I’m completely humbled by the response to the recent "How Many Islands in the USA Require Ferry Travel" article. I found 64 islands matching the criteria and stood back smugly until user-after-user uncovered additional instances that I’d overlooked. The number of islands currently stands at 77 and I wouldn’t be surprised if it continued to grow. You know where I made my mistake — in addition to my failure to notice extremely obvious examples (Nantucket? How could I forget Nantucket?) — I probably should have limited the list to islands with permanent civilian populations in order to eliminate park shuttles, excursion boats and water taxis. Live and learn. Thank you for the opportunity to demonstrate the folly of my hubris. I shall better appreciate the wisdom of the crowd from now on.
A couple of comments stood-out even during the height of the feedback deluge. I’d expressed a fascination with islands so remote that travelers could get to them by ferry only after arriving on another island accessible only by ferry (ignoring of course that someone could always take their own boat or a helicopter or something). I called those double-disconnected islands. Then, two 12MC readers identified triple-disconnected islands. I found an additional example myself, later.
Mark Sundstrom got credit for mentioning Hornby Island in British Columbia, Canada. Ignoring some more efficient options, one would need to take a ferry to Vancouver Island, then a ferry to Denman Island, and finally a ferry to Hornby Island. Each leg would require a separate ferry with distinct points of embarkation and debarkation.
Another instance was noted by Fredrik, a 12MC reader from Norway. He identified a spot west of Ytre Sula, the island in Solund not the mountain in Surnadal.
(Translated…) Husoy or Outer [Ytre] Sula is an island in solund municipality at the mouth of the Sognefjord in Sogn og Fjordane. The island has an area of 32 km². In the east borders the island Steinsundet and islands Rånøy and Stein Sundøy. The island of Sula is located east of these again. South of Outer Sula lies Sognesjøen and to the west lies Straumfjorden
The third ferry should be found somewhere in that little swarm of islands that I marked (I think). Available maps didn’t provide very good coverage of minor outlying ferry routes in Norway and I didn’t have sufficient Norwegian proficiency (i.e., none) to begin to search for a ferry even with translation software. Fredrik said the triple-disconnected island was out there though, and I have no reason to doubt it.
A ferry route also connected Unst and Fetlar so it would should be possible to travel in a nice triangular manner from Yell to Unst to Fetlar (or reverse) and capture both of the triple-disconnected islands in one easy shot. Additionally, these islands would have been quadruple-disconnected if only it wasn’t for the Chunnel connecting Great Britain to continental Europe.
There might be additional triples and perhaps even legitimate quadruples in other heavily populated island groups and archipelagos such as those found in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines or Japan. I’ll leave those areas of the world for others to explore.
Just when I thought I’d examined domestic ferry routes from every possible angle, and new question arose.
Longtime 12MC readers already know of my endless fascination with ferries and the saga of my formerly wildly popular ferry pages; still somewhat popular albeit Google’s love affair with them has waned. It’s a complicated relationship driven in equal parts by curiosity and indifference. I’m sure my kvetching doesn’t help me remain in Google’s good graces either. Eh, could be worse I suppose.
Even so, the major search engines drive a lot of ferry-related hits to the Twelve Mile Circle. The title of this article came word-for-word directly from one such query, "how many islands in the USA require ferry travel" Gosh, I don’t know. I never thought about it. Why would anyone really need to know?
Ocracoke Island – My most recent ferry-required trip
Some people like the New York Times crossword puzzle. I like to figure out weird geography research questions provided unwittingly by random Intertubes surfers that happened to wash ashore on 12MC. Give me a quiet Sunday morning, a big cup of black coffee, some oddball query with no real practical purpose, and turn me loose. The answer is 64 The answer is 77.
First, I defined the question. I interpreted it to mean that each island had to be disconnected from the external road network, that no bridge, causeway, zip line, rope swing or other structure joined it to the mainland, directly or indirectly. A regularly-scheduled ferry with an established route had to be the only convenient and inexpensive transportation option available to the general public. Sure, someone could always charter a boat or hire an aircraft, and claim that a ferry wasn’t technically required. In that case the answer would be zero. That’s no fun.
Vinalhaven Island – Another great example
Let’s apply some additional asterisks and caveats before the 12MC fact-checkers begin to salivate and prepare their rebuttal comments (which I love by the way). The biggest one: this was a quick eyeball survey and it’s entirely possible, indeed likely, that I missed a small number of instances in my haste to prepare an answer before the kids woke up this morning and broke my concentration. I even found two more examples and added them to the list just before I hit the Publish button. Don’t freak out if you find other(s). Let me know and I’ll update the list.
Also, routes do change, generally due to the price of fuel and other financial considerations. I’ve done my best to compile the list as it existed on June 2, 2013. Someone reading this article far in the future will notice an ever-growing list of additions, deletions and variations.
Here’s how ferry-only islands broke down by state (again, look at the spreadsheet if you want the details):
Alaska – 16
Maine – 13
Washington – 9
Michigan – 8
Massachusetts – 3 4
New York – 2 4
California – 1 3
Ohio – 3
North Carolina – 2
Rhode Island – 1 2
Wisconsin – 2
Florida – 1
Maryland – 1
Mississippi – 1
Virginia – 1
Hawaii also briefly had one although it was inter-island and did not connect to the mainland.
I wrestled with what should "count" as a ferry. Various national and state park properties, or portions of properties, are served solely by ferry: Dry Tortugas National Park; Governors Island National Monument; Gulf Islands National Seashore; Isle Royale National Park; Rock Island (Wisconsin) State Park. Are these ferries or are they excursions? They maintain regular schedules, however they don’t serve a permanent population unless one considers a few park rangers. I kept them on the list for no other reason than I’ve taken a ride on a couple of them and I like them.
