Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek

Iditarod Trail Celebrates 40 Years as Designated National Historic Trail

May 29, 2018

By Katherine Schake

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the designation of the Iditarod National Historic Trail by Congress, and the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System Act. Traversing a 2400-mile network across Alaska from Seward to Nome (the direct route being 1000 miles), the Iditarod National Historic Trail is the only Congressionally-designated National Historic Trail in Alaska. Originally a transportation route for the Tanaina, Ingalik, Inupiaq, and Yupik people of the region, it has been a vital travel and trading network for thousands of years. During the early 1900s the trail was further developed to support the prospectors arriving in search of gold.

After the advent of rail lines and bush planes, the importance of the Iditarod Trail as a service trail dwindled. The trail deteriorated. Citizens led by Joe Redington, Sr. worked to improve the trail and elevate its story. On May 17th, 1978 a U.S. Senate report stated, “Nowhere in the National Trail System is there such an extensive landscape, so demanding of durability and skill during its winter season of travel. On the Iditarod, today’s adventurer can duplicate the experience and challenge of yesteryear.” (U.S. Dept of the Interior, BLM)

Trail workers clear brush on Upper Winner Creek last summer. Credit: Gemma Amorelli, Chugach National Forest

Today, citizens are again mobilizing to rebuild the Iditarod, portions of which are popular recreational trails including Crow Pass in summer and Indian Pass in winter. The Chugach National Forest along with the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance and partners Alaska Trails, Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA), Girdwood Trails Committee, and Seward Trailblazers are working together to promote and maintain the Iditarod National Historic Trail. To cultivate stewardship and make groundbreaking improvements, multiple volunteer events will be hosted throughout the summer. Mark your calendars for:

June 3rd, Seward: Seward Iditarod Trailblazers celebrate 40th anniversary recognition of the of the Iditarod National Historic Trail celebration.  Food and Fun!

June 9th, Moose Pass: Chugach National Forest stewardship event at Victor to Rocky Creek Trail

July 14th, Girdwood: Chugach National Forest stewardship event at Upper Winner Creek Trail

August 25th, Girdwood: Chugach National Forest stewardship event at Crow Pass

Visit the Chugach National Forest or Alaska Trail Stewards website ( for more details or to sign up for stewardship events.

The first 180 miles of Iditarod trail from Seward to Crow Pass lie within the KMTA National Heritage Area. KMTA supports projects that recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic, scenic, and natural recreational resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm historic transportation corridor. The next grant application period opens June 1st. For more information visit

New Interpretive Signs Installed along Seward Waterfront Park

May 2, 2018

By Katherine Schake

Thousands of visitors and residents venture along the Seward Oceanfront Bike Path year-round, including local and visiting school groups. Pedestrians may not realize they are walking along the first mile of the National Historic Iditarod Trail, or that humpback whales may be sighted from the shores of Resurrection Bay. The handicap-accessible paved trail provides opportunity to view the Alaska railroad terminal while observing salmon, otters, seabirds and glaciers. Educating the public about the cultural and natural history of the area enhances one’s experience and facilitates connection to the landscape.

New Interpretive Signs along Seward Oceanfront Bike Path. Photo Courtesy of Karin Sturdy

Throughout the past month, the City of Seward has been installing new interpretive signs along the bike path within the Municipal Waterfront Park. Originally installed in the mid-90’s these signs informed visitors of Seward’s history and the rich ecological value of the region. After twenty years of exposure to the elements the signs were tired and worn, in dire need of a facelift. Therefore, in 2017 the Kenai Mountain-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area granted the City $13,000 to redesign, replace and install seven interpretive signs along the path.

Our goal as a local team – writers, photographers, graphic artists, reviewers and City Parks & Recreation – was to help people walking the spectacular 1 mile bike path develop a sense of place – our place,” reflected Madelyn Walker, Team Coordinator & Interpretive Writer.

A collaborative community effort, the City hired a local team of interpretive professionals to complete the text and illustrations of the new signs: Karin Sturdy, Madelyn Walker, Katy Larkin, and longtime Seward resident and professional photographer Ron Neibrugge. All work was approved by a committee of representatives from Seward Parks and Recreation Department, the Alaska SeaLife Center, Kenai Fjords National Park, and the community at large. An additional $14,700 of matching funds were leveraged for this project.

