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Dalton Highway brush clearing cleared old cabin

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Posted: Monday, July 30, 2012 9:47 am | Updated: 1:55 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities plans a meeting in Wiseman this week to talk about an old shelter cabin that was accidentally demolished 30 feet  west of the Dalton Highway in March.

A brush axe project to clear trees and vegetation along the side of the road ended up clearing the Gold Creek cabin into a layer of mulch. It was a sod-roofed cabin, only about four feet high at the eaves, with the walls sunk a couple of feet into the ground.

It probably took about 10 to 15 seconds to grind up the logs. The operator of the grinding equipment focuses on the tree tops for safety reasons and there was no visibility at ground level because of the swirling snow.

The cabin, located near the confluence of Gold Creek with the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River, was about 30 feet off the road. There was a paperwork mixup at some level that put it outside the right of way for the road, an error of about 100 feet that led to the demolition.

The cabin was probably built in the 1920s and there are reports that it was used over the decades by travelers. It was not in great condition at the time of destruction. It had wood planks in the floor, moss chinking and an internal ceiling height of about 6.5 feet.

The meeting is set for Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the visitor center at Mile 175 on the Dalton Highway in Coldfoot.

The state is considering what action should be taken in response to the demolition, such as building a replica of the structure or putting in an outhouse near Wiseman. The idea would be to do something that recognizes the value of the structure. The idea of putting in an outhouse came from Jim Lounsbury, who is active in preserving local history in Wiseman and made the suggestion in an interview with KUAC radio in June.

The brush clearing was in connection with a $24 million contract to rebuild 12 miles of the Dalton Highway from Mile 197-209.

It appears that some people thought the cabin belonged to Arctic John Etalook, or at least tourists were told that it was his, though Bruce Campbell, environmental manager at DOT, says this was not Etalook's cabin.

It's not clear who built the cabin, but it was used by travelers in the area for shelter, going back to the 1920s. A 1980 survey found that the door, window, table and shelves were present and the roof was intact.

The cabin was in good shape despite its closeness to the Dalton Highway, the 1980 report said. by 1984, however, the cabin had a big gap in the roof and had nothing inside except a little trash.

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