Getting back to my Hooper Bay Experience two weeks ago, it was too short a time spent there to really get the full gist of the community. But several things popped out at me…
I heard so much about how the communities on the Yukon-Kuskokwim river deltas were “swamps”, and totally undesireable for nature. Probably it’s really spongey in Summer with lots of mosquitos. The brief time I spent in Hooper Bay during Autumn was delightful!
Like many other villages visited so far, Hooper Bay has an “old site” with remnants of sod houses. It was really something else! So many incredible grasses around, even some that glowed orange! Hooper Bay is renowned for their basketmaking, and it’s no wonder with all the grassy rolling hills amongst ponds & pools & marsh.
The beach along the West side of town is like anything you’d see in the Mexican riviera, except 40-degrees colder. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Slow, rolling waves trickle up over the shallow fine-grained light tan shore. But, when the tide comes in, it reaches to the dunes, many if which are eroding.
Given that it snowed this week, I likely missed the yearly floods. The entire village is set on a series of mounds, or small hills. Floods occur every year, and the kids say the school closes down because it’s difficult to get to the building. The school building is on extra high pileons because of the flooding.
There’s a beautiful slough that comes right up to the oldest part of the “new” village, where most everyone has their boats. A quick half-hour to 45 minute boat ride across the bay, lands you at prime tundra ground for egg-hunting, grass picking, and other subsistence activities like water-foul hunting.
The last day or two before I left brought a dusting of snow to the distant hills East & North of the village. Gorgeous! If it wasn’t for the AFN conference in Anchorage, I would have stayed.
Many aspects of Hooper Bay were different than other villages. It is the fastest growing village on the Y-K Delta. 50% of the population is 18 years old or younger. This is unusual! Most young people leave the village they grew up in for jobs elsewhere. It was exciting to hear about this growth, as Hooper Bay has the potential to become a “hub” village for the surrounding areas, where more flights would come in & out, and more services would be offered than smaller villages.
In fact, Hooper Bay has an updated health clinic, and is now providing some added services compared to smaller villages like Chevak, 18 miles East (Thanks, Bosco!) as the crow flies.
Because there are so many youth, and due to the village layout, there seem to be “neighborhoods” unlike most other villages. Kids in one section often didn’t know or hang out with kids in another section. I thought this was super cool, especially in the older part of town where the houses were much closer together, and boardwalks got people to & from where they lived. Boardwalks were in many areas in fact. It really added charm to the village.
Having so many kids & youth around really made the energy of Hooper Bay exciting. The church puts on a “late night” on Fridays, from 10-2AM for kids 15 and older. Younger kids hung out around the building & in the front porch, even though they couldn’t go inside. With so many kids, there is a clear need for a cool, fun, but safe place to hang out on the weekends. It was awesome to see the church taking steps to address that need. Many youth came, drank pops, ate candy & popcorn, and played ping pong & foosball.
The church wants to make the “cafe” a for real restaurant with pizzas and snack foods, but they can’t until plumbing is installed. It’s state regulations on restaurants that are preventing an expanded menu & times. But, about 40% of the village has running water now, and a set of platforms was in place for another 20% to be done in the coming weeks. It’ll happen soon!
This post became so long, I decided to break it up. Stay tuned for Part 2, with an unexpected twist!