“For me, working with this team was a way to give back to the community from which I feel like I’ve received support, friendship and a sense of home,” said Katy Larkin, Graphic Designer. “I drew inspiration from the photographs provided by Ron Niebrugge, the carefully crafted words of Madelyn and Dan Walker, and my own memories of experiencing Resurrection Bay for the first time.”

Graphic Designer Katy Larkin poses with new Interpretive Signs.

Panels were designed using the KMTA template, and diverse themes are represented including: The Founding of Seward, Railroad Days, Fishing Industry, Marine Mammals, Salmon Cycle, Tides, Birds, Mount Alice, and the 1964 Earthquake.

“The City of Seward is grateful for educators and business partners who passionately share the world’s wonders with neighbors and travelers from around the globe,” said Karin Sturdy, Recreation Director at the City of Seward. “The community of Seward thanks KMTA for their mission, vision and successes through our Kenai Mountains corridors.”

KMTA supports projects that recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic, scenic, and natural recreational resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm historic transportation corridor. To learn more about how to apply for grants, visit

KMTA Spring Board Meeting: New Grants and Transitions

March 31, 2018

By Katherine Schake

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) Corridor Communities Association (CCA) Board held their annual spring meeting on March 2nd in Girdwood at the Spoonline Café. KMTA is the only designated National Heritage Area (NHA) in the State of Alaska. A designated Act of Congress, NHAs provide funding for locally initiated community projects that protect and promote the cultural, historical and natural assets of the region. The KMTA area is comprised of the north-south road, rail, and trail corridors from Bird to Seward and includes the communities of Girdwood, Portage, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing, Sunrise, Hope, Portage, Whittier, and the wild waters of Prince William Sound.

Since 2010, KMTA has granted $902,000 to community grassroots projects and leveraged $1,515,000 in community investment. Past projects funded include an award-winning high school curriculum, new museum exhibits, historic structure and trail restoration, interpretive signage, educational publications, and the construction of Bison Hall at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

(L-R) Janet McCabe and Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan at the Spring KMTA Board Meeting

The spring Board meeting marked significant transitions for KMTA as an organization. Deep gratitude was expressed for both Janet McCabe (former Board President) and Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan (former Executive Director) as they stepped down from over a decade of committed work in their positions with KMTA. The torch has been passed to Dan Walker, new Board President and Jessica Szelag, new Executive Director for KMTA. Dan Walker, raised in Alaska and residing in Seward, is an educator and published writer, was named Alaska Teacher of the Year in 1999, and has been serving on the KMTA Board for several years. Jessica Szelag lives in Girdwood and has been KMTA’s Program Manager for the past 10 months. She is a former Executive Director of a nonprofit in Seattle, and over the past decade has focused her work on transportation projects and policies that encourage pedestrian, bicycle, and transit-oriented development.

Prior to the public meeting, Jessica guided the Board through a strategic planning and sustainability workshop, revitalizing KMTA’s vision and future efforts. During the public meeting, KMTA awarded four new grants determined to enhance and preserve the area’s historic, scenic, and outdoor recreational resources. The awards are as follows:

  • Girdwood Mountain Bike Park – $10,000 of funding for the final stages of the Bike Park, which are crucial to providing a completed trail system that is open to the public, reducing congestion on pedestrian trails. This grant will enable the Girdwood Mountain Bike Association to perform final grading of trails, re-vegetation, signage and clean-up.
  • Hope Guard Station Restoration – This historic building was marked to be decommissioned, but instead the U.S. Forest Service is donating it to the Hope & Sunrise Historical Society. The grant of $11,675 will cover contractor fees to move the building from mile 11.3 of the Hope Highway to the town of Hope, where it will be remodeled initially as a dry cabin and located at the Hope Museum to assist in the Gold Rush interpretive exhibit.
  • Girdwood INHT Bridge Engineering and Design – The Girdwood Trails Committee was granted $2,371 to pay for professional design and engineering of the Iditarod National Historic Trail (INHT) California Creek Bridge, which is required to meet U.S. Forest Service construction specifications. This grant will cover the consultation fees required to obtain an estimate of the bridge construction costs.
  • Seward Ididaride Mural – Seward artist Jason Leslie was granted $1,500 to create a colorful tribute to sled dog culture and history of the KMTA transportation corridor.

