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Trail History

Portraits of the Past

Joe Redington, Father of the Iditarod

Joe Redington, Sr.When he arrived in Alaska in 1948, Joe Redington was saddened by what he saw. The romantic life of Jack London and dog teams was quickly disappearing: Aircraft carried the mail, the roadhouses of the Inland Empire deteriorated, and the trails of the old days were overgrown.

Joe learned to mush dogs from old timers who still used dogs to carry the mail or run traplines. When he grew confident with his team, he put his dogs to work, retrieving military aircraft crashed in the Alaska wilderness piece by piece.

To draw attention to the role dogs played in Alaska’s history, Joe and his friends created the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, and epic trek from Anchorage to Nome following the route of the historic Iditarod trail. The race echoed the heroic history of the diphtheria serum relay to Nome that occurred in 1925. It was first run in 1973 with a total of twenty-two finishers.

The Iditarod Sled Dog Race that Joe Redington started revived dog mushing in Alaska and around the world. After years of effort by Joe and the Alaska Congressional delegation, President Jimmy Carter signed the act designating the Iditarod a National Historic Trail in 1978.

"National Historic Trail" is a designation reserved for those important travel routes that have shaped our nation’s history. 

Redington and Butcher scale Denali by dogsled

Redington and Butcher nearing the summit of Mt. McKinley in 1979. Credit:

Dogs to the Top!

Joe Redington invested himself and his kennel in the future of dog sledding by sharing his knowledge with anyone interested in his dogs and his sport. Several Iditarod winning mushers were encouraged by or learned to mush from Redington. Joe and one of his students, Susan Butcher, took their dogs to the top of Mt. McKinley in 1979.

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