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After a year off, Turnagain Arm Trail Run returns with a fast course and no bear scares

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: May 8
  • Published May 7

Rachel Topf leads a group of 8-mile racers down a hill with tree roots during the Turnagain Arm Trail Run on Thursday. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The Turnagain Arm Trail Run returned Thursday night after taking last year off because of the pandemic, a sign we may be on our way to at least a partial return to normal this summer.

Normal in this case was Lars Arneson crossing the finish line ahead of everyone else. Arneson, 31, is one of Alaska’s premier mountain runners — 2019 Alaska Mountain Runner Grand Prix champion, 12-Peaks Challenge speedster, 2021 USA Triathlon winter triathlon national champion, 2021 Crazy Lazy record-breaker, etc., etc., etc.

Perhaps not as standard were some of the other sights at the Potter and McHugh Creek trailheads.

A college basketball player straining through a sprint finish. A longshoreman packing feminine wipes to clean muddy legs. A world-class skier on bear patrol.

Well, maybe that last one isn’t so unusual. The race is an annual fundraiser for the UAA ski team, and because it’s held on a Chugach State Park trail that doubles as a bear corridor, UAA skiers are sometimes tasked with keeping bears at bay.

That was the case Thursday, when runners followed a course altered earlier in the week to avoid a stretch of trail where bears have been eating — and defending — a moose carcass.

Heidi Conway carries bear spray during the start of the 4-mile race at McHugh Creek. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Usually the race covers the 8 miles between Potter and Rainbow, with a midpoint at McHugh Creek. Earlier in the week park officials closed the trail between McHugh and Rainbow because of potential bear danger, so the race became a round trip from Potter to McHugh and back. Runners in the 4-mile race went from McHugh to Potter.

Shortly before the start of 4-mile race at McHugh Creek, a group of UAA skiers spotted a black bear on the trail.

One of them was JC Schoonmaker, who was just named to the U.S. Ski Team’s A team following a cross-country season with three top-20 World Cup sprint finishes and the seventh-fastest qualifying sprint time at the World Championships. Astrid Stav, a freshman All-American with two top-five finishes at the NCAA championships last March, was also helping. She blew an air horn to chase away the bear.

Runners in the 4-mile race begin their run to the Potter trailhead. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Klaire Rhodes, the women’s winner, said she was about 500 feet from the finish line when she saw a black bear, but it was far from the trail.

Also a good distance away were Rhodes’ pursuers. She won the race in 48 minutes, 45 seconds, more than four minutes ahead of runner-up Taylor Ostrander. She was 16th overall in a field of 138 runners.

Rhodes, 22, said she had no idea if any other women were close behind.

“I just went and didn’t look back,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

She was glad the race happened on the trail between Potter and McHugh Creek instead of the part between McHugh Creek and Rainbow. The trail gets narrower and trickier on the southern end; the north end has its share of rocks, roots and other challenges but is wider and easier to negotiate.

“I’m a little more nervous when it gets technical,” Rhodes said.

Kendra Paskvan and Gino Graziano pass through the turnaround at the McHugh Creek parking lot midway through the 8-mile race. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Third-place Chad Trammell said he missed running the point-to-point course.

“I like the mix. It’s nice to have a fast half and a technical half,” he said. “But I’m just glad they made it happen.”

Arneson defended his 2019 title and padded his resume by winning in 42:05, Tracen Knopp finished second in 42:26 and Trammell was next in 43:26.

In the 4-mile race from McHugh to Potter, victories went to 13-year-old Logan Cuddy and 35-year-old Jessica Vetsch.

Cuddy finished in 24:15 and Vetsch was second overall in 24:29, finishing more than a minute ahead of the second-place man.

“There was one girl behind me and I realized as soon as I finished (she) was closer than I thought,” said Cuddy, an eighth-grader at Romig Middle School.

The race dates back to 1999, and because Thursday’s followed a new 8-mile route, Arneson and Rhodes set course records. Their times were much faster than the point-to-point records — Arneson’s by more than seven minutes and Rhodes’ by more than 10.

Lars Arneson passes through McHugh Creek turnaround en route to his victory. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Without the southern half of the trail, “it’s smoother and wider and there’s no steep climb,” Arneson said.

The round-trip aspect proved painful for Trammell. He finished with long red scratches on both arms after getting caught by the same tree branch twice, once on the way out and again on the way back.

“You’d think I’d learn a lesson,” he said.

Most runners looked muddy, not bloody. The trail is one of the earliest to dry each spring because of its southern exposure but muddy spots remain, including a couple that couldn’t be skirted or jumped over.

Arneson said it was ankle-deep in one spot. Everyone finished with mud-streaked backs and muddy legs.

Krista Inscho, who placed eighth among women, came prepared. As she gathered with friends in the Potter parking lot for post-race beverages and conversation, she reached into the back of a truck for a small cloth and quickly wiped her legs clean of all mud.

