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Great Views And Rich History: MOTA Education Outreach Manager Explores Ugadaga Bay Trail

Maggie Nelson


In late June, Thomas Drennan McLenigan, education outreach manager at the Museum of the Aleutians, began publishing a series of Instagramposts about historically and locally significant places on the island. 

The posts were inspired by some of the hiking he had done previously and were a way to acquaint himself with the island. For certain places, the posts also served as a platform for simply appreciating Unalaska's landscape. And according to McLenigan, Ugadaga Bay Trail offers not one, but several rewarding viewpoints.




"At the top, you get one view and then as you go down, you almost get a progression of other views as well," McLenigan said. "And there comes a point where you hit the top of a small hill — maybe a little bit less than halfway down — and then you can see Ugadaga Bay kind of laid out ahead of you."

As I sat on the other end of the phone in Washington State,  listening to McLenigan describe the shifting views of Unalaska's Ugadaga trail, I instantly grew homesick for the island's snowy mountains and never-ending bays, and I couldn't wait to get back out and onto one of Unalaska's most popular trails.

"It's really rewarding to have different views as you go — to keep the scenery fresh," said McLenigan. "It has a little bit of everything. There's a really nice waterfall to look at on your way down. There's a couple creek crossings. Towards the end, you do kind of lose the trail in all the grass and underbrush, but then at the end, of course, you have Ugadaga beach, which is a really great spot all on its own." 

Ugadaga Bay Trail's history, like its scenery, is rich, said McLenigan. But sometimes it can be difficult to pin down.

"As far as I know, the trail has been in use for a really, really long time," said McLenigan. "I can't give you any exact numbers because, as most history is, it's all a little bit fuzzy. But Beaver Inlet being a protected harbor on that side of the island was a common stopping point for people coming from other islands."

People traveling by water, such as Andrew Makarin, an Unangax̂ man that was evacuated during WWII and returned to Biorka in the mid-20th century, would use the trail to get to and from Unalaska, according to McLenigan. 

It was a vital connection between Unalaska and those lost villages, such as Biorka, that had been evacuated during the war.

"It was a very natural access point up the valley over what is now Overland Drive past the quarry and then down into Unalaska," explained McLenigan. "So this was a primary trading route — a primary route of communication and travel."

McLenigan said that the route's long and iconic history might shape his experience when he hikes the trail. 

"It's a really nice trail for thinking and reflection," said McLenigan. "There are trails which are really exciting to hike, which tend to be really steep. But Ugadaga, once I'm on it, I tend to become very meditative for whatever reason. I don't know if it's just a nice mixture of a trail where I can get a good rhythm and let my thoughts wander, or if it's maybe the weight of the history as I'm walking down, but either way, it's a very reflective trail for me."

Whether it's the rhythm, the scenery, or the trail's narrative, McLenigan said that Ugadaga, like the rest of Unalaska's landscape, never ceases to surprise and interest him.

"Every time you hike, you'll notice something a little bit different," said McLenigan. "Whether it's maybe a small waterfall you didn't quite notice before, maybe you manage to peek around a bend in the mountain, which you didn't quite realize was there — but the hiking on this island in particular seems to offer something new, even though you would think it would always be the same, but it really does offer different perspectives."

For more information on how to contribute your own local place to possibly be featured on the museum's Instagram, email


Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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