduct business.

The town itself lies at 55.9° north latitude by 130.0° west longitude, placing it just 75 strait line miles from Ketchikan across the Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness. The Salmon River runs into the Portland Canal from the north, placing Hyder on a small peninsula jutting into the canal.


Located within the maritime climate zone, Hyder enjoys relatively mild weather in comparison to the rest of the state. Hyder's temperature ranges from an average around negative 6.7° Celsius (19.9° F.) in January to a July average of 16.1° C. (60.9° F.). While the temperature drops below freezing, Hyder's deep water port remains ice free year round. Often cloudy, Hyder, receives an average of only 3.8 hours of sunshine during January. The skies clear to a degree for the summer months, making the June sunlight per day time around 6 hours.

Precipitation for Hyder is fairly significant. Each year, Hyder receives an aggregate rainfall of 100 to 150 cm. per year. Each year the aggregate snowfall for the region is roughly 420 to 440 cm. These conditions are favorable for the verdant forests of the region—most importantly the Tongass National Forest. The mild temperatures and relative dampness of the region make for a good habitat for lush low lying foliage and old growth evergreens alike.


The Stewart-Hyder region was originally settled by the Nass River Indians from Canada's Nass river valley, which lies just inland from Hyder. These natives referred to the Portland Canal area as "Skam-A-Kounsk" or "safe place." The Nass River Indians often sought refuge here from the more belligerent coastal Haidas in the region. Aside from it's use as a retreat, the Nass used the region seasonally as a berry picking and bird hunting camp. In 1896—just prior to the Alaskan gold rush—the Portland Canal and Salmon River Basin were explored by a team from the Army Corps of Engineers. The expedition was led by U.S. Army Captain D. D. Gaillard, who was sent to map and explore the region.

Gold and silver were discovered in the area in 1898. Although all of the richest claims were on the Canadian side of the border, Hyder became an important port and focal point for stampeders heading north to the Salmon River basin and inland into the Canadian wilderness. In 1902 the Stewart brothers arrived in the area and founded the town of Stewart near the already existing Portland City. Portland City's name was changed to Hyder in 1914. It was named after a local Canadian mining engineer and businessman, named Frederick Hyder, claimed that the area was destined for economic success.

By 1917 Hyder had grown considerably. It was the sole port used in the export of the region's mineral resources. It was also the primary supply point and post office for all of the miners and other inhabitants of the area. Hyder would see an economic boom lasting from 1920 to 1930. At this time Hyder was able to boast two hotels, two beer parlors, a taxi service and a two story Canadian Customs building.

This boom was to be extenuated by the opening of the extremely lucrative Riverside Mine in 1924. One of the only highly profitable mines on the U.S. side of the border, the Riverside Mine would produce tungsten, lead, zinc, gold, silver, and copper until it closed in 1950. The last mine in the region to operate was the Granduc Copper Mine in Canada which closed in 1984.

During the Prohibition in the 1920's a small community called Hyder, British Columbia was set up just on the Canadian side of the border so as to provide the much desired alcohol to the thirsty miners. The trail that connected the two settlements became known as the "Smugglers Trail."

The original city of Hyder was built in pilings over the Portland Canal. This made for easy loading and transportation of goods moving in and out of the Stewart-Hyder area. This elaborate system of docks and pilings eventually burned down in 1956, effectively destroying the majority of the town. Since that time Hyder has been unable to regain it's former glory.


The town of Hyder is located in U.S. Census Bureau's Prince of Wales–Outer Ketchikan Census area, which covers the relatively unpopulated region east of Ketchikan. Much of the information presented here has been gleamed from the results of the U.S. census taken in 2000. The racial break down of the area is roughly 50% white versus the same number of native Alaskan residents. The town of Hyder, however, is almost exclusively of Caucasian background—with only 4.1% being of native decent.

Government Facilities, Utilities and Health Care

The community of Hyder is highly dependent on Canada, especially it's neighboring town, Stewart. There is no U.S. federal or state law enforcement agency present in Hyder, the town relies on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian court system to handle their legal and criminal affairs. There is a Canadian customs point in Hyder, but no American one. The only way to get out of Hyder is through Canada, therefore there is no reason for the government to maintain such an installation.

Hyder is the only community in Alaska which does not use the area code 907, it uses instead the local British Colombian area code 250. Telephone service is provided to both Stewart and Hyder by Can-Al Communications, a Canadian telephone company. Electrical power is provided by the Tongass Power and Light Company which services both of the communities. Plumbing and sewers (present in 90% of Hyder's homes) are maintained by British Columbia Hydro. Recently however, Hyder has requested a state grant to help Hyder maintain it's own water and landfill.