“Those were feminine wipes,” she confessed.

Runners pass McHugh Creek. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Inscho, 36, is a longshoreman and the mother of two, ages 9 and 6. She said she entered the race because she’s been running a lot in recent months.

“Maybe it’s because I’m home-schooling my kids and I had to do something,” she said.

Tobin Karlberg was a race rookie who entered to support his school. He’s a smooth-shooting, all-conference guard for the UAA men’s basketball team, but he looked like he was racing for a conference track title as he battled Rowan Robinson for 31st place.

Karlberg, 21, won the sprint finish in 52:04.3; Robinson, 15, clocked 52:04.4.

“This is the first time I’ve done a race like this,” Karlberg said. “I was nervous because it’s not something I’m comfortable with.”

Tanya Pasternack and Anne Fleetwood climb a hill. (Bill Roth / ADN)

But he did it to show support for the UAA ski team, one of three teams at UAA put on the chopping block last year because of deep budget cuts. The ski team was able to raise enough money to earn reinstatement; the hockey team and gymnastics team are still trying to meet their fundraising goals to stave off elimination.

“I’m just sad about what’s happening with hockey and gymnastics and skiing,” Karlberg said. “The least I could do is show a lot of support.”

The race raises $4,000 to $5,000 for the ski team, head coach Sparky Anderson said, and every dollar counts for a program that had to raise $628,000 last year to preserve its alpine team.

The Board of Regents decided to spare the cross-country team but eliminate the alpine team, something Anderson used as a rallying point during fundraising efforts. The Seawolves are one team, not two, he said.

As Anderson sat on the tailgate of a truck in the Potter parking lot Thursday night, waiting for runners to finish, proof of his claim sat next to him — the fourth-place trophy from this year’s NCAA Championships. Without any alpine skiers, there would be no trophy.

Coach Sparky Anderson sits next to the fourth-place team trophy the Seawolves claimed at this year's NCAA Championships. (Beth Bragg / ADN)

Women’s 8 mile

1) Rhodes, Klaire 48:45, 2) Ostrander, Taylor 52:59, 3) Paskvan, Kendra 53:51; 4) Fritz, Lauren 53:54; 5) Templin, Molly 54:53; 6) Lies, Hannah 55:10; 7) Anglen, Lisa 55:51; 8) Inscho, Krista 57:51; 9) Bronga, Jaime 58:04; 10) McAnly, April 58:46; 11) Barnwell, Mackenzie 59:20; 12) Farmer, Sabrina 59:29; 13) Topf, Rachel 59:31; 14) Spinelli, Lauren 59:45; 15) Hegna, Amanda 1:00:07; 16) Loran, Alyse 1:00:07; 17) Clare, Mamie 1:00:10; 18) Brewer, Kira 1:01:53; 19) Garber, Gloria 1:02:05; 20) Riggs, Kimberly 1:02:46; 21) Swenson, Katie 1:03:08; 22) Matthews, Elizabeth 1:03:19; 23) Graham, Mariah 1:03:54; 24) Fink, Karol 1:03:55; 25) McDonough, Amber 1:04:41; 26) Fellman, Jillian 1:05:18; 27) Fleetwood, Anne 1:05:36; 28) Shea, Clare 1:05:45; 29) White, Haley 1:06:07; 30) Nelson, Tahra 1:06:56; 31) Venzke, Carly1:08:03; 32) Dougherty, Emily 1:08:21; 33) Pasternack, Tanya 1:10:06; 34) Anderson, Andrea 1:10:49; 35) Bowler, Ivy 1:11:23; 36) Ryznar, Susan 1:12:19; 37) Kramer, Cyndi 1:12:42; 38) Smith, Jennifer 1:13:17; 39) O’Neil, Aimee 1:15:35; 40) Resari-Salao, Trina 1:15:45; 41) Barnack, Linda 1:17:52; 42) Bushatz, Amy 1:18:57; 43) Beach, Miranda 1:21:05; 44) Novobilski, Jen 1:21:58; 45) Huett, Jessie 1:23:02; 46) Jungreis, Laura 1:23:50; 47) Barker, Meghan 1:24:40; 48) Hickox, Molly 1:24:47; 49) Bickers, Natalie 1:25:03; 50) Smith, Mikki 1:25:12; 51) Schweers, Andrea 1:27:38; 52) Day, Amanda 1:32:35; 53) Lee, Destiny 1:32:35; 54) Debonis, Abby 1:32:36; 55) Davis, Kristi 1:32:37,

