Iditarod Centennial Improves a Living Piece of American History

2008 reenactment of 1908 expedition at Seward, AlaskaOn Christmas Day in 1908, gold was discovered in Iditarod country in Alaska.

More than 65 tons of gold—more than a billion dollars-worth by today’s standards—was taken out of the Iditarod district of Alaska, mostly by dogsled.

The American Gold Rush caused populations to rise across the country, especially in Alaska. As with the other territories in America, Alaska needed transportation systems to connect its goldfields with the rest of the nation.

The longest cross-country dogsled winter trail in Alaska—a 2,400-mile trail system—was named the Iditarod after the Iditarod mining district located along the route.

The Trail was also known as the Seward-to-Nome Mail Trail because it linked a point 50 miles north of Seward, Alaska, to Nome, Alaska. People traveled primarily by dogsled in Alaska until the 1930s brought air travel and the 1960s, snowmobiles. Today, dog sledding, or “mushing,” is mostly a recreational activity.

Celebrating the Centennial

The Iditarod National Historic Trail is celebrating its centennial through October 2012.

The Iditarod National Historic Trail Centennial Partnership, led by the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance, developed and implemented a 5-year, public-private commemoration of the Trail’s centennial. This non-profit membership organization also has accomplished a number of Centennial Legacy projects that will significantly benefit the Trail for the next 100 years. Participants include federal and state land managing agencies, local trail organizations, user groups and members of communities from Seward to Nome.

Installation of Iditarod Trail tripod markers near Takotna, AlaskaAmong the partnership’s many accomplishments is the first-ever Iditarod Trail Easement Project to identify and protect trail corridors. Through this project, the State of Alaska has dedicated more permanent public easements than at any time—more than 1,600 miles.

The Alliance was also involved in developing six new public safety cabins. In 2010, the Iditarod National Historic Trail Shelter Cabin exhibit won the “Best in Show” booth exhibit at the Alaska State Fair.

Students meeting musher during Iditarod outreach eventIn addition, the Alliance supports education programs to help youth become lifelong stewards of Alaska’s public lands and cultural heritage. In its first two years, the iTREC! (Iditarod Trail to Every Classroom) program trained 28 Alaskan teachers reaching 2,000 K-12 students in seven rural and urban communities along the Trail. Classroom projects include restoring and adopting a salmon stream along the Trail, developing a four-mile long scale model of the Trail, and conducting local vegetation inventories.

Another project is providing micro-grants to rural, trailside communities for trail maintenance work with agency partners. As a result, young, sometimes-unemployed, rural adults provided leadership and logistics on three remote, winter field projects with agency partners, and learned first hand about career opportunities in natural resources.

As part of the centennial celebration, Iditarod Trail advocate Dan Seavey, age 74, completed the 2012 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Along the way, Dan stopped in 15 rural Alaskan communities north of the Alaska Range to make presentations to local community leaders and partners, and to recognize their contributions to trail stewardship.

Today, rural Alaska Natives still rely on parts of the Iditarod National Historic Trail for transportation. Others come to experience for themselves this living piece of American history. The Iditarod National Historic Trail Centennial Partnership works to ensure continued and enhanced understanding, appreciation, enjoyment and stewardship of America's Last Great Gold Rush Trail for the 21st century.

BLM-Alaska nominated this program for the Secretary’s Partners in Conservation Awards. The Department will announce those selected for formal recognition October 18. 
 
The Interior Department’s Partners in Conservation Awards Program recognizes partnerships that promote conservation, protect natural and cultural resources, use innovative approaches for resource management, and engage youth and diverse entities in accomplishing the Interior Department’s mission.