The only U.S. federal presence in Hyder is the Hyder Post Office. The Post Office is the only business in Hyder which requires the use of U.S. currency. All other businesses will accept Canadian or American currency.

The State of Alaska maintains the Hyder Deep Water Port and the Hyder Sea Plane Base. Renovations of the seaplane dock and parking are currently under renovation by the state.

Until 2000, all students living in Hyder were bussed to Stewart each day. A special teacher was hired by the State of Alaska to teach these students American history (not taught in Canadian schools). The state also paid the Canadian government for the use of their educational facilities. In 2000 Hyder received it's own school which is attended by 18 students from the community. The school is administrated by the Southeast Island School District from Thorne Bay, Alaska.


Hyder is unique in that it is the only town on the Alaskan Panhandle which is accessible by road. Hyder is at the western end of the Stewart-Hyder Cutoff of Canada's Casiar Highway (Highway 37). The highway cutoff extends west of Highway 37 from Meziadin Lake. It is maintained year round and is in the process of being paved. Many of the goods sent to Stewart and Hyder arrive by truck. Lindsay's Cartage and Storage, Arrow Transportation, Bandstra Transportation, and Seaport Limousine Ltd. provide cargo transport for both Hyder and Stewart.

The Salmon River Road runs north out of Hyder to Mountain View Camp and the Ninemile Ruins. This road at one time provided access to the lucrative Riverside mine.

Hyder has a deep water port which actually lies some distance off of the coast from the town. There is a long wooden causeway which juts out into the Portland Canal which connects the loading site to the town. The state also has built a boat launching ramp and harbor for smaller private craft. The Alaska ferry served Hyder from 1986 until the late 1990's when the route was phased out due to expense and lack of interest. It is roughly a 10 hour trip by boat from Ketchikan, as it is necessary to head south through the Dixon Entrance and then head back up the Portland Canal. As a result of this, travel between Hyder and other southeastern Alaska cities is primarily by air.

The Canadian government maintains a 3900 foot paved airstrip out of Stewart. All planes without floats coming or going to Hyder therefore must go through Canada. The state of Alaska maintains a medivac helicopter landing pad in Hyder in case of emergencies. Air service in and out of the Stewart Airport is provided by Vancouver Island Helicopters and Taquan Air, as well as other charter outfits from surrounding towns. A Taquan Air float plane (based in Ketchikan) flies the U.S. Mail to Hyder on every Monday and Thursday.

Aside from running freight, seaport Limousine Ltd. also manages the only bus line in the area. It travels to and from Terrace, Canada each weekend and makes connections with the Greyhound Bus Line in Terrace.


Hyder's economic situation is poor if not dire. The primary source of income for the region is tourism based. It is estimated that 80% of the businesses which employ people from Hyder deal at least in part with tourists. Most of the visitor related services are shared between Hyder and Stewart, however there is a small museum and hotel accommodations available in Hyder. There are also two restaurants and bars which are frequented by locals and visitors alike.

In an attempt to slow the steady economic failing of the communities, a bottled water plant was erected in the area in 1998. It employs over 40 people, a number of whom live in Hyder. This plant bottles the water from some of the local streams and glaciers and ships it across the United States where it has received a favorable response from bottled water consumers.

There is no bank in Hyder, which means that all of the community's residents must handle their financial affairs through the Canadian Bank of Commerce branch in Stewart. This means that there is very little American currency in circulation in Hyder. Most of the residents use the Canadian dollar everywhere except at the U.S. Post Office. Another factor which makes business in Hyder difficult is the time zone. While Hyder is technically within the Alaska Time Zone, all of the residents of Hyder set their clocks one hour later so as to comply with the Pacific Time Zone as used by their Canadian neighbors. This can make dealing with the rest of the state more difficult because one hour is lost during each business day due to this discrepancy.

Only four Hyder residents hold commercial fishing permits. The target species of these permit holders are salmon, shrimp and crab. To a limited degree there is a smoked salmon market in Hyder. One small business smokes, packages, and exports Alaska salmon. This endeavor, however, employs very few people.

Due to the relatively small size of the community, property values in the town of Hyder are fairly high. This changes as the properties get farther from town. There is some low lying land through which the Salmon River Road runs just north of town which may be suitable for some form of agriculture if an appropriate crop could be identified.

If the town of Hyder is to be saved from an almost certain economic atrophy, it will require solutions quickly. The town is slowly dying because there is no sustainable industry there. If a new industry could be implemented it might just be enough to save Hyder, enough to keep that little Alaskan burg kicking for anther century.

