Talkeetna braces for troopers post closing expected to save $80K

TALKEETNA -- Feeling the pinch of the state budget crisis, the Alaska Department of Public Safety announced this month that the state is closing Alaska State Troopers posts in Talkeetna and Girdwood this year.

The Talkeetna post is scheduled to close at the end of May when a $17,000 annual building lease runs out, and Girdwood at the end of the year.

Closing the post near the Parks Highway, 14 miles up the Talkeetna Spur Road from town, will save the state about $80,000 a year, according to Col. James Cockrell, director of the Alaska State Troopers. A sergeant, four troopers and one administrative assistant will move to the Mat-Su West post, 45 minutes away at Pittman Road in Meadow Lakes, west of Wasilla.

Girdwood, located within the Municipality of Anchorage, falls under the authority of the Anchorage Police Department, state officials say.

But Talkeetna, an unincorporated village that's twice voted down city status over the decades, doesn't have another law enforcement option.

The quirky hamlet is a small town most of the year -- but then summer hits. The winter population of around 700 swells to state fair proportions with throngs of tourists May to September estimated at 100,000 a year or more, all gawking at the Alaska Range and buying souvenirs amid bands of climbers making a try at Denali, North America's tallest peak.

Troopers at the post now also cover a vast area: the Parks Highway from Willow to Byers Lake, up to the Willow side of Hatcher Pass, out Petersville Road and down the spur to Talkeetna.


Asked about the post closure, residents talk in what-if scenarios: What if somebody hits a moose on the Parks Highway or a summer visitor breaks a leg? What if somebody's hurt in a domestic violence situation and medics can't respond until troopers arrive to secure the scene? Not everyone is sad to see the troopers go -- what if criminals target Talkeetna, or vigilante-minded locals opt to take matters into their own hands?

All to save what many see as a drop in the bucket compared to the state's $3.5 billion shortfall.

"If that's all they're saving, they're going to burn through way more than that in just overtime alone," said Robert Coleman, the president of the Susitna Community Council, which represents people living at the "Y" where the Talkeetna Spur meets the highway. "It's going to be at least an hour response time even if there's anybody available."

Cockrell said the move could actually improve response times. Instead of having troopers at home on standby during off hours, at least one trooper a shift will be dedicated to the vast Talkeetna patrol area.

"In theory, our response time will be quicker than what we're providing," he said.

But frustrated and sometimes fearful local residents contend that even the Talkeetna-designated trooper will get stuck in Meadow Lakes doing paperwork and they'll be left unprotected, especially during the busy summer season.

"We're really keeping our fingers crossed that they don't really close or they close temporarily when they realize how much the station is needed," said Stephanie Enders, the 37-year-old who now owns downtown landmark Nagley's General Store.

Lease change

Doug Moore and his wife, April Moore, own the True Value hardware store next to the Talkeetna troopers post, Moores' Hardware & Building Supply. They also own the building that houses the post, along with a Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union branch.

The state had a 10-year lease for the post but renewed for just a year in 2014, Doug Moore said. He got an email a few months ago asking if the space was still available. As late as March 5, the state was moving ahead with another 1-year lease, Moore said. Then a few weeks ago -- Moore was at Arctic Man at the time -- he found out the lease was off.

He's not worried about losing the $17,000 in annual rent payments, Moore said. "We'll be OK but we're saddened by the fact that our community will lose the troopers in our area."

April Moore, standing near her husband in a back office, wondered if the closed post will trigger a rise in crime. Even as her husband pointed out that Talkeetna is a well-armed community, April Moore continued.

"Criminals are lazy," she said. "They're not going to do anything if they know they're going to get busted. They're opportunists."

Then she mentioned an incident tied to what trooper Dan Valentine calls the most serious traffic stop of his life: the October 2010 night he pulled over convicted murderer Sam Carter about 15 minutes after Carter shot and killed 53-year-old Dirk Fast at the Latitude 62 bar.

Local response

Valentine grew up in Talkeetna and spent five years as a trooper there. He works now as an Alaska Wildlife Trooper in Kodiak.

He was off duty the night of the shooting.

"I was reading my kids a bedtime story and dispatch called and said there were shots fired and CPR was in progress at the Latitude 62," Valentine said this week by phone from Kodiak, where weather had forced him off a boat patrol. "I got ready as quick as I could and headed down the highway."

Valentine knew everybody inside the Latitude, a relaxed, Alaskana-filled lounge and restaurant near downtown where a few dozen people had gathered for live music. Everybody except Carter, sentenced in 2012 to 50 years in prison.


Valentine lived seven miles outside downtown Talkeetna, so he often got calls to respond to trouble in town when other troopers were on standby at home, farther away.

He spotted Carter's pickup within about two miles, turned around and ran the license plate. It matched the description of the shooter's truck. Valentine followed the truck until he knew another trooper was close, then flipped on his lights and pulled the pickup over. The other trooper pulled in front. Both shouted commands at Carter, weapons drawn. Carter came willingly, Valentine said, talking gibberish about needing to free a hostage.

"If he would have gotten much farther," Valentine said, "it would have been a lot harder to ever find him again."

‘Plenty far’

None of the troopers working in Talkeetna now lives in town or even near it, residents say. The closest lives about 30 minutes away in Trapper Creek. The rest live in Willow or Houston, up to an hour from downtown.

The post itself is a 15-minute drive away from Talkeetna proper. But response time from troopers can be slow, residents there say, because troopers may be patrolling an area from Willow nearly to Cantwell. Or maybe it's deep into the night and a trooper is on standby at home.

"My first summer here, someone got stabbed in the bar and it was a good 45 minutes before somebody got here," said 30-year-old Autumn Merritt, working the counter at Nagley's Wednesday and referring to a September 2010 incident outside the Fairview Inn. "I think 15 minutes away is plenty far."

Correction: This article originally stated the lease on the Talkeetna trooper office was $17,000 monthly. It is $17,000 annually.

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at