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49th Estate: Monson, Butcher made Trail Breaker Kennel a cozy home

  • Author:
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published February 18, 2014

David Monson and the late Susan Butcher met on the Iditarod Trail in 1979.

Monson says "she was passing" him, but the two connected after the race and married a few years later. After living in a cabin in Manley Hot Springs, about 80 miles northwest of Fairbanks on the Tanana River, they decided to have kids and move into town.

The pair had several criteria for their new home site. It had to have water on it -- they have both a lake and the Chena River. It had be a large enough tract to not disturb the neighbors -- moving 100 dogs into a residential area could be disruptive. And finally, it had to have access to trails; the trails alongside the kennel go all the way to Nome without crossing a road.

Their home in Fairbanks was built with the cabin from their homestead in mind. The kitchen, living room, and dining room all form one large space, where all of the activity happens. The doors were handmade, and one Dutch door has a layer of beaver pelts sandwiched in the middle to keep it completely insulated. The house makes use of new and traditional heating techniques by using solar panels, as well as a particulate-efficient catalytic converter fireplace. Logs retain heat, so the structure, built like a log cabin, stores warmth in the winter and benefits from a corresponding cooling in the summer.

Large portraits of Susan, a four-time Iditarod champion who passed away from leukemia in 2006, line the walls of the house. Those, along with family photos and trophies, all help make this stunning structure as cozy and rustic-feeling as the log cabin that Susan and David shared when they first established Trail Breaker Kennel.

Watch this video on Vimeo or YouTube, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great videos. Contact Alaska Dispatch videographer Tara Young at tara(at)

Correction: This story originally reported that Monson and Butcher lived in a cabin near Eureka in Southcentral Alaska rather than Manley Hot Springs.

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