Cordova is located at the southeastern end of Prince William Sound off the Gulf of Alaska. Cordova is surrounded by untamed wilderness and naturally protected waters. The city lies at the base of Eyak Mountain on Orca Inlet and is 52 air miles southeast of Valdez and 150 miles southeast of Anchorage. Cordova rests in a temperate rain forest; winter temperatures average from 17 to 28 degrees; summer temperatures average from 49 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Annual precipitation is 167 inches, average rainfall is 87 inches while the average snowfall is 80 inches. The average population is 2200 people.
The Cordova area has historically been home to the Alutiiq, and migrating Athabascan and Tlingit natives who called themselves Eyaks, as well as other Native groups. Orca Inlet was originally named “Puerto Cordova” honoring a famous Spanish general, by Fidalgo in 1790. In 1902, one of the first producing oil fields in Alaska was discovered 47 miles southeast of Cordova, at Katalla. Michael Heney, builder of the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad, named the town Cordova in 1906. Cordova became the railroad terminus and ocean shipping port for copper ore from the Kennecott Mine up the Copper River. Shipment of ore began in 1911. The Bonanza-Kennecott Mines operated until 1938, yielding over $200 million in copper, silver and gold.
Cordova has no road connection to other communities and can only be reached by plane or boat. It is linked to the North Pacific Ocean shipping lanes through the Gulf of Alaska. The State ferry system serves Cordova with fast ferry during the summer and with conventional speed ferries such as the Aurora in winter. The fast ferry MV Chenega home ports in Cordova. Barge service is available all year with both Samson Tug & Barge and AML/Lynden.
Merle K. “Mudhole” Smith Airport is State-owned and operated, with a 7,499 foot long by 150 foot wide asphalt runway and a 1,875 foot long by 30 foot wide gravel crosswind runway. State-owned and City-operated Cordova Municipal Airport has a 1,800 foot long by 60 foot wide gravel runway. Alaska Airlines provides Boeing 737 jet service daily to Mudhole Smith Airport. ERA Aviation is the regional carrier, and services that airport as well. Non-scheduled air taxi service is available, as well. The Municipal Airport mainly serves noncommercial air traffic. Float planes land at the Lake Eyak seaplane base or boat harbor.
Local roads are maintained by the State Department of Transportation and the City Public Works Department. A 48-mile gravel road (Copper River Highway) provides access to the Copper River Delta to the east, although due to recent flood damage, the road can not be traveled to its terminus at the historic Million Dollar Bridge.
Harbor facilities at Cordova include a breakwater, dock, small boat harbor with 850 berths, boat launch, boat haul out, ferry terminal, and marine repair services. A heavy vessel lift for boats weighing up to 150 tons was completed in Cordova in March, 2010, and will benefit the entire region and add many jobs. Funding for this project was provided by the Economic Development Administration and the City of Cordova.
Fishing became the economic base in the early 1940s. Cordova is world famous for its Copper River Wild Red and Wild King Salmon. Cordova’s first Copper River King can fetch more $34.50 per pound in Seattle, Los Angeles and Boston. Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation (PWSAC) is a non-profit corporation founded in 1974 by a local commercial fishermen’s organization to optimize Alaska’s wild salmon resources. PWSAC produces hatchery-born, ocean-raised wild salmon for the commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries in the Prince William Sound and Copper River regions. PWSAC operates four remote salmon hatcheries in Prince William Sound and one on the Copper River in Paxson. About 600 million salmon fry and smolt are produced for release into Pacific waters. The returning adults benefit all user groups. PWSAC operations are financed through the sale of fish to processors and a salmon enhancement tax paid by commercial fishermen.
Mt. Eyak Ski Area operates from December through April on weekends, holidays and powder days. “Ski Hill” as it is locally called, operates one of two remaining single chairlifts in North America. With a vertical rise of 960 feet, this lift serves three main runs with countless shots through trees and glades encompassing an area of over 100+ acres. The lift also provides access to backcountry on the upper slopes of Mt. Eyak. A rope tow serves a beginner slope with a length of 300’ and a vertical rise of 50’. Amenities include a full service rental shop and food service. Truly a community resource, Ski Hill is operated and maintained by Sheridan Alpine Association, a local non-profit group of volunteers and a small seasonal staff. For non-skiers, a hiking trail starts at the base area and sees thousands of visits annually by locals and visitors alike.
For other interesting facts and figures about Cordova please visit the State of Alaska’s Online Community Database.