Peterson Creek watershed


Peterson family at Pearl Harbor, 1912. Left to right: Margaret, Marie, unidentified baby, John, Irma

The L’eeneidí clan of the Auk Kwáan Tlingit claimed the mainland coast from Eagle River to Juneau. Although Europeans began prospecting the hills for gold as early as the 1870s, the Tlingit presence remained strong along this stretch of Lynn Canal until the 1940s. After the Tee Harbor cannery (map below) burned down in 1912, the L’eeneidí re-occupied their smokehouses on the north side of that cove. They called Tee Harbor Wooshdeix’alatyé.

Margaret & Irma Peterson, ca 1920

John and Marie Peterson, immigrants from northern Germany, were the first white settlers in Pearl Harbor. Beginning in 1897, John staked claims along the creek that would be named for him and built a 4-mile planked horse tram from his homestead up to “Prairie Basin.” There he erected a 3-stamp mill. Marie’s garden supplied produce to Juneau grocers as early as 1904. Several of Marie’s cultivars were brought from Germany and are now found in other gardens throughout Juneau.

In 1916, the home at Pearl Harbor was destroyed by fire, and John Peterson died the same year. His teenaged daughters (Irma and Margaret) rebuilt the house and ran the mines, blacksmithing, shoeing mules, hauling ore, and installing new equipment. Even in Alaska’s early gold-rush days this was newsworthy. The girls were featured in lower-48 newspapers and magazines.

Unloading hay, Pearl Harbor, 1940s

In 1925, Irma Peterson married Charles Olson, foreman of the crew that extended the road to Pearl Harbor. The Olsons continued the gardens established by Marie Peterson, who remained with them until 1958. They also raised livestock and established a mink farm.

Caroline with Copenhagen cabbage

In 1961, Irma’s uncle and cousin (William and Carl Jensen) inherited the property. Carl’s wife Caroline continued the gardening tradition. In 1998, the Southeast Alaska Land Trust facilitated a conservation easement for the Arboretum, which was willed to CBJ by Caroline in 2006.


Peterson Creek watershed geography

Peterson Creek watershed extends from Amalga Harbor up to the John Muir Cabin. Most of it lies within the gold-bearing Berner’s formation (tan on map below). All of the early mines and prospects occurred on these slates and graywackes, intruded by diorite dikes (pink) and quartz veins. Higher ridges are underlain by resistant metamorphosed volcanics (green).

The region is densely forested except for grassy “uplift meadows” on raised former tideland extending inland from Amalga Harbor (stippled on map; see also the aerial photo). This was the source of winter hay for the Petersons’ cattle, who could otherwise not have subsisted at Pearl Harbor.

Botanical education

View from the Jensen-Olson Arboretum (Merrill Jensen)

The Jensen-Olson Arboretum is a gift to the City and Borough of Juneau from Caroline Jensen, long-time resident and Master Gardener. In bequeathing this property to CBJ, Caroline wrote:

“The vision of the Arboretum is to provide the people of Juneau a place that both teaches and inspires learning in horticulture, natural sciences and landscaping–to preserve the beauty of the landscape for pure aesthetic enjoyment–to maintain the historical and cultural context of the place and its people.”

This is one of the earliest gardens in the Juneau area. It has a rich mining-era history. The Arboretum opened in 2007. It’s a great place to learn about local flora, both native and cultivated.

Location! location! location!

The original homestead ~1923. Juneau-Douglas City Museum. 2006.11.

With cool, overcast summers and waterlogged, acidic soils, Southeast presents challenges to gardeners. Pearl Harbor’s climate and soil offer several advantages.

The Arboretum occupies a natural amphitheatre facing southwest into the day’s warmest sunlight. Soil pits reveal sorted, well-drained beach gravels, uplifted by glacial rebound during the past 200 years. Mixed into the raised beach sediment is marine shell that buffers acidity. To these natural assets, gardeners have added seaweed, livestock manure, waste from the mink pens, and probably the herring that once spawned here.

Vegetable garden

This garden has been feeding Juneau for more than a century. Strawberries, beets, chard, potatoes, onions, and squash are grown here.

Gene sequencing studies of Marie Peterson’s potatoes show a relationship to varieties from South America, Mexico, and Makah territory on the Olympic Peninsula. These potatoes will continue to be grown here for redistribution to Southeast Native communities.

The flower beds

Included among the many colorful flower groups on the Arboretum are peonies, irises, hostas, dahlias, tulips, and trilliums. Lilacs and rhododendrons thrive here. The plant labels are a great way to gain familiarity with species suited to our northern rain-forest climate.


Caroline Jensen was an active member of the American Primrose Society. The Arboretum will expand her collection, including native species such as Primula cuneifolia of Southeast alpine habitats.


Southeast’s cool, damp summer leads to low diversity of true bees and butterflies. Much of our pollination is done by bee-mimics known as flower flies (family Syrphidae). Some native flowers such as shooting stars (Dodecatheon) and blueberries (Vaccinium) are best vibrated to dislodge their pollen. This is done by “buzz pollination,” a specialty of the large, cold-hardy bumblebee (Bombus mixtus). University of Alaska Fairbanks is conducting pollination studies here.

Alpine habitats

Check out the evolving alpine garden. High-mountain plants are famous for outsized blossoms in relation to their dwarfed leaves. Saxifrages, for example, are “belly-flowers,” best appreciated at nose-length under a hand lens.

Invasive species

Many non-native plants considered pests today–not only in gardens but spreading to natural communities–were originally introduced as food, medicinals or ornamentals. Some were “well-behaved” for decades before becoming problems.

Exotics on this site that have been problematic here or elsewhere in Southeast include dames rocket (Hesperis matronalis), creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), herb robert, foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), lady’s mantle, (Alchemilla mollis) and European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia).

Botanical education

Long-range plans include establishment of the Southeast Alaska Botanical Education Center– a multi-purpose classroom and library as well as greenhouse/conservatory for botanical, horticultural and cultural education. Donations are tax-deductible and may be made through either the Arboretum or City Parks and Recreation office. Your contributions bring plants to life.

Peterson Creek watershed Area Map

Access Information

Distance: Parking to high tide mark, 65 yards.
Acreages: total parcel, 14 acres; tended grounds, 1.5 acres.
Elevational: relief 20 feet within tended grounds.
Difficulty: easy, but no ADA trails.
Ownership: CBJ
Notes: Other trails in the area include the Point Caroline Trail (0.2 miles), and the Peterson Lake Trail (4.3 miles).

Tread Lightly!
• Please do not pick or dig up wild or cultivated flowers.
• Do not feed wildlife.
• Dogs are not permitted at the Arboretum.

Pack it out
• Carry out all trash.
southwest over
garden to Pearl Harbor herring once swarmed here (Juneau-Douglas City Museum. 2006.11.244C) Tlingit potatoes flower beds in spring Primula florindae Tibetan primrose native to Tibet flower fly on masterwort Astrantia major bumblebee on Sedum Arnica lessingii endemic to alpine habitats of Alaska & NW Canada Geranium robertianum herb robert invasive from Europe Arboretum color, clockwise from upper left: Papaver somniferum, opium poppy; Lilium, “lollipop”; Calendula officinalis, pot marigold; Lychnis haageana, maltese cross.