When Fred Hanford deeded the Garnet Ledge to the regional Boy Scout Council, a provision was added that if the property ceased to be used for scouting purposes that the property would revert to the First Presbyterian Church in Wrangell. That was in 1962. Hanford actually intended to donate the property to the local Boy Scouts but it was against policy for local troops to own property. So the deed to the property was written to make sure that the regional organization would act as the caretaker but could not sell or lease the property.
Commenting on his gift to the Scouts, and through them, to the community, former Mayor Hanford said:
“The school children and the Boy Scouts of Wrangell have 37 acres known as the Garnet Ledge which can be made the show place of the state of Alaska and a recreation spot for all. The ground must be cleared, which can be done by the young people of Wrangell. Then we must have shelter cabins, outside grills, play shed, tennis court and sanitary facilities. This will take lumber, nails and roofing. With a concerted effort of the community this can be acquired by every person in town supporting the project, organizations sponsoring programs to raise the necessary money.
Wrangell garnets are known in every state in the union. Since 1907 the children of Wrangell have been selling garnets to tourists. To transform the acreage into a recreation area would be one of the finest things that could be done for the young people of this community. We can establish something here for Wrangell of which this and future generations can be proud. I hope the community will see fit to carry through with this project.” –The Wrangell Sentinel, February 9, 1962.
After 44 years of overseeing the Wrangell Garnet Ledge, the Boy Scout Council of Southeastern Alaska found that it could no longer maintain the site or monitor the site from its location in Juneau. Changes in the structure of the regional Boy Scout Council also came into play.
Unauthorized blasting at the ledge, the weather, and simply digging away at the ledge had undermined the hillside above the ledge and created a safety hazard.
Without the funds to work on the ledge to take care of the safety issues, the ledge was closed to the public. Even at that, people still traveled to the ledge to get garnets for their children to sell. But it did put a strain on the supplies of garnets to sell to visitors.
After much deliberation, the scout council finally decided to comply with the stipulation that if the property ceased to be utilized by the scouts it was to revert to the First Presbyterian Church. The property was transferred to the church on November 9, 2006. Coincidentally, 2006 marked the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Alaska Garnet Mining and Manufacturing Co., owned by a group of women in Minnesota.
The church’s governing body (called the “Session’), discussed the matter at some length and finally decided to take on the responsibility on behalf of the children of Wrangell. The church has made it very clear that the property is being kept in trust for the children of Wrangell. They take this responsibility seriously.
Currently there are no permits issued to go to the ledge and dig garnets. There are, however, some rules that are expected to be honored. They are:
- No dynamite is to be used.
- No hydraulic mining is allowed
- No large piece of equipment is to be used.
Bill Privett, a member of the Session who oversees the garnet ledge, stresses that the ledge is for children; not adults. People do call about going to the ledge. He explains the purpose of the ledge and that if they want to go to the ledge to dig for garnets, they must take a child from Wrangell with them. After all, the ledge really belongs to the children. Even so, large-scale hauling of buckets of garnets by adults is discouraged. He also makes sure that the potential visitor understands that digging for garnets is hard work and getting there is only by boat or possibly floatplane (in the right conditions).
Privett wants to make sure that not only will his grandchildren be able to dig for garnets, but his great-great grandchildren, and their children. He sees the First Presbyterian Church’s responsibility to be the stewards of this historic property so that future generations can benefit from Fred Hanford’s vision.
The Wrangell Garnet Ledge is private property. Use of the garnet ledge is for the children and their parents or guardians. Digging garnets at the ledge for commercial use is prohibited. For information on traveling to the garnet ledge, please contact the First Presbyterian Church.