Devil's Club

It is described as being " common as undergrowth in southeastern Alaska...forming impenetrable thickets in coastal and flood plain forests. (Viereck and Little, 1986)."

The thorns or prickles give Alaskan ginseng its trademark name, 'devil's club'. It is referred to as heshkeghka'a, which means "prickle (thorn) big-big" by the Upper and Outer Inlet Dena'ina. When skin comes in contact with the thorns, acute itching and pain result. Hikers along Alaska's coast are well acquainted with its properties, and avoid it avidly. Occurring in dense thickets, Alaskan ginseng is always regarded as an annoyance, yet it may actually prove to be an asset.

Beginning in the 1930's, the modern medical world has also become interested in Alaskan ginseng. A possible insulin like substance was isolated from the plant by researchers, and it does seem to be of value in the maintenance of diabetes. It is speculated to have hypoglycemic therapeutic action.

The Plan

Alaskan ginseng is a unique showcase product. Its medicinal properties are extensive, and it's growth and production is relatively simple. The proposed plan revolves around the growth and marketing of Alaskan ginseng in Hyder, Alaska. As an opportunistic species, Alaskan ginseng requires little tending or additional care. Actual harvesting and growth of the plant can only take place in the short summer months. Forests would not need to be cleared or altered, yet simply reaped. "The potential for marketing devil's club, hereafter called Alaskan ginseng, is great. (Walsh, 1986)." As Alaskan ginseng will readily grow in most moist, partially shaded areas around Hyder, it is easily accessible.

In 1999, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service revealed a surprising announcement on the harvesting availability of wild ginseng roots. Areas of the continental United States were cited as suffering as an Appendix II Endangered Species. The agency has henceforth issued export permits for mature wild ginseng. "Although cultivated extensively, wild ginseng roots are preferred in Asian Communities and are much more valuable. (" These restrictions do not affect devil's club, yet show that it is a highly profitable untapped resource.

When picked, individual people will have to go into the forests and collect the plants, using heavy gloves and various cutting tools. The lack of large industrial machinery and clear-cut fields allows the natural environment around Hyder to be left relatively untouched. As the product is collected, the stalks will be stripped and peeled. They can be dried in industrial type dehydrators, and crushed for later packaging. This product can be boxed in small containers, ready for sale on the commercial market. All this can be done in the town of Hyder, and can be a year-round operation. During the short summer months, when the ginseng is mature, it can be picked. The gnarled 'clubs' underground will be left intact, and thus allow the plants to grow back the next season. During the winter, the actual packaging and distribution can occur. The product may then be transported to other companies in the United States, and sold on an international scale.

The product will be packaged in a variety of forms, ranging from powdered tonic mixes, pills, soothing ointments like aloe vera, to bags of herbal tea. Any of these may relieve or ease a variety of maladies such as previously indicated. The various products will be targeted to the countries in which they are most likely to be successful. For example, in America a pill form is suggested, whereas the tonic mix may be more popular in Britain. Asia and the Eastern Hemisphere will be the primary marketing locations for several varieties of Alaskan Ginseng, in all of its forms. Novel labels and names will be assigned to the different products, utilizing regional favoribility to certain names. For example, in America the tea bags could be marketed as "Devils Brew", or in Asia it would be labeled as "Three Swans Therapeutic Elixir".

In order to maximize profit and minimize work for the town of Hyder, a revolutionary new style cooperative is proposed. In Chignik, Alaska the salmon industry had been loosing profits in recent years due to overfishing, and the only solution seemed to be lessening the amount of boats on the sea. In 2002, they formed a co-op to cut back on the amount of salmon harvested by individual boats and decided to split the profits from a few fishermen. "This summer...77 of about 100 Chignik seiners stopped racing and parked most of their boats, catching the fish with a much smaller fleet (Loy, 2002)". The fisherman greatly benefited from this, with each member earning 20,000 dollars, and the actual men whom fished earned double.

Following the example of the recent salmon fishery in Chignik, Hyder can establish itself as a thriving and industrious community. This plan not only allows a market to rely solely in Hyder, but also gives those who are currently employed to help manage the operation and split the profits. Harvesting Alaskan Ginseng can be an altering cycle between workers. Those who harvest and package the plant in a given year will earn more, but all those in the co-op will share the profit. Work may rotate yearly. This system allows the environment to remain pristine, as fewer private individuals will be harvesting the land.

A new wave of economic prosperity will be able to once again dawn on Hyder, bringing with it a dependency not outwardly on Canada, yet internally through it's own personal revenue.


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Alaska map

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