Treading Lightly in Alaska

As the skipper of the water taxi down-shifted, I could see my destination like a welcoming beacon dead ahead. The Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge, only 10 miles as the crow flies from the fishing village of Homer, was worlds away from the rat race I was leaving behind for a week. As if to signal that I was in the right place, a bald eagle with a six-foot wingspan swooped down for a closer inspection of our boat as a trio of accommodating hip-booted staffers off-loaded my luggage.

Little did owner Keith Iverson know back in 1973 when he plunked down his life savings of $5,000 for the wild and undeveloped property alongside Sadie Cove that the state would soon declare the 24,000 acres of vibrant coastline surrounding his land as a wilderness area protected from development. After going it alone for the first few years, Iverson realized that his little piece of paradise could attract top dollar from visitors looking to get away from the frenetic pace of city life. So in 1981 he opened his emerging complex of buildings—each constructed from hand-milled local spruce lumber and driftwood—to visitors as the Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge.

Bald eagles are in the welcoming party when you fly in to Sadie Cove. © Roddy Scheer

Today, guests at the lodge ($300 per person per night in summer, $350 in winter, including three meals) can enjoy all the amenities of home—including electricity, hot showers and cold drinks—without dipping into any polluting fossil fuel reserves. Power at the lodge is provided by an ingenious hydroelectric system running off of the rushing creek bisecting the property. Iverson says it is more reliable than the electricity grid, plus he never gets an electricity bill. Meanwhile, the lodge’s clear drinking water is filtered from a mountain spring also on the property.

The Recycling Mantra

Beyond its environmentally sensitive power and water supplies, the lodge does not use any polluting fertilizers, preservatives or cleaning chemicals that could foul the pristine waters of Sadie Cove. Also, the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) is a mantra for Iverson and his staff. “For example, we use gallon-sized milk containers for our lettuce greenhouse planters, and when the containers become so damaged by UV rays that they are no longer practical, we bring them to town where they are recycled,” says Iverson.

Old ropes from fishing vessels are used for handrails, discarded PVC pipe from Homer is split and used for rain gutters and small open boats that have served out their days at sea are retired and used for raised garden beds.

Sadie Cove
© Roddy Scheer

Iverson has worked to ensure that his lodge meets the stringent environmental standards of Green Globe 21, a program that monitors and certifies sustainable operations in the tourism industry according to standards set at 1992’s Rio Earth Summit. Iverson’s property is the only wilderness lodge in Alaska to be recognized by the state for its recycling and reuse policies and practices.

But just because Iverson is an environmentalist doesn’t mean guests have to rough it. Iverson’s wife Randi is a gourmet cook who delights guests not only with her friendly charm but also with the tastiest halibut steaks this side of heaven. The lodge provides hot breakfasts and dinners, and packs box lunches for guests to take with them on various adventures including guided hikes, kayaking excursions, fishing charters and even bear-viewing outings. And on rainy days nothing beats browsing through the lodge’s impressive collection of books on Alaskan culture and natural history.

When Iverson is not busy catering to guests” needs or doing maintenance on lodge facilities, he kayaks over to nearby Little Tutka Bay, where he is refurbishing Widgeon, an old World War II supply ship that ran cargo to the Aleutian Islands. With a little help from area friends, Iverson towed, landed and secured the vessel on a small parcel of land he had purchased. Within two years he hopes to open it as a lower-cost resort—complete with kitchen facilities, a music room and an indoor swimming pool—for up to eight guests at a time.

“The boat will have modern communications as well as Internet, but we hope to have an atmosphere of the 1940s where folks can come to relax,” says Iverson. “They can do some peaceful reading, listen to some old records on the 78 rpm record player, do some fishing, canoeing, hiking, wildlife viewing or fishing, all in a unique and historic vessel.”

Iverson plans the refurbished Widgeon as an alternative energy showpiece, which, judging by Sadie Cove, would be par for the course.