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This post is the second in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference. Click here for the first report in this series, which included the presentations of Tim White and Carol Beck.

Denali Park Kennels Display Panels

sleds panelConference organizer Tim White had procured the wonderful display panels on mushing history from Denali National Park, filled with historic images and explanations of sled dog travel down through the ages. The panel shown here, titled Native Sleds – Form and Function, for example, shows several types of sleds such as an Athabaskan Buckskin Toboggan made of bent wood covered with skins, “ideal for traveling through the deep snow and narrow trails of Interior forests;” a “Built-up sled by Fred Akmalik of Tulugak Valley,” with the explanation, “Heavy runners and a raised bed held up well when traveling throughout the arctic coast of Alaska.” There is an illustration of the heavy Greenland-style sled, which could be pulled by either dogs or a snowmachine; and a “Siberian Yupik hauling sled made of whale baleen and walrus hide line.” The bottom of the panel shows a Malemute Eskimo Family in 1878 with their large sled.

Kevin Keeler

old dogsThe third speaker on Saturday morning at UAA was Kevin Keeler, Administrator for the Iditarod National Historic Trail, which commemorates a 2,300-mile system of winter trails that first connected ancient Native Alaskan villages, opened up Alaska for the last great American gold rush, and which now plays a vital role for travel and recreation in modern day Alaska.

Kevin KeelerKevin brought a wealth of information, beautiful posters, booklets, flyers, and other materials to share with the conference attendees, and he explained how January, 2008 marked the 100th anniversary of efforts to open the now famous overland route from Seward to Nome, and to commemorate this epic achievement, January 2008 to October 2012 has been designated the official Iditarod National Historic Trail Centennial.

audienceKevin also gave a powerpoint presentation which provided an overview of the history, route selection and development of the Iditarod Trail, the sleds and types of teams used, discussed the variations in routes, trail marking, a few of the old roadhouses, and explained a bit about what’s being done to preserve and protect the current day Iditarod National Historic Trail.

INHT bookletOne of the many resources available free from the BLM Alaska site for the Iditarod National Historic Trail is a downloadable PDF of the beautiful and informative full-color, 24-page Visitor Guide, which details the route, the history, and the current projects along the trail. Of special note are the numerous easily accessible sites of interest along the present-day trail, especially between Seward and the Mat-Su area, and the wonderful old historic photos and interesting descriptions:

Sled designs proliferated, with manufactured sleds joining the ranks of toboggan-style handmade sleds. Most every sled at the turn of the twentieth century was equipped with a “gee pole.” The gee pole was a stout pole lashed to, and projecting from, the front of the sled, which the driver could use to leverage and steer the sled. Most dog drivers still did not ride the sled, instead running beside or riding skis or a sort of early snowboard between the dog team and sled. Riding the sled-runners was used only by drivers of light and fast mail and race teams.

There is also information about the Iditarod National Historic Trail at Iditarod100.com, the site for the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance, including a full-color PDF of a four-page flyer detailing the Centennial Framework, with additional details from history:

For the past century, wooden tripods have been placed at close intervals along treeless sections of the Iditarod Trail to guide travelers safely through blizzards. A 1912 article titled “Trail Making in Alaska” described how Colonel Goodwin, leader of the Alaska Road Commission expedition to mark the trail from Seward to Nome, constructed the tripods:

tripod“…tripods…consisted of three sticks of timber each, two of which were eight feet long and the third ten or eleven feet long. They are so fastened together that the longest of the tree sticks projects two or three foot over the others and directly above the trail.”

The same design is still in use today, with volunteer groups and public land managers working to provide these safety markers over hundreds of miles of the trail.

Next: The presentations by Rod Perry and Linda Chamberlain. Still to come: Joe Redington Jr., Jane Haigh, Jeff Dinsdale, Chas St. George and others.

This post is the second in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference. Click here for the first report in this series.

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