KETCHIKAN (KDN) — The Ketchikan Indian Community’s Tribal Council on Tuesday announced the purchase of Orton Ranch from the White Cliff Church that had owned the 4-acre property fronting the Naha River at Roosevelt Lagoon for several decades.

According to the KIC announcement, the property “achieves the Tribe’s strategic goal to establish a permanent Culture Camp where we can teach the younger generation about our way of life, on the land.” 

“When the Tribal Council heard that the property at Naha was being sold by the White Cliff Church, we knew it was an opportunity for our people that we couldn’t pass up,” KIC President Trixie Bennett said in the prepared statement. “Naha is the perfect location for a Culture Camp for our children and to bring Tribal members together for special retreats and gatherings where we’ll be surrounded by all the beauty and serenity of Lingit Aani at the Naha River.”

Located near Naha Bay about 16.5 miles north of downtown Ketchikan, the remote Orton Ranch property — which is surounded by U.S. Forest Service land typically is accessed by the Naha Trail from the Forest Service dock in Naha Bay near the Naha River’s outlet from Roosevelt Lagoon. 

According to the KIC announcement, the Forest Service this year is starting a project to reconstruct the dock, Naha Trail, tram and recreational amenities using an $850,000 Federal Lands Access Program Transportation Grant that was received in partnership with KIC.

The Orton Ranch property itself has about 11 structures — among them a dining hall, a duplex, a caretaker’s cabin and bunkhouses — that have been used in recent decades to accomodate camps for church groups and scouting programs, in addition to being available to other entities such as the Forest Service and KIC. 

However, the facilities and property now are “in need of significant restoration and renovation, according to the announcemnet from KIC, which is planning to start renovating buildings and the water treatment and wastewater utilities soon with the goal of having the site available for use by 2023 or 2024.

“Once all the renovations are complete, the potential future uses of the property are incredible,” Bennett said in the announcement. “While our primary plan is to establish our Tribal Culture Camp for our children, we envision using the space year round as a special place to pass down traditional knowledge such as traditional arts, harvesting, and fish preservation. We also hope to continue the community’s use of the property in the future. We want to continue to be thoughtful and supportive of all the people who reside in our area.”

The namesake of Orton Ranch is Milton Orton, who arrived in the Naha area in 1906 as a blacksmith employed by the Alaska Packers Association at its cannery on Naha Bay and hatchery about 8 miles east at Heckman Lake, according to a history of Orton Ranch written by Louise Brinck Harrington and published in the Daily News. It wasn’t until the early 1930s that Orton, along with his wife, Kate, and sons, Lee and David, settled down on the property now known as Orton Ranch.

Milton Orton died in 1950, followed by his son, David, in 1953. Kate Orton later returned to her original home area in Ontario, Canada, wrote Brinck Harrington.

In the early 1960s, Pastor Marion Dunham and his wife, Anna, of Ketchikan’s First Baptist Church purchased the property with the intent that it be used as a summer church camp. Renovations occurred in time for the first summer Bible camp that occurred there in 1961, Brinck Harrington wrote.  

In the early 1970s, the Dunhams turned the property over to First Baptist Church, with the intent it continue be used as a camp to serve the church and its community.

First Baptist Church held several camps, often as many as six, each summer at the ranch for decades, as well as making it available to other entities.

But use of the facility slowed in recent years due to several factors, including the pandemic.

A Ketchikan Daily News phone call and email to White Cliff Church Pastor Alan McElroy on Tuesday afternoon were not returned by presstime on Tuesday.

According to the KIC announcement, KIC, which has more than 6,000 citizens who are descendents of Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Aleut and other tribal nations, is the second largest tribe in Alaska.