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By DANELLE LANDIS
Daily News Staff Writer
Larry Johansen knew it was time to publish the story and images of Southeast Alaska’s wilderness areas.
The 50th anniversary of the federal Wilderness Act will be commemorated in 2014, and Johansen said he felt that the areas created in the Alexander Archipelago "needed a stronger and more focused look."
Johansen self-published "The Alexander 18: The Story of Eighteen Wilderness Areas in Alaska" in July.
"I had a unique perspective and I felt almost obligated to tell my story," he said.
Johansen, a writer and photographer who grew up in Ketchikan, lives in Juneau working as a tour guide, writer and photographer. His self-published book, "Xtratuf: An Alaskan Way of Life," was published in 2010.
"The Alexander Eighteen" explores the wilderness areas by devoting a chapter to each.
Johansen blends his own experiences, memories and local knowledge of Southeast Alaska with historical background of how the Wilderness Act came about and what its consequences have been in the past five decades.
In the chapter about Misty Fjords, for example, he recalls a field trip he took in 1973, at the age of 13, to the Ketchikan Pulp Co. mill.
He wrote, "The town cherished not only the jobs the industry provided, but also the reputation it garnered as a hard-working blue-collar town."
He then outlined changes in the global pulp market and federal environmental protection laws that affected the timber industry and his personal outlook as well.
He said there was a feeling, when the idea of designating areas as federal wilderness lands was first explored, that those areas would be rendered economically useless and valueless.
"These areas have become very valuable on a lot of different levels," he said, adding, "There’s lots of intangibles that have developed since."
He explained that towns near the wilderness areas have become "gateway communities" which visitors must go through to access the areas. He lists Chichagof Island and Tok as examples of places that have become gateways for tourism.
He said he talked to a representative of Alaska Geographic and was told that there was not a book that explored all of the Southeast Alaska wilderness areas.
"I thought that was really kind of a travesty — the fact that they hadn’t been recognized for being the special places they are," he said.
Johansen shares his own impressions and adventures from his travels to each wilderness area. He said he did not meet, or hear of one person, as he researched the book, who had visited every area, and felt it was important that someone explored those areas and shared them with the people.
"It’s a tour in a book," he said.
Johansen has traveled to more than 40 countries since graduating from Ketchikan High School in 1979. He said his Kayhi photography teacher, Bob Landis, inspired him to pursue photography more seriously, and he has been dedicated to his art since.
The first book Johansen wrote was for his children’s eyes only. He was so happy with how that one turned out, that he decided to put together a book about the culture of Xtratuf boots in the rainforest areas of Alaska.
He said he noticed, at that time, that there was no shortage of scenery books about Alaska, but there weren’t many about the people. He said he knew there was one specific feature about Southeast Alaskans that set them apart, and for "the rainforest people ... it was the Xtratuf boot," he said.
He spent one year taking at least one picture per day featuring Xtratuf boots for that book. The text is peppered with the stories of people he interviewed and the history of the boots.
Johansen said he heard, just as his book was going to press, that Honeywell, the company that makes Xtratuf boots, was going to move the manufacturing process from Rockwell, Ill., to China.
"I realized it might turn out to be a history book about what Xtratuf boots used to be," he said.
Johansen sent a copy of the book to Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, who has voiced support for the return of Xtratuf manufacture to the United States.
"He read it, and assured me he’d be working to talk to Honeywell about getting the company back in the U.S.," Johansen said. He added that what he truly would like to see is the boot made in Southeast Alaska, where the product could be tested right out the back door.
The theme of the uniqueness of the Alaska wilderness is touched on in Johansen’s books.
"Alaska is not just another state," Johansen writes in "Xtratuf." Nowhere else can people walk out their back yard and literally walk for weeks before returning to the 21st century."
He said it is because of that vast wilderness that Alaska is a community of people who embrace challenge and rely upon each other.
As Johansen researched "The Alexander Eighteen," he said he found a lot of people along the way who didn’t know "what a wilderness area was, or what it meant." He said he also found people who were in a designated wilderness area who didn’t realize they were in one.
One goal of writing a book that explores the wilderness areas, Johansen said, was to "dispel myths — explore issues that are important to Alaska’s future."
Johansen is researching a third book, he said, which will explore the history of the Treadwell gold mine near Juneau. He said it also will follow a "tour in a book" format, and he plans to tell the story in a way that will "juxtapose it with people’s lives today."
He said he hopes that book will be published by 2017, which will be the 100-year anniversary of the mine’s collapse.
Johansen will visit Ketchikan Friday to share about 200 photos he took in the wilderness areas at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center’s Friday Night Insight program. He said he plans to expand stories and issues in his talk that he didn’t have space to more fully develop in his books.
Information about his books, and a story about the "19th wilderness of the Tongass" can be found at Johansen’s website, rowdydogimages.com. His books, which were printed by Everbest Printing through Alaska Print Brokers, can be found at Parnassus Books and the Discovery Center Alaska Geographic Bookstore.
The program will start at 7 p.m., and the doors will be open for the free slide show and talk at the Discovery Center at 6:30 p.m. Johansen’s books will be available for signing.