‘The Last Alaskans: Holiday Memories’ Reflect On The Past While Looking Toward The Future

There are four families known as The Last Alaksans, who have chosen to live a unique lifestyle in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is about the size of South Carolina. The Wall Street Journal shared that they are indeed The Last Alaskans, because they are now the only ones who are allowed to live in the refuge. Eventually, all remaining permits allowing people to live there will expire, and there will be no human inhabitants left. This Christmas season, The Last Alaskans reflect on past holiday seasons and on other family members who are far away. They also take a look toward the future, their desire and determination strong enough to continue living in the wild and remote wilderness The Last Alaskans proudly call their home.

So who are The Last Alaskans, the people who call this pristine location home? The best known family would be Heimo and Edna Korth. According to Animal Planet, Heimo is described as the “venerated godfather” of this last true frontier. Even though The Last Alaskans may live in extreme isolation most of the time, the Korth’s are no strangers to camera crews following them around. In early 1993, National Geographic produced a documentary titled Braving Alaska featuring Heimo, Edna, and their daughters. Tragedy struck the family in 1984 when a canoe they were traveling in tipped over and swept their 2-year-old, firstborn daughter away. Her body was never found, and the Korth’s made a small memorial for her up on a nearby ridge. Later, another film crew visited the family, and produced a film titled Surviving Alone in Alaskain 2009. With their children now grown and pursuing lives of their own, Heimo and Edna still continue to live out in the refuge all year long, while most of the other families usually move back to town during the brutal winter months. Heimo is well known as an experienced trapper, and the land continues to provide for them what they need to survive.

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Like the Korths before them, Ray and Cindy Lewis are watching their daughters prepare to leave the nest. Ray grew up in rural Michigan and like Heimo, he has lived for over 30 years off the land. As one of The Last Alaskans, he enjoys making his own weapons and also traps to provide for his family. He and his wife taught their three daughters to do the same, and all three girls are well equipped to deal with the environment around them. That doesn’t mean the girls plan to follow in their parents’ footsteps, at least for now. All three girls currently have big plans, but perhaps one or more of them may eventually return in order to sustain the family’s claim on the cabin. For now, though, they are venturing out on their own in order to find their own way in life. Unlike the Korth’s, the Lewis family spends their winters in Fairbanks.

Another couple that is a part of The Last Alaskans group, Tyler and Ashley Selden, were inspired by the story of Heimo Korth. They turned their backs on city life and relocated to become a part of The Last Alaskans group. The couple shared with the Mankato Free Press that it was difficult to find a way to live in the refuge, but luckily, they were able to obtain rights to an abandoned trap line.

“It’s the cabin permits that are so hard to come by… They have pretty strict regulations about who can have use. It’s important for us, keeping our permit in good standing… (so that) if we have children, we could hand it down to them.”

Tyler and Ashley admit that at first, they survived mostly through trial and error. Mostly shunning anything mechanized and most technological conveniences, they quickly learned to use sled dogs for travel. They also learned how to catch salmon and how to build racks for drying the fish in order to feed their dogs and themselves. Before beginning their new life together as part of The Last Alaskans, Ashley states that they did their homework. Besides bringing along an emergency kit with all the essentials they could possibly need, there were other items to consider as well. “We also made sure we had enough food and a chainsaw,” Ashley said. “We did not go in unprepared.”

The Last Alaskans wouldn’t be complete without Bob Harte. According to the Washington Post, he is extremely accident-prone and known for surviving several brushes with death. He has survived wildlife attacks, gunshot wounds, fires, stalled boat motors, crash landings in his prop plane, and several other traumatic events. Originally from New Jersey and motivated by a “wanderlust to go where I wanted to go, to live free, and to have a life I loved,” Bob made his way to Alaska over 40 years ago by hitchhiking after dropping out of college. Like the others who are now known as The Last Alaskans, he has a small cabin that at one time he lived in with his daughter and former wife. At times, he manages to find the time to fly out and visit his daughter. Now in his 60s, he is beginning to see that the time may be coming when he cannot live on his own in total isolation. For now though, as part of The Last Alaskans, he continues to happily brew his own beer and to train his new puppy, Ruger.

Now that Christmas is approaching, The Last Alaskans are scurrying to finish up whatever chores that demand attention so they can focus on the holiday. An article by the Futon Critic shares that Edna searches for the perfect tree to decorate and cover in tinsel, and Bob Harte finds it a bit challenging to cook a traditional Alaskan meal when he’s 300 miles away from the nearest grocery store. Tyler and Ashley Selden decide to have a friendly fishing competition and at the same time catch their holiday meal. The Lewis daughters disclose some of their most nostalgic childhood secrets, and spy on their parents as they wrap gifts. Later, daylight returns for the first time in several months to the refuge.

Are you a fan of the show? Leave your comments, thoughts and opinions below. The Last Alaskans will be returning for a second season in 2016. The holiday special airs on Monday, December 14 at 9 p.m ET on Animal Planet.

[Image via Animal Planet/Facebook, resized and cropped]