FAIRBANKS - The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will pass through a handful of Interior villages on the 1,000-mile course to Nome for the third time in the race’s history, and those villages are making sure the race is welcome.
Since the decision was made to reroute the course because of poor trail conditions to the south, volunteers throughout the villages have sprung into action.
Tom Kriska, a Koyukuk resident and Yukon 800 riverboat race champ, said people in rural Alaska like helping out and said he hopes that it leaves a positive experience for those putting on the race, particularly when future course decisions come up.
“It’s a worldwide race and we just want to help out, and we’re glad that they’re coming through here,” he said. “When they have decisions in the future, they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s go that way because they helped out so much last time and made it easier for us.’ That’s what we like to do out in these villages, just help out as much as we can. We’re just there to help.”
Kriska spent the week on a snowmachine marking the 86 miles of trail between Koyukuk and Huslia. The traditional northern route of the Iditarod Trail, which is run in even years, passes through Koyukuk, but it is not regularly a checkpoint.
He said the village has been busy preparing for the race, with people volunteering to cook and make sure that the mushers, race officials and others are well-fed and comfortable.
“This is coming from the heart,” he said. “It’s always good to see racers of this caliber coming through. They used to stop here way back when we were kids so we’d go check them out, and nowadays they just go right on by. So to see the race coming through as a checkpoint really means a lot for the older folks and the kids.”
Kriska said sled dog racing is largely disappearing in the villages, replaced by boat racing, snowmachining and basketball.
Joe Redington Jr. is a musher in Manley Hot Springs who’s overseeing the efforts to prepare that community as a race checkpoint. He said it’s been no trouble finding people willing to help plow for the dog lot, to cook or to clear trails.
“Here in Manley it’s a new thing and people are pretty excited about seeing it. There’s always people that want to help out,” he said. “I couldn’t say how it is for a village that’s been doing it for 40-some years, but for us where we’ve had it only three times, we don’t have any problem finding volunteers.”
His father, Joe Redington Sr., is widely recognized as the “Father of the Iditarod.” Redington Jr., ran the race in 1974 and again in 1975, when he came in third, and recalled that it was much more like a camping trip than it is today.
Chas St. George, chief operations officer of the Iditarod Trail Committee, said the efforts aren’t going unnoticed.
“We are very thankful that the communities along the Fairbanks route have bonded together and are helping us,” he said. “We’re their guests.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.