Additional grants may be awarded as the Board continues to review proposals. More information about KMTA grants can be found here: http://www.kmtacorridor/grants/

KMTA Spring Board Meeting Scheduled March 2

February 22, 2018

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm Corridor Communities Association, the coordinating entity for the KMTA National Heritage Area, will hold its spring board of directors annual meeting in Girdwood, March 2 at 2 p.m. at the Spoonline Cafe. The meeting will include the election of officers, review of grant proposals, and other KMTA business. The meeting is open to the public.

New Interpretive Tool at Trail Lakes Hatchery

February 9, 2018

By Katherine Schake

If you’ve driven to Seward, you’ve driven past the Trail Lakes Hatchery near Moose Pass.  But have you ever stopped to check it out? Next time, you might want to drop in and discover their newly enhanced visitor center. Thanks to a recent grant from the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area (NHA), a new video system has been installed to show short educational films on demand. Throughout the year, Trail Lakes Hatchery entertains thousands of visitors from around the globe.

“The video system has opened up an avenue for us as hatchery employees to share our passion for salmon with anyone who has a few moments,” stated Kristin Bates, Trail Lakes Hatchery Manager, “As the videos, pictures and words flow across the screen, the faces of visitors gleam with pure amazement as they discover that raising fish is an art which all of Alaska’s waters support.”

Constructed in 1982 and operated by the State of Alaska until 1988, the Trail Lakes Hatchery has been operated by Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) ever since. Still owned by the State of Alaska, the hatchery is permitted to incubate 30 million sockeye, 6 million coho, and 4 million chinook salmon eggs – although, no Chinook are currently raised at the site. It is a rearing facility only, meaning no returns or releases occur directly at the hatchery. Salmon are released in Resurrection Bay, Bear Lake, Bear Creek, and other areas of the Kenai Peninsula and Susitna Watershed.

New video system installed at Trail Lakes Hatchery enhances visitor experience. Photo courtesy of Lisa Ka’aihue

Successfully installed in November, the new television monitor and sound system provide visitors with information on CIAA’s hatchery and weir operations, their activities to improve and protect salmon habitat, and how to keep the region’s salmon populations healthy. In addition, the self-guided visitor center includes interpretation displays and handouts, along with a view into raceways where sockeye and coho are raised at specific times of year for Resurrection Bay.

Trail Lakes Hatchery is the only salmon hatchery in the Seward area. Next time you drive through Moose Pass, stop by for a self-guided tour of the visitor center. If you desire a guided tour of the facilities and the Bear Creek Weir, contact the hatchery in advance: 907-283-5761

KMTA funds local projects that recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic, scenic, and natural recreational resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm historic transportation corridor. KMTA National Heritage Area is one of 49 designated Heritage Areas in the country. National Heritage Areas play a vital role in maintaining both the physical character and the cultural legacy of the United States. Learn more at

2017 Annual Report Reflects 42% Increase in Grants

January 30, 2018

Please take a look at our 2016-17 Annual Report. Please be patient – it is a large file. (But worth the wait!)


Collaboratively Unearthing the Past

December 8, 2017

By Katherine Schake

At a unique curve in the Kenai River, known today as a late-season silver salmon ‘hole’ by locals and named for its color, Turquoise Bend has been discovered as an 800-year-old semi-permanent winter village site of the Denai’na. To the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, this site is not only a cultural landmark and direct link to their ancestral heritage, but also represents a deep spiritual connection to a place that represents a holistic way of life that has persisted for generations.

Roughly ten thousand years ago, as the glaciers retreated from the most recent ice age, new plants sprouted on thawed ground, transforming glacial moraine into a carpet of food that encouraged animals to disperse into new territory. Nomadic Athabascans followed these animals across interior Alaska and eventually 11 distinct linguistic groups emerged. One of these, the Dena’ina, established semi-permanent settlements and fish camps throughout southcentral Alaska. The Kenai River Valley was especially abundant. Each summer four major salmon runs reliably returned, providing enough fish to last through the winter months.

What does one do, today, when a sacred place such as Turquoise Bend is located on private property?

Funded in part through a grant from the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and Chugach National Forest spearheaded a community archaeology and outreach initiative to collaborate with local landowners and archaeologists in addressing the challenges of preserving cultural heritage sites while enabling future investigation of archaeological features in the Kenai River Valley.

