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 Dottie & Lew's Nelson Lagoon, Alaska


We visited Nelson Lagoon, pictured below, in May 2009.  In many ways it was like we never left: we did live there 9 years. Visiting old friends was fantastic.  Below is Nelson Lagoon's east end: top is the Bering Sea and bottom is Nelson Lagoon for which the village is named.

We took 5 flights en route to the Lagoon: Raleigh to Cincinnati, Cincinnati to Salt Lake, Salt Lake to Anchorage, Anchorage to Cold Bay, and finally Cold Bay to Nelson Lagoon.

 landscape pictures follow

We lived and worked in Nelson Lagoon for nine years: school years 1980-1986 and 1988-1991.  During the 2-year, 1986-1988 break we taught in Cold Bay: about 80 miles west of Nelson Lagoon.  You can only reach Nelson Lagoon by plane or boat.  Other than fish and game, everything you consumed came by plane or boat.

We also lived/taught in False Pass for 2 years: 1992-1994 after an approved one-year leave of absence.  False Pass is about 95 miles west of Nelson Lagoon.

During our first 6 years at Nelson Lagoon, there was no store or "service station."  We purchased our gasoline for a whole year at once in 55-gallon drums and pumped our own: everybody did.  It was really not a hardship; however, planning was required.  When we arrived, the community had only one phone (for long distance by satellite) and no real-time TV broadcasts: the situation changed soon after our arrival.

For me, the culture shock was not the daily living scenario in Nelson Lagoon, but upon arriving back in Anchorage/Tucson/Raleigh and having to wait in line and the traffic.



1-Village of Nelson Lagoon, 2-airstrip, 3-abandoned cannery,

4-Nelson Lagoon (the lagoon itself), 5-Bering Sea


Photograph: Taken by me (Lew) through the window of a Cherokee 6, the plane we most frequently used to reach Nelson Lagoon: that's 6 seats including pilot.

Recommended reading: 1985 Nelson Lagoon, a community profile - our world for 9 years  ( big file,  1.76 MB pdf adobe)

Alternative reading: Text only 1985 Nelson Lagoon, a community profile - our world for 9 years  ( tiny file,  96 KB pdf adobe)

Photocopy below: From page 1, Nelson Lagoon, the 1985 Community Profile compiled by the Students of Nelson Lagoon School


Nelson Lagoon is technically on/connected to the Alaska Peninsula. Nelson Lagoon is west of Honolulu and about the same distance North as Edinburgh, Scotland and Moscow, Russia; however, its maritime weather and the Japanese current make it much, much warmer.  A mid-winter extreme low was about 18F: no minus sign needed.  In fact we looked forward to cooler and clearer weather.

Cold Bay, about 80 miles west on Nelson Lagoon, is located is at coordinates: 5512′33″N 16242′51″W.  Cold Bay is the most western community on the Alaska Peninsula.

False Pass, about 95 miles west on Nelson Lagoon,  is located on the eastern end on Unimak Island at coordinates: 5449′40″N 16323′57″W.  Unimak Island is the first inhabited island west the Alaska Peninsula and the largest island in the Aleutians.


Honolulu, HI



Wake County, NC (our HS & Lew's college)



New York, NY



Quebec (City), Canada



Seattle, WA



False Pass, AK (2 years)



Cold Bay, AK (2 years)



Moscow, Russia


3738′ E

Edinburgh, Scotland, UK



Nelson Lagoon, AK (9 years)



Juneau, AK state capital



Anchorage, AK



Nulato, AK (1 year)



Fairbanks, AK



Barrow, AK (USAF, 1 yr, 1968-69)



North Pole

90     N


In all three Aleutians East locations where we lived and taught, we were surrounded by volcanoes.

Footnote: Alaska is organized into boroughs not counties; until population and other criteria are met, a region is/was unorganized. 

Prior to the creation of the Aleutians East Borough in 1987,

the schools in Nelson Lagoon, Cold Bay, False Pass, Akutan and other communities were in

the Aleutian Region School District; afterwards, they, as well as the schools in Sand Point and King Cove, were transferred to

the Aleutians East Borough School District


One attribute of Aleutians East Borough is taxes:

sales tax - none, property tax - none, special tax: 2% Raw Fish Tax. 

Also the State of Alaska: personal income tax - none



March 04, 2012