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Iditarod Hall of Fame: Dan Seavey

Beth Bragg
Iditarod musher Dan Seavey prepares to leave the Skwentna checkpoint of the race on Monday morning, March 5, 2012. Marc Lester

Dan Seavey arrived in Seward in 1963 to teach history.

He wound up uncovering some. And making some.

Seavey, 75, is a three-pronged Iditarod Hall of Fame threat -- patriarch, pioneer, preservationist.

He is the head of one of mushing's great families, the father of one Iditarod champion (Mitch, 2005) and the grandfather of another (Dallas, last year).

He was a contemporary of race founder Joe Redington Sr., and he raced the first two Iditarods, in 1973 and 1974. When Redington struggled to come up with the money for the inaugural race's promised purse, Seavey pitched in $3,000 of the $6,000 he had coming for his third-place finish.

He contributed passion and time to the effort to get the Iditarod Trail designated as a National Historic Trail in 1978. And he helped make sure Seward stayed on the map of the old Seward-to-Nome mail route.

"The Hall of Fame has never taken in anyone representing the National Historic Trail," nominator Rod Perry wrote in his nomination of Seavey. "Should you choose Dan, you will be honoring the man with the longest continual active involvement and service to either Iditarod the trail or Iditarod the race."

Seavey and his wife Shirley got their first husky, a male named Chignik, three weeks after they arrived in Seward from Minnesota.

One dog led to another and soon Dan had a small team that he used for recreational mushing and to haul wood at the family homestead. There were no distance mushing races on the Kenai Peninsula, so he joined the Aurora Dog Mushers Association in Big Lake, which brought him together with Redington, who had dreams of running a race on the Iditarod Trail.

At the time, few Alaskans knew about the trail.

"A lot of people (in Seward) didn't even know how to pronounce Iditarod, even though it's right there," Seavey said.

One of 22 Alaskans chosen by the Secretary of the Interior to serve on the National Historic Trail Advisory Council in the late 70s, Seavey was unhappy that the initial comprehensive management plan for the stretch of trail in Seward and the Kenai Peninsula called only for signs recognizing the trail once passed through.

"I said, no, we need a physical trail," Seavey said. "That's our history. That's our connection with the past."

The rest of the advisory board agreed. In 1982, Seavey formed the Seward Iditarod Trail Blazers group, which took on the responsibility for reestablishing the portion of the trail from Seward to Crow Pass. Several years later, he spearheaded the construction of a bike path from downtown Seward to the city's small boat harbor. The path is the first few miles of the Iditarod Trail.

"Over the years he has put in thousands of hours locating, marking and clearing the trail between Seward and Girdwood," wrote nominator Lee Poleske of Seward.

Seavey spent 32 years on the advisory council and when that group disbanded, he started the nonprofit Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance for the purpose of continued preservation of the trail and its history.

Last year, in honor of the 2008-2012 centennial celebration of the Iditarod trail, Seavey returned to the sled runners for his fifth Iditarod. Dallas won the race, Mitch placed seventh and Dan finished 50th, beating two people to Nome.

"I joke with the kids (about) how different your life may have been had we taken up stamp collecting or something," Seavey said.

The kids are all right with mushing dogs.

"For my entire life my grandpa has been connected to the Iditarod," said Dallas, 25. "The Iditarod is certainly the center of my life, and that's thanks to my grandpa.

"He is one of the race's vital organs. I'm not going to say he is the heart or soul of the race, but he is one of those vital parts."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com