St. Paul

Passenger Service: PenAir offers scheduled passenger service four (4) days per week.
Airport: St. Paul Airport (State owned)
Distance from Anchorage = 769 miles
Approximate Travel Time = 3 hours
Runway(s):  6,500 ft. X 150 ft.

Saint Paul Island is the largest of the Pribilof Islands, a group of five Alaskan volcanic islands located in the Bering Sea between the United States and Russia. The city of St. Paul is the only residential area on the island. St. Paul Island currently has one school (K-12, 100 students), one post office, one bar, one small store and one church (the Russian Orthodox). The church is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Of all the Pribilof Islands, Saint Paul lies the farthest north. With a width of 7.66 mi (12.33 km) at its widest point and a length of 13.5 mi (21.7 km) on its longest axis (which runs from northeast to southwest), it has a total area of 43 sq mi (110 km). Volcanic in origin, Saint Paul features a number of cinder cones and volcanic craters in its interior. The highest of these, Rush Hill, rises to 665 ft (203 m) on the island’s western shore, though most of the upland areas average less than 150 ft (46 m) in elevation. Most of the island is a low-lying mix of rocky plateaus and valleys, with some of the valleys holding freshwater ponds. Much of its 45.5 mi (73.2 km) of shoreline is rugged and rocky, rising to sheer cliffs at several headlands, though long sandy beaches backed by shifting sand dunes flank a number of shallow bays.

Like the other Pribilof Islands, Saint Paul rises from a basaltic base. Its hills are primarily brown or red tufa and cinder heaps, though some (like Polavina) are composed of red scoria and breccia. The island sits on the southern edge of the Bering-Chukchi platform, and may have been part of the Bering Land Bridge’s southern coastline when the last ice age’s glaciers reached their maximum expansion. Sediment core samples taken on Saint Paul show that tundra vegetation similar to that found on the island today has been present for at least 9,000 years. The thick rough turf is dominated by umbellifers (particularly Angelica and Artemisia), though grasses and sedges are also abundant.

Smooth, rounded hills and flatlands covered in golden-brown vegetation lie beyond a lake under heavy cloud.

The generally low-lying island of Saint Paul is dotted with small cinder cones and vegetation-covered sand dunes.

The Aleut peoples knew of the Pribilofs long before westerners ‘discovered’ the islands. They called the islands Amiq, Aleut for “land of mother’s brother” or “related land”. According to their oral tradition, the son of an Unimak Island elder found them after paddling north in his boat in an attempt to survive a storm that caught him out at sea. When the winds finally died, he was lost in dense fog until he heard the sounds of Saint Paul’s vast seal colonies.

Russian fur traders were the first non-natives to discover Saint Paul. The island was discovered by Gavriil Pribylov on St. Peter and St. Paul’s Day, July 12, 1788. Three years later the Russian merchant vessel John the Baptist was shipwrecked off the shore. The crew were listed as missing until 1793, when the survivors were rescued by Gerasim Izmailov.

In the 18th century Russians forced Aleuts from the Aleutian chain (several hundred miles south of the Pribilofs) to hunt seal for them on the Pribilof Islands. Before this, the Pribilofs were not regularly inhabited. The Aleuts were essentially slave labor for the Russians; hunting, cleaning and preparing fur seal skins which the Russians sold for a great deal of money. The Aleuts were not taken back to their home islands and lived in inhumane conditions.

(excerpt taken from April 2015)