Fire Effects Stabilization and Trail Maintenance Go Hand-in-Hand on the Iditarod National Historic Trail

The Iditarod National Historic Trail (INHT) consists of nearly 2,400 miles of winter trails that wind between the communities of Seward and Nome. Much of the land through which the trail crosses is uninhabited and extremely remote. In its heyday during the Last Great American Gold Rush in Alaska (1880-1920), the Alaska Road Commission served as the Trail’s administrator. Among the many duties and responsibilities of the ARC were the construction and maintenance of shelter cabins along the trail. Unlike larger roadhouses, which were privately owned and offered such amenities as warm beds, homemade meals, and covered dog barns, shelter cabins were small and sparse. Typically, shelter cabins were outfitted with only a woodstove and a couple of wooden bunks. They provided mushers and other trail travelers with a much needed and safe place to rest in the untamed Alaskan wilderness.

 A BLM trail maintenance crew member posing in front of a public shelter cabin with recently oiled logs.

A BLM trail maintenance crew member posing in front of a public shelter cabin with recently oiled logs.

Today’s Trail administrator, the Bureau of Land Management, continues to maintain a number of public shelter cabins along the INHT. These, too, provide winter travelers with a safe place to rest, recoup, and warm up during their journey. Due to the remote nature of the INHT, BLM trail maintenance crews must often rely on collaborative teams and creative delivery methods to get materials and supplies out to the cabin sites.  

In the summer of 2016, a monitoring and stabilization project for the 2015 Old Woman Creek wildfire shared aviation resources with a BLM cabin and trail maintenance crew to get people and building materials to the Old Woman Public Shelter Cabin. Once there, crews replaced foundation cribbing and installed a new door frame. These shelter cabins are frequently used during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, the Tesoro Iron Dog Snowmachine Race, and the human-powered Iditarod Invitational Race events. This puts a lot of wear and tear on the buildings that renders updates like these essential.  

While the helicopter was still available, crews then flew out to two other public shelter cabins to oil the logs. Oiling the logs helps to seal the buildings and also serves to prevent rot. The helicopter was also employed to haul trash and an abandoned snowmobile to the nearest landfill (30 air miles to the west). These small updates and the crews that make them possible are critical to not only maintaining the important historic, visual, environmental, and cultural qualities of the Iditarod National Historic Trail system, but also to making the Trail more enjoyable for users.

 Helicopter helping to remove an abandoned snowmobile from the Iditarod National Historic Trail.

Helicopter helping to remove an abandoned snowmobile from the Iditarod National Historic Trail.