Pilgrim family targeted by National Park Service: Inholder roads at risk

by Rick Kenyon
Wrangell St. Elias News (WSEN)
McCarthy, Alaska
Phone: 907-554-4454 (4 hours behind EST; 1 hour behind California time)
Fax: 907-554-4494
Website: http://mccarthy-kennicott.com
Email: WSEN@starband.net


National Park Service officials at the Wrangell St. Elias National Park in
Alaska have targeted a family of 17 that owns 400 acres in the middle of the
park. Such private landowners within federal boundaries are called 'inholders.'
The family has been harassed for the past year by park rangers.

The family's legal name is Hale, and the property is registered in that name.
However they prefer to be called the Pilgrims.

These folks are pacifists, very akin to the Mennonite faith. They are a
law-abiding, God-fearing family of 17 that dresses and talks differently --
outspoken in their faith in God and opposition to evil -- but are loving, caring
people who have been a real blessing to their neighbors.

In April 2003, the NPS posted notices that the family could not use the
McCarthy-Green Butte trail, a well-documented RS2477 route that is listed with DNR
as RS135. The McCarthy-Green Butte route RS135 follows the creek, crossing
some 17 times. Until about 1970 the bridges were maintained, but have all washed
out now. It is a rugged, somewhat dangerous route. The closure was clearly
illegal. The NPS has no authority over this road, which is the only road for the
Pilgrims to access their home and the town of McCarthy. NPS says that the
Pilgrims created a new road through the park. This is false. NPS says that the
Pilgrims upgraded an existing road without obtaining a permit. This is also
false. All the family has done is to use an existing road and do minimal
maintenance work on that road, which is clearly within the provisions of RS2477.

The NPS is 'pulling out all of the stops' in their effort to destroy the
Pilgrim family. I talked with NPS Assistant Superintendent Hunter Sharp yesterday
and he told me the following:

1. On or about June 14, a 3-person BLM survey crew will arrive at the
Marvelous Millsite property and the Spokane Placer for the purpose of establishing
the boundaries. (That's fine, we want the NPS to know where their property is.
The family has agreed to this, but has asked that the impact to their children
and livestock be minimized by using local air taxi aircraft rather than

2. The surveyors will be accompanied by a NPS 'Special Events Team' of 6-8
armed Rangers, plus local Rangers. This is ridiculous. NPS has painted the
family as being dangerous, which escalates NPS actions to the bizarre.

3. At the same time, a team of "experts" will start up the McCarthy Creek
Trail (McCarthy-Green Butte RS135) for the purpose of documenting any "damage"
that may have been done to the park lands. (NPS does not recognize this as a
legal state right-of-way, despite mountains of evidence that it is.) This team
will consist of a Biologist, a Fisheries person, 2 Botanists, an Archeologist
and a Geologist. They will be accompanied by 3 more armed Rangers.

4. Helicopters will be used to transport this army of NPS shooters and
surveyors up the creek, although the Pilgrims have specifically offered use of their
airstrip by light plane to avoid the noise and confusion of helicopter
landings and overflights near the livestock. NPS specifically announced that "We
will take all reasonable precautions to minimize any disruption" during the

The trail in question has been listed in state statute as a legal, valid
state right-of-way.

NPS apparently plans to charge the family with any "damage" they find along
this route, although others have maintained the road in recent years and have
not been cited or even warned by NPS.

This is clearly a case where a family has been targeted for punitive action.
It apparently is also designed to frighten the other residents into
submission. The slander/smear campaign by the park people has been disgusting.

At the same time, the NPS informational office in Chitina, Alaska, and the
Kiosk at the end of the McCarthy Road, have been closed due to "budget cuts."
Apparently the park management is funneling all of its resources into this
campaign to destroy a family and acquire control of their property. (400 acres in
the middle of the park.)



The Pilgrim Story

By Dorothy Adler
Wrangell-St. Elias News


With all the recent activity surrounding the Pilgrim Family, access up McCarthy Creek, and relations with the NPS it is difficult to know or begin to understand this family, issues aside. It seems like many people in our community have wondered where the Pilgrims came from and why they chose McCarthy as their home. Although they have been in our community for a year now, The Pilgrims have remained somewhat of a mystery to many of us, and not many of us have gotten to know them on a personal level. I spent the day recently with some of the family members at their camp in McCarthy and was amazed with what I learned. So for all of you curious McCarthyites, here’s the slightly censored version.