Ground Penetrating Radar Workshop
Photo by David Guilfoyle

As a result of the initiative, partners, including Applied Archaeology International, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, BE Surveys, and private landowners worked over this past summer to protect and manage cultural places such as Turquoise Bend. The team succeeded in mapping out an archaeological signature of a nichił, a traditional semi-subterranean log home built to house multiple families. Using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), archaeologists were able to identify the size and shape of the main home along with sub-surface hearths without disturbing the surface. This non-invasive method is supported by both Tribal representatives and private landowners.

“The landowners were great to work with. There were some cultural differences that they were very willing to hear about, learn about, and work with. I feel like we could have a good conversation that was respectful of the land,” said Joel Isaak, Cultural Coordinator of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.

The river, salmon and ancestral features are all a part of the integrated management goals of this community project. Elders, youth, landowners and archaeologists teamed-up to excavate the Dena’ina settlement site, survey cultural plants, examine the condition of the river bank, and perform site restoration activities.

Test excavations reveal cultural layers extending 800 years before present and subsurface artifacts. Photo by David Guilfoyle

The excavation also revealed a cultural deposit at 45 centimeters (approximately 18 inches) below the surface. One large nichił and two smaller nichiłs were found with identifiable house features such as cold storage where dried salmon was buried in underground pits for overwintering. Cache pits of charcoal and mounded fire-cracked rock, called middens, were radiocarbon dated to approximately 1178 AD. The midden is the designated place for emptying the hearth and may contain charred food scraps, artifacts of the house and burnt rock fragments. The frequency of middens found in the Dena’ina village complexes point to a social norm of keeping a home clean and tidy. Unfortunately, this particular midden had been impacted, unknowingly, by land use activities, and speaks to the importance of building collaborative efforts to preserve cultural heritage sites.

One of the most admirable outcomes of this past summer’s work was the synthesis of scientific research and cultural protocols within a model of community outreach.

According to David Guilfoyle at Applied Archaeology International, “Much of the work to protect cultural places is focused around on-ground environmental management, and so there is a lot of overlap with the goals of landowners and environmental groups. These projects demonstrate a need to embrace cultural heritage places, and work with Tribes to protect our shared natural and cultural landscapes.”

Overall objectives for this multi-year project include continued mapping and surveying of archaeological sites in the Kenai River Valley; the establishment of on-ground site protection along with an integrated management plan supported by Tribal representatives, landowners and archaeologists.

Funding and support for the Turquoise Bend archaeology project was provided by the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area. For more information about this and other National Heritage Area projects visit

Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm CCA Board Awards New Grants

November 18, 2017

By Katherine Schake

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) Corridor Communities Association (CCA) Board of Directors held their annual fall meeting on October 18th, 2017 at the newly constructed Bison Hall at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. In addition to fostering partnerships within the Kenai transportation corridor, the association receives and administers funds, approporiated by Congress and other sources, to support locally initiated community projects. Since 2010, KMTA has granted $826,000 to local communities’ grassroots projects leveraging $1,300,000 in community investment. Past projects funded include an award-winning high school curriculum, new museum exhibits, trail restoration, interpretive signage, and construction of Bison Hall.

During the fall meeting, the Board reviewed recent applications and has awarded three grants determined to enhance and preserve the area’s historic, cultural, scenic, and outdoor recreational resources. The awards are as follows:

  • The Historic Begich Towers Inc. Preservation Project was awarded $21,343 to upgrade plumbing for the bathrooms in the 15-story building and to connect with the recently repaired large sewer mains. Built in 1956 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Begich Towers is on the Alaska Historic Registry and is located in the town of Whittier. Residents have committed to repaying a 3 million dollar loan from the US Deptartment of Agriculture for the entire building to undergo an extensive remodel. In addition to housing private residents, there are public facilites in the building including restrooms, a laundromat, the post office, police station, and city offices. Historic interpretive displays, funded by KMTA in 2016, are also located in the building and explain to visitors the significance of Begich Towers to the community of Whittier.
  • The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association was awarded $1,432.50 to enhance the Trail Lake Hatchery Visitor Center educational program. The funds will be used to install a video system that will showcase films related to hatchery operations and the importance of sustainable salmon populations in the Cook Inlet Region. The films will enable visitors to take a self-guided tour of the hatchery, expanding the current educational program.
  • The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) was granted $21,837 for a fiber optic and technology upgrade which will build a platform to deliver high speed internet to AWCC. This will fund the audio/visual and classroom needs of the newly constructed Bison Hall. High speed internet will not only create a fundamental platform for future technology needs, but will modernize the existing wildlife outreach and interpretation programs.