Men’s 8 mile

1) Arneson, Lars 42:05; 2) Knopp, Tracen 42:26; 3) Trammell, Chad 43:26; 4) Priest, Cody 45:12; 5) Jahn, Corbyn 45:31; 6) Dixon, Pyper 45:44; 7) Genn, Marshall 45:44; 8) Fracolli, Paul 46:04; 9) Johnson, Erik 46:14; 10) Kirchner, Brian 46:23; 11) Spangler, Allan 46:43; 12) Beckett, Ryan 47:00; 13) Hecht, Galen 47:17; 14) Deal, Conor 47:45; 15) Conway, Patrick 48:38; 16) Boyer, Blaise 49:04; 17) Regan, Kenneth 49:30; 18) Maus, Christopher 49:40; 19) Zitta, Duane 49:44; 20) Iverson, Mark 49:53; 21) Miller, James 50:00; 22) Landecker, Isaac 50:23; 23) Lewis, Patrick 50:35; 24) Zemke, Keith 51:17; 25) Taylor, Craig 51:32; 26) Davis, Joe 51:33; 27) Yang, Alex 51:44; 28) Atkinson, Collin 51:49; 29) Witter, Rob 51:49; 30) Henry, Todd 51:56; 31) Karlberg, Tobin 52:04; 32) Robinson, Rowan 52:04; 33) McKee, Garrett 52:13; 34) Eski, Ethan 52:20; 35) Martin, Aaron 53:01; 36) Graziano, Gino 53:08; 37) McDonough, Jim 53:15; 38) Fleetwood, Matthew 53:51; 39) Nottingham, Derek 54:11; 40) Davidson, Chaven 54:26; 41) Haviland, Brian 54:36; 42) Nenahlo, Thomas 54:39; 43) Shayer, Max 55:18; 44) Myers, Dan 55:52; 45) Peltier, Travis 56:03; 46) Engel, Joe 56:14; 47) Ritchie, Thomas 56:18; 48) Larson, Troy 56:38; 49) Robertson, Chris 56:47; 50) Pekar, Brian 57:01; 51) Onskulis, Martins 57:02; 52) Vispo, Daryll 57:22; 53) Hoagland, Jeremy 57:24; 54) Pessetto, Scott 57:47; 55) Case, Jacob 58:04; 56) Lauwers, Dylan 58:52; 57) Libby, Justin 59:19; 58) Walker, Christopher 59:26; 59) Soden, Lucas 59:29; 60) Kastar, Jon 59:46; 61) Wesselhoft, Justin 59:59; 62) Gardner, Ari 1:01:47; 63) Claggett, Steven 1:02:19; 64) Henry, Scott 1:02:55; 65) Rebman, Randy 1:03:45; 66) Besl, J 1:03:47; 67) Crumpacker, Daniel 1:04:02; 68) Dykstra, Jon 1:05:14; 69) McGargill, Tim 1:05:43; 70) Priest, Connor 1:07:31; 71) Lee, David 1:07:37; 72) Samuelson, Timothy 1:09:34; 73) Bower, Matthew 1:10:30; 74) Galindo, Mario 1:11:35; 75) Kelley, Kyle 1:11:52; 76) Braga, Emmanuel 1:15:58; 77) McAnally, Patrick 1:18:11; 78) Lee, Steve 1:19:13; 79) Tunseth, Matthew 1:20:34; 80) Sherwood, Todd 1:21:16; 81) Kern, Jared 1:24:34; 82) Skeen, Gary 1:30:36; 83) Skeen, Geremy 1:30:36.

Women’s 4 mile

1) Vetsch, Jessica 24:29; 2) Conway, Rosie 24:41; 3) Haines, Kaleen 24:43; 4) Cosgrave, Sarah 28:22; 5) Bergwall, Hallie 29:39; 6) Comer, Teresa 31:22; 7) Edmondson, Charlotte 31:44; 8) Conway, Heidi 31:48; 9) Cutler, Inessa 31:54; 10) Hamilton, Erin 42 0:32:09; 11) Masters, Tara 32:09; 12) Thompson, Amanda 32:25; 13) Wollgast, Nicole 33:37; 14) Kain, Virginia 33:42; 15) Grande, Mary Grace 33:47; 16) Basinger, Hope 33:55; 17) Foldager, Patti 34:07; 18) Collins, Abigail 34:27; 19) Weyhrauch, Maria 34:28; 20) Chauvot, Aimee 34:36; 21) Burtzel, Andrea 34:50; 22) Hardy, Dyann 35:50; 23) Swenarton, Marykate35:59; 24) Dindinger, Savannah 37:03; 25) Shipman, Emily 40:16.

Men’s 4 mile

1) Cuddy, Logan 24:15; 2) Rehberg, Nathan 25:37; 3) Rehberg, Noah 25:55; 4) Wollgast, Roy 28:02; 5) Hardy, Chace 28:59; 6) Foldager, Flip 32:19; 7) Cuddy, Liam 32:59; 8) Steinhauser, Evan R 39:01; 9) Smith, Dacia 40:16.