The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s $25,000 grant to the Iditarod Trail Committee last summer went to work this week. Six Iditarod Trailbreakers on snow machines improved the safety for mushers along 70 miles of trail from Finger Lake to Rainy Pass.
In temperatures from 20 below to 15 above, for eight days, the group cut back trail-encroaching trees and brush, placed more than 100 permanent trail reflectors, and built a new one-mile section around Round Mountain, just south of Puntilla Lake. The new route adds about one mile to the original distance travelled. It is a much safer route for the sled dogs, mushers, Iron Dog competitors, and all other users of the trail, reports Zack Steer, Iditarod Logistics Coordinator.
The Iditarod Trail Committee has had to move the restart north to Fairbanks three times in the last 15 years, including two of the last three years due to low snow conditions in the Upper Susitna Valley, especially in the Rainy Pass area.
This trail work helps keep the restart in the Mat-Su Borough. As many as 10,000 fans, traditionally, attend the race restart in Willow.
“It’s a huge economic impact to Borough business. Last year the Rainy Pass Lodge, alone, lost $60,000 in revenue due to the race moving to Fairbanks,” Mat-Su Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke said.
Kowalke flew overhead and checked in on the trail team’s progress this week. “It’s a really excellent collaboration between the Iditarod Trail Committee and the Mat-Su Borough to the benefit of the Borough and particularly Willow,” said Kowalke.
Borough Mayor Vern Halter said the Iditarod Sled Dog Race restart belongs in the Mat-Su, where the Iditarod Headquarters are based. “The race is a tremendous part of our culture and economy,” Halter said.
According to a 2006 Northern Economics report commissioned by the City of Wasilla, “The Iditarod Restart is estimated to produce direct spending of $1.6 million in the Greater Wasilla area.” The numbers have grown since then. Bed tax generated by the Mat Su Borough would be estimated at nearly $13,000 for the restart.
Between the 6 snow machines, it is estimated that the guys put over 2,500 combined trail miles on the sleds.
The project had the support of the Lodges along the way, including Skwentna Roadhouse, WinterLake Lodge at Finger Lake, and Perrins' Rainy Pass Lodge.
Photos by Assembly Member Randall Kowalke. View the updates on the trail work by Zack Steer at these facebook links.
The Iditarod Trail Committee raised additional funding with a goal of $10,000.