Additional grants may be awarded as the Board continues to review proposals. More information about KMTA grants can be found here: http://www.kmtacorridor/grants/

Alaska’s Past is Still Being Written

November 4, 2017

Kenai History featured in Trails Across Time: History of an Alaska Mountain Corridor

Ever wondered about the quartz veins in the road cuts along the Seward Highway? Did you know Johnson Pass hasn’t always been a recreational trail – prospectors blazed it in the 1890s and it soon became a wagon road thoroughfare. Want to see the coastal geography of Alaska through Captain Cook’s eyes in 1778? Or perhaps you’d like to learn how stone lamps dating back to 2000 B.C. reveal a history of multi-cultural use on the Kenai Peninsula.

An updated 2017 edition of Trails Across Time: History of an Alaska Mountain Corridor features riveting new stories and photos about Alaska’s first and only National Heritage Area. Originally published in 2005, Trails Across Time explores the historic trails, tracks, and waterways of one of Alaska’s most scenic places. From the geologic forces that shaped the landscape to Native trails, a gold rush, and the eventual building of a railroad and highways, the area reflects the broader history of Alaska. The valleys and mountains, communities and people of this unique place tell the larger story of a wild place and a rugged frontier.

Published by Ember Press, the book is a publication of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area. The KMTA National Heritage Area is one of forty-nine Heritage Areas across the nation. Established in 2009 through an act of Congress, the KMTA National Heritage Area mission is to recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains–Turnagain Arm transportation corridor.

Author, Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is a long-time Alaskan whose books include Our Perfect Wild: Ray & Barbara Bane’s Journeys and the Fate of the Far North (University of Alaska Press, 2016); Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith (Ember Press, 2012); A Tender Distance: Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska (Alaska Northwest Books, 2009); and other books, articles, and award-winning essays. She is the executive director of the KMTA National Heritage Area.

For more information about the National Heritage Area, please visit:

Bison Hall Opens to the Public

October 20, 2017

By Katherine Schake

Photo by Michelle Richter, AWCC

On October 10th 2017, satellite internet and phone lines were installed in Bison Hall at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC), putting the finishing touches on a two and a half year construction project. The educational center includes five new offices located in the upper level, a multipurpose program hall, classroom, food center, and restrooms on the main floor. With some lingering work remaining on the community kitchen, Bison Hall is now 99% complete and the doors have opened for public events.

“AWCC is a sanctuary dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, research, education and quality animal care,” shared Dianna Whitney, Director of Operations at AWCC, “The education department and its programs are central to our mission.”

At 6000 square feet, the new Bison Hall will enable AWCC to enrich their educational programs including spreading the word about the wood bison reintroduction project, the building’s namesake. Additionally, in partnership with University of Alaska Anchorage, AWCC is developing new high-quality Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curricula for school groups.

David Reka-Suma, AWCC Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator teaches first field trip in newly constructed Bison Hall. Photo by Michelle Richter

The first school group of 2017 filed into Bison Hall early October to observe AWCC’s Porcupine Presentation. Over 100 participants comfortably settled into the lecture hall to meet Snickers, one of the resident porcupines, and to learn about his life from AWCC Naturalists. This is the first of many “Portage Fieldtrips” where students also have the opportunity to walk outside, exploring the many species of animals housed throughout the 200 acre property including moose, bison, caribou, bear, muskox and more.

Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA NHA) provided two separate grants of $24,500 each to support the construction of Bison Hall. KMTA NHA supports projects that recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic, scenic, and natural recreational resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm historic transportation corridor, and promotes and facilitates the public enjoyment of these resources. KMTA’s Board met on October 18th at the new Bison Hall to consider grant applications for the coming year. For more information visit

Animal Enrichment Workshops are scheduled in Bison Hall the first Saturday of every month through April 2018. Participants will help develop toys for the animals housed at AWCC and enrollment is free with purchase of an AWCC entry ticket. “These workshops are a wonderful opportunity for you to volunteer and help our critters at the same time.” For more information, visit To book an event at Bison Hall email or call 907-783-2025.