Stimulus funds to pay for new cabins on Iditarod Trail

SHELTER: Structures aimed at making the way safer for travelers.

May 5, 2009 

One public-use cabin is already under construction along the Iditarod Trail, another is planned for this summer, and $400,000 in federal stimulus funding is on the way to pay for at least four more, the trail's chief manager said Monday.

Kevin Keeler, Iditarod National Historic Trail administrator for the federal Bureau of Land Management, said it's all part of an effort to make Alaska's most famous trail into a real trail.

A historic, century-old, sled-dog road from tidewater in Seward to the gold fields of Nome on the Bering Sea, the trail was largely abandoned in the mid-1900s, only to be rediscovered with the birth of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1973. The race has used a route it calls the Iditarod Trail ever since, but much of it is more of a line on a map than a fixed reality on the ground.

Especially in open areas, the trail in one winter can be miles away from where it was the previous winter. The BLM, in cooperation with the state of Alaska and Native corporations, has for several years now been trying to get the trail marked and protected by easements across non-federal lands.

At the same time, the federal agency has been expanding efforts to make the trail safer by building shelter cabins at reasonable distances along the route. The cabin that will be going up this summer is along the trail between Iditarod and Shageluk in the Innoko River country. It will be near the place where three Iditarod dog teams were stranded in a deadly blizzard that killed two dogs, nearly claimed the life of another, and forced all three teams out of the race in March.

"It looks like the new safety cabin construction we're going to be doing between Iditarod and Shageluk is going to be a 'dress rehearsal' for bigger things to come," Keller added, citing the $400,000 that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said is now on its way for more cabins.

Among the first new ones Keeler would like to see built is a structure to replace "Don's Cabin" along the southern route of the trail between Ophir and the ghost town of Iditarod. Don's is more shack than cabin, Keeler said, and it is located in a less than perfect location for parking a dog team or stopping along the Iditarod in winter.

Keller added that he is hoping to get local labor involved in all of the construction.

"We're setting it up to have a youth crew from the Shageluk community build the cabin this summer" near the Big Yentna River, Keeler said. He's hoping to get them more work building future cabins and get other villages involved in construction.

"I'd like to get the money into the local villages," Keeler said.

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