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Soviet-time polar ice camp restored to become a museum

Historians believe it will take about four years to restore the hangar of about 300 square meters and to organize an exposition there

ST. PETERSBURG - ARKHANGELSK, January 15. /TASS/. St. Petersburg's historians within four years will restore and then turn into a museum of the Arctic's development an aircraft hangar at the Tikhaya Bay of Franz-Josef Land. The project would be the first experience in the Arctic restoration, the project's initiator, representing the Military-Historical Society, Pavel Filin told TASS.

"The aircraft hangar at the Tikhaya Bay, on the Hooker Island of the Franz-Josef Land archipelago, will be restored and we shall organize exhibition space there - it will be changing, and there tourists may come to have tea, to listen to stories about the Arctic's development," he said, adding the exposition would include a model of the U-2 aircraft, many of which used to be using the island as a base back in the 1930s.

Besides, the museum will host temporary exhibitions, though the local weather conditions may be unsuitable for rare or valuable objects. The hangar museum would be a convenient platform to present to visitors history of the Soviet polar aviation and of the Franz-Josef Land archipelago, the expert added.

Head of the Polar commission at the Russian Geographical Society Viktor Boyarsky confirmed to TASS that the restoration at the Tikhaya Bay would be the first experience of the kind at the old ice camps. "Museums in the Arctic do exist already, the experience of reviving ice camps - too, but it would be for the first time ever that facilities of a polar ice camp would be restored," he explained.

"To this time has survived a unique complex of an ice camp's buildings dated beginning of the XX century - the most romantic time of the Arctic exploration..." head of the historic-cultural heritage department at the Russian Arctic National Park Evgeny Yermolov told TASS. "In the 1930s, at the time of booming studies and exploration in high latitudes, the Tikhaya Bay without exaggeration was the Soviet Arctic's capital." According to him, it was a biggest and well-equipped camp.

The project's aspects

According to Filin, it will take about four years to restore the hangar of about 300 square meters and to organize an exposition there. "Our project already has a strategic investor, though we have not calculated the exact costs. Clearly, those would not be crazy amounts," he said, adding the hangar's racks are made of wood with metal fragments.

"Back then, it was a big and complicated structure. Building it on Franz-Josef Land was a super complicated task," Yermolov said. "It is a great luck the hangar has survived to this date."

Filin, in his turn, said first of all specialists would address emergency works. The biggest problem, he continued, is to deliver to the Tikhaya Bay the necessary materials, as any chartered flights would raise the cost dramatically. However, icebreakers berth Franz-Josef Land in summer - they take tourists to the North Pole, and historians, he continued, hope to negotiate the icebreakers could deliver certain cargoes.

"If we manage settling the transportation problem, all the rest are reasonable costs," he said. "We hope for understanding and support from Rosatomflot (nuclear fleet authority), though as of yet we do not have any formal agreements with them."

Tikhaya Bay: history

"The Tikhaya Bay is a historic place, related to outstanding polar explorers," Filin said. Head of the First Russian Expedition to the North Pole Georgy Sedov named the bay on September 19, 1913. The expedition spent the 1913-1914 winter in the bay. "The polar ice camp was organized here back in 1929 by geographer Otto Schmidt, then explorer Ivan Papanin in 1937 built there a big observatory, and later on, in 1937, he crossed the Bay heading for the first ever drifting North Pole-1 ice camp," the historian said.

The Tikhaya Bay polar ice camp was on the Hooker Island from 1929 to 1957. It was the USSR's most modern and biggest polar camp, which developed into an observatory for active scientific research. It was closed down when a new observatory, Druzhnaya, opened on the Heiss Island. Since 1972, the observatory bears the name of Ernst Krenkel, a resident of the North Pole-1 drifting camp.

According to Filin, the ice camp is especially interesting since it keeps the historic heritage in materials, technologies and architecture. "It used to be a full, big, developed polar camp, and its state is rather good: here used to be big buildings for the polar explorers, hangars for aircraft, and dogsheds," he said, adding the camp had about 20 buildings.

In 1937, the camp's population reached the record of 250. At the same time, a few vessels, stuck in the ice as they went along the Northern Sea Route, were drifting nearby, and their teams partially stayed at the camp.

Tikhaya Bay: present

The ice camp's territory is a part of the Russian Arctic National Park - Russia's northernmost natural reserve, which unites Franz-Josef Land and the northern part of Novaya Zemlya. The Tikhaya Bay hosts the park's seasonal base, which works from June to September or October.

From 2012, the park's staff continues on the Hooker Island works to overcome the ecology damage, dubbed the Arctic cleaning. They clean the territory by hand, without using any equipment. "We have evacuated more than 100 tonnes of waste. Different waste - everyday litter, even dumps, which we cleared by hand, remaining fuel... More than 100 tonnes," head of the park's ecology and tourism department, Andrei Kunnikov, working in the park for the fifth season, told TASS.

In 2013, the park attracted tourists to the cleaning works. Visitors received sacks and gloves and after the work was done - certificates, confirming they had helped the Arctic.