It was a sunny spring-like day, breakup in fact when I headed over to meet with the Pilgrims at their McCarthy camp. Leaping over puddles, feet sloshing around in the wet mud/snow, thoughts racing through my mind as to how the interview would begin… anticipation, curiosity; Gosh, I haven’t interviewed anyone since college, let alone write a story on ‘em as well. Oh, well, I think to myself and instantly, as if I snapped my fingers, (remember “I dream of Jeannie”) I was there in their yard, surrounded by Pilgrims, and two cows, a horse and three very big dogs. It was a bit overwhelming, really.

Not too long after I arrive I find myself inside the small, but tidy and organized cabin, their home base in McCarthy. I am greeted with a big hug from Elishaba, the eldest child, who is endearingly called “Sissy” by Papa and siblings throughout my visit. She is also called “Elisabeth,” the English version of her Hebrew name. I take a seat next to Papa and look around the room, realizing that half of the clan is sitting before me. The older children are here with Papa, while the younger ones are at home up McCarthy Creek with Mama (Country Rose). I have a list of questions to ask the Pilgrims so I take out my notepad and proceed to barely write anything down during the next six hours.

Papa Pilgrim is a storyteller. All stories begin somewhere. Papa’s story began when he met Country Rose twentynine years ago in sunny southern California. In his thirties and trying to figure out what to do next, he comes across young Country Rose in the San Bernardino Mountains. She asks him for a piece of cheese, which he doesn’t have but attempts to find for her. A classic love story in the making. “This is getting good,” I think to myself. Not at all ready for what Papa will disclose next. Country Rose stands near a beautiful waterfall and God speaks to Papa and says “This is your wife, she is strong, she will bear you many children.” Talk about prophetic. They get married, much to her parents’ dismay. She is much younger and has been reared in Hollywood of all places, none of which stops them from setting off to create a life together.

Without knowing their direction in life they head out on their honeymoon in their ‘41 Chevy truck. Not too much longer after this they find themselves giving birth to a daughter. To set the record straight, there are actually fifteen children “on earth” as the Pilgrims phrase it. Papa and Country Rose lost one baby, Hope, who they believe they will be reunited with in Heaven and they still include her when they talk about the children.

The interview continues, although there is a bit of a break to eat some lunch that Elishaba, a most gracious hostess, has served up. I am in awe of her throughout my visit as she pulls one thing after another out of a small oven. All of the children (they prefer to be called children) seem to have their roles in the family. That’s what allows them to get along and get the work done. Where so many of us come from families where we fought and bickered with our siblings growing up, the Pilgrim children say they never grow sick of each other. In fact, they really enjoy being around one another and if separated for a while, can’t wait to be together again. They are unique in that they, having lived very remote in New Mexico, (they claim to have more neighbors here than at their Mt. Church Cabin in the Rockies) have come to genuinely rely on one another.

The Pilgrim family is not shy when it comes to their religious beliefs. In fact, I found that the Pilgrims, while modest, are open and honest people. They are quite simply an oldfashioned family living by the Bible. And so Papa began describing how he found Jesus, how he came to live his life as a Christian, and how he ended up in McCarthy.

Still searching for some direction, Papa, Country Rose, young Elishaba and now baby Joseph found themselves driving along in Texas, his home state. Papa described feeling “empty” from being raised with a life of “riches and pride” and not knowing what to fill that void with. Organized religion didn’t work for them. Papa wasn’t sure what to do. He started seeking God. After some time and a calling, the family ended up in Rocky Mountains of New Mexico at 9,000 ft., where they were to live for 23 years. Papa said those early days were filled with studying the Bible for 14 hours a day. They dug a well, built a cabin, and lived a subsistence lifestyle. They worked for themselves raising vegetables, spinning wool from their sheep, making lye soap, sewing clothes, harvesting wheat, making cheeses. They were the hillbilly shepherds, the big Jesus family up on the mountain.

One can’t have an interview with the Pilgrims without the music. So after a couple of hours of heavy conversation, the instruments came out and those sweet bluegrass tunes came rolling off their tongues, but it wasn’t always this way as Papa began to explain.

