(5:50 p.m. EDT) -- Cruisers heading to Alaska this summer will find a new way to spend time in a local town learning about nature, away from the jewelry and souvenir shops, when the Ketchikan Salmon Walk opens near the town's famous Creek Street.
The 1.5-mile loop follows Ketchikan Creek upstream along the route that the salmon themselves swim during their spawning season. Just follow the artistic fish signs along Married Man's Trail toward the salmon ladder and along toward Ketchikan's City Park and the Deer Mountain Fish Hatchery. Halfway through the walk, you'll find the Totem Heritage Center.
The Ketchikan Salmon Walk officially opens on July 29, but the city held a soft opening this week when Celebrity Cruises' new president, Laura Hodges Bethge, was in town on Celebrity Solstice for the line's President's Cruise to Alaska. Royal Caribbean Group provided sponsorship for the walk's development.
Ketchikan Mayor Dave Kiffer said that the town could use the marketing help that the Salmon Walk might bring.
"Juneau has a glacier, Skagway has a train. We have a salmon stream right in the middle of town," he said, on a surprisingly sunny day in typically rainy Ketchikan. "We have not featured that the way we should have in the past."
It's hard to miss artist Ray Troll's shop Soho Coho on Creek Street -- and if you're heading to Ketchikan on a cruise, you really shouldn't. His witty and yet still educational fish- and Alaska-themed art has been a staple of Ketchikan since 1992; Troll's work hangs in many museums and has been featured at the Smithsonian.
Most visitors end up coming to his shop for prints, T-shirts and hats with slogans such as "Spawn Until You Die." Over the years, Troll also fielded an endless number of questions from tourists on the Creek Street boardwalk asking where the city's fish ladder is, which is what led to the idea for the Salmon Walk.
"I owe my career to the salmon in this town," Troll said, standing outside a large piece of art depicting the five species of the fish that live in Ketchikan. "My muse was the fish."
The Ketchikan Salmon Walk has signs -- fish-shaped, of course -- that guide visitors along the trail. One salmon sign is easily identified as Troll's work, but he made sure that the project encompassed fish from other artists, including Tlingit master carver Nathan Jackson and the family of the late indigenous artist Marvin Oliver. Late June is still a bit early for Ketchikan's salmon run, but in a few weeks, the fish will be back in the river, and easily visible to tourists. Occasionally black bears have wandered into the creek to feed, which makes the trip over to Creek Street particularly entertaining.
After the soft opening, I took a walk along the Salmon Walk, just to see how it would work for cruisers. A scenic boardwalk known as Married Man's Trail -- because it once led to the brothels and bars of Creek Street -- takes you out of the town up the creek toward the fish ladder.
The trail still lacks interpretive panels and once you get past the fish ladder, the signage can be a bit difficult to find. There's a lovely section of the trail that takes you through a typical Alaska temperate rain forest on what's known as Schoenbar Trail.
Cross the road onto Salmon Row and you pass the Deer Mountain Fish Hatchery. Run by an organization called SSRAA (Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association), the Hatchery is a natural way to ensure wild salmon and trout stocks survive and thrive.
The Salmon Walk also passes by the Totem Heritage Center, part of the city-run Ketchikan Museums. It's worth a stop inside, particularly to see the oldest preserved totems from local Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian people.
While it's not as interactive as the Saxman Totem Park, also located in Ketchikan -- there are no carving demonstrations or live performances -- it's a nice place to learn more about the history of the totems, and why it's been so important to reclaim, save and restore indigenous totems that were taken from their rightful villages.
It's an easy 15-minute walk from the Totem Heritage Center back to Creek Street (the city is planning to start a free shuttle that brings people back to one of Ketchikan's other attractions, the Tongass Historical Museum). Again, there's not much Salmon Walk signage once you reach Deermount Street.
But when you turn onto Stedman, the main road that takes you back into Ketchikan, there are more placards that explain the history of this area of town, which is where city officials segregated native people and immigrants from China, Japan and the Philippines.
The cards do not shy away from the more painful parts of local history, which included the internment of Japanese families in camps during World War II (even, as one card pointed out, when members of those same families were also serving in the war).
All in all, the Salmon Walk promises to be a nice low-cost addition to local tourism, and one that will give cruise visitors more insight into what drove Ketchikan's development. As Anita Maxwell, the Ketchikan Museum's director, said: "The salmon are why we're here."