Juneau is NOT an island… but if feels like one
Alaska deserved special attention for its extensive Marine Highway. Many coastal towns are not connected to the larger road network even though they are not on islands. Some are remote outposts with too few people to justify the necessary road and bridge construction. Others are hemmed-in by massive coastal mountain ranges. They certainly display characteristics of islands, however they are not technically islands so I have not included them on the list. The most notable example was arguably Juneau. More than 30,000 people live in Juneau, it’s the capital city of Alaska, and yet it remains unconnected to the external road network. Juneau is located on the mainland, not an island.
I’m particularly fond of double-disconnected islands. Those are rare places where a traveler would need to take two ferries to get there. These are islands connected overland only by ferry to an island that is connected only by ferry to the mainland. I found three examples.
Rock Island, a Wisconsin state park, can be accessed only from Washington Island by ferry, which in turn is accessed from the tip of the Door Peninsula by ferry. I’ve set foot on Washington Island (my visit) although I didn’t have time to reach Rock Island because it was a day trip by bicycle. Rock Island remains on my short list of places I’d like to see.
Ketchiikan Alaska on Revillagigedo Island provides access to the other two examples. One is rather extensive with several settlements, Prince of Whales Island. The other is Gravina Island where Ketchiikan’s airport is located, and which 12MC discussed previously. It’s most notorious for the proposed but derailed "Bridge to Nowhere." People wouldn’t reasonably take two ferries to get to Gravina Island they’d simply fly-in to the airport, although the double-ferry route is technically feasible.
Some of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and Puget Sound islands in Washington might also count although I put them into a lesser category because they’re placed in strings along a longer ferry route. Interceding islands serve as layovers. A traveler doesn’t need to disembark and transfer to a different ship.
The number of islands requiring ferries surprised me in a couple of different ways. I thought there would be fewer examples and I thought Alaska would dominate the list even more than it did. I’ve taken 8 of the island routes personally: Beaver; Dry Tortugas; Madeline; Ocracoke; Ship; Tangier; Vinalhaven and Washington. I have many more to go.
That’s Tales from Dale, which should not be confused with Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues, a brewery that is credited with jump-starting the microbrewery canning revolution. I happened to visit Oskar Blues long before their cans ever reached the East Cost, a bit of zymurgy trivia that makes me happy. I’ve now gone completely down the rabbit hole on a tangent so let’s get this article back on track.
Dale Sanderson(1) of US Ends.com contacted me recently with a couple of unusual observations. Have you seen his site before? He explains its purpose as striving to "provide photos and descriptions of current and historic US highway endpoints, and to provide maps that show each US highway in the context of its ‘route family’." Thus, Dale has solid geo-oddity credentials and I’m inclined to take note when something catches his attention. My curiosity piqued when he mentioned the anomalies. I didn’t know about them ahead of time so his discoveries were new to me and much appreciated.
Flickr by paige_eliz via Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Recently 12MC focused on Oklahoma City and a pattern of growth that resulted in its borders sprawling across four counties. Dale drilled down and noticed that there were several smaller towns completely embedded within the boundaries of Oklahoma City. Upon further investigation he discovered that one of those embedded towns, Bethany, had an even smaller town, Woodlawn Park, completely embedded within it. Like a matryoshka — the famous Russian nesting doll — Woodlawn Park nests within Bethany which nests within Oklahoma City. It’s an enclave within an enclave.
How did this odd situation arise? Let’s start with Bethany, a town that incorporated in 1910. As described in the Oklahoma Historical Society "Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Bethany "continued as a small, rural town dependent upon support from surrounding farm lands" from its founding until the 1940′s. The historic Route 66 ran through Bethany so the town benefited from transient visitors to a degree although it didn’t start growing rapidly until the nation began to mobilize for the Second World War.
The Society’s Encyclopedia also discussed Woodlawn Park which incorporated in 1952. That happened specifically to avoid Bethany’s expansion and encroachment. Woodlawn Park is a tiny rectangle of about eighty-one acres. Nonetheless it’s an incorporated town run by an elected board of trustees. I went into Street View and saw houses and only houses within its boundaries. There didn’t appear to be a single businesses within the town (unless they’re home-based businesses and hidden from view). Clearly it’s a bedroom community. Woodlawn Park also doesn’t operate any of its own city services. The Encyclopedia notes that services are provided under arrangement either from Bethany or Oklahoma City.
Eventually Oklahoma City grew around Bethany, which had already grown around Woodlawn Park, resulting in the unusual situation Dale observed. I don’t know if this is a unique situation so I’ll turn it over to the 12MC audience. Is anyone aware of other matryoshka towns?
McKissick Island is one of those places where the Missouri River shifted and left part of a state on the "wrong" side of the river. There are lots of places just like that along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, however this one is a practical exlave with a twist. The island sits fairly close to the Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska (IAMONE) tripoint. If people want to drive to McKissick Island from the rest of Nebraska, they have to drive through two other states first, Iowa and Missouri.
Dale said he’d heard about the oddity from someone else. I hadn’t seen it before so I’ll still give him credit in my mind.
I’m not sure how I missed McKissick Island’s practical exclave. I used to travel near there very frequently until a few years ago. I blame it on Carter Lake, which is just a little farther north next to Omaha. I used to take great delight when I picked family up at the airport simply so I could drive them through that little stranded neck of Iowa.
Thank you, Dale. Please keep the great oddities coming!
Mark your calendars: The much anticipated re-launching of Basement Geographer happens on June 1!
(1)12MC does not generally post the full names of its readers. I’m making an exception for Dale because he uses his full name both on his 12MC comments and on his personal website.