“I couldn’t carry a tune back in my college days when I was in one of those fraternities. You know the frat boys would get together and sing and I was told to just mouth the words cause my voice was so bad.” Papa in a fraternity? Now that’s something I never imagined.

The only musical instrument for years was a guitar he found somewhere. He took it into “town” once a year or so and had it tuned at a music shop and then would take it home and play it until it went out of tune. It was a long, difficult, infrequent trip to town, so the guitar was out of tune much of the time. So how did they come to play that bluegrass so well? Inspired by a bluegrass festival around 1997, Papa put the names of various instruments in a hat. They gathered and prayed before each choosing a piece of paper from the hat. That piece of paper determined what instrument they would learn. So without any formal training, they set out to praise the Lord with their music. Soon they received a calling for another Pilgrimage. They packed up the ‘41 Chevy, the same one they honeymooned in, and the same truck Joseph was born in, and headed for Alaska.

The Pilgrims were searching for a home. They felt they had outgrown their mountain home in N. Mexico of 23 years. They needed to spread out, they needed “bigger country.” The family had been so remote and secluded for many years. The children had little experience with the “outside world” and this journey would prove to teach many lessons and eventually find them a new home. Along the way Country Rose gave birth to Lamb (in the Yukon), so they stopped the bandwagon and set up camp for three weeks while the baby came and Rose regained her strength. The Pilgrims have a knack for making an impression on folks and they did so to the road crew that was working on that section of roadway near where they were camped. In their joy and celebration of another child, they pulled out their instruments and raised their voices to praise Jesus. Pretty soon they were chummy with the road crew. In fact, the road crew inadvertently helped the Pilgrims obtain a birth certificate for Lamb, which they desperately needed to get into Alaska, their final destination. One of the guys anonymously and unbeknownst to the Pilgrims called for emergency medical services in Whitehorse to travel out to this secluded lake because a woman had just given birth. An ambulance makes the arduous drive to the Pilgrim camp to find baby Lamb and Country Rose happy and healthy and not in need of medical services. But since the professionals from Whitehorse arrived, they went ahead and recorded the birth. Birth certificate in hand, onward went the Pilgrims.

In 1998 they arrived in Alaska, first in Fairbanks with the idea to live out on the Yukon River. While in Homer looking for a boat to bring back to the Yukon River they met some folks, found work (they had never worked for a living) and stayed. They spent some time around Homer, Kenai, and Soldotna, looking for land, searching for a home. They had some tough times with an employer who cheated them out of hard-earned wages, their first big lesson in realizing that the world is not just made up of hardworking, peaceloving folks like them¬selves. Then a friend told them about this place called McCarthy. And the Pilgrims said “Well, can you drive there?” The Pilgrims found McCarthy on a map, loaded up the trucks, some of the family and headed off once again.

And so in the dead of winter, last year, when the temps were hovering at about 30 below, trucks full of Pilgrims headed down the McCarthy road. Papa and the children said “when we got to the rock walls in Chitina, we knew we were home.” The sleepy little town of McCarthy woke up when they arrived, especially after their search for land led them to purchase 400 acres up McCarthy Creek, nearly doubling the winter population. Face it, we were all curious about how they might fair in this often tough bushliving environment, especially living way off the grid 15 or so miles from McCarthy with a big family and Country Rose preparing to birth another child. With some trials, tribulations, (one of their cabins burned to the ground last month), a bit of time under the community microscope, lots of love and support from family and neighbors, the Pilgrims made it through their first year in McCarthy. So what’s in the cards for the hillbilly, Jesus loving family up on the mountain? Probably some more hard work, following the voice of God, praising their calling through music, and trying to build a home and life like the rest of us living in the bush.

(Dorothy Adler is a year-round resident. She and husband Kevin are part owners of Kennecott Wilderness Guides.)

Map showing general vicinity of the area: http://www.ilovealaska.com/alaska/cities.cfm?cityid=197

Topographical map of the area: http://www.csus.edu/indiv/s/slaymaker/Geol10L/AKmccarthy.jpg

More maps of the area: http://www.mccarthylodge.com/Where%20are%20we.htm


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