Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek

New Community Grants Awarded by Kenai Mountains–Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area

September 25, 2018

By Katherine Schake

Children in Girdwood point out their work on the community mural, recently sponsored by KMTA through Girdwood Fine Arts Camp. Photo courtesy of Tommy O’Malley

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) Corridor Communities Association (CCA) Board of Directors held their annual fall meeting on September 14th, 2018 at the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward. KMTA recieves and administers funds, appropriated by Congress and other sources, to support locally initiated community projects. Through KMTA’s Community-Based Grants Program, the organization works to enhance, preserve, and protect the historic, cultural, scenic, and outdoor recreational resources of Alaska’s only designated National Heritage Area.

At the September Board meeting, 11 community grants were awarded for a total of $109,463 in funding. These projects will leverage over $175,000 in community investment. Past projects funded include an award-winning high school curriculum, new museum exhibits, trail restoration, interpretive signage, and building restoration. More information on past projects may be found on KMTA’s website:

The newly awarded grants are as follows:

  • Caines Head State Recreation Area – awarded $10,000 to design and install new interpretive signs at Fort McGilvray.
  • Alaska Geographic – awarded $8,400 to enable and facilitate youth volunteers in constructing the Iditarod National Historic Trail from Victor to Rocky Creek.
  • Alaska Mountains and Wilderness Huts Association – awarded $6,517 for conceptual design and site survey of the Spencer Glacier Hut; phase one of the Glacier Discovery Hut-to-Hut System.
  • Alaska Trails – awarded $11,900 to the Alaska Trail Stewards to conduct an inventory of potential trail projects throughout the Kenai corridor, and complete 6 trail work projects within the Chugach National Forest.
  • Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center – awarded $17,700 for upgrading and creating new interpretive signage throughout the center.
  • Cooper Landing Community Club – awarded $5,000 for the Stories of Cooper Landing, Building Connections by Preserving the Past elders and youth project.
  • Girdwood Trails Committee – awarded $16,876 to construct the California Creek bridge on the lower Iditarod National Historic Trail.
  • Hope and Sunrise Historical Society – awarded $3,000 for the Hope Museum Development Coordinator position and associated museum projects.
  • Student Conservation Association ­­­­– awarded $15,000 to support the SCA Kenai Peninsula Regional Youth Crew in maintaining numerous trails throughout the Chugach National Forest.
  • Seward Nordic Ski Club – awarded $5,500 for an engineering survey of the Divide Ski Area, required to maintain US Forest Service easement to access ski and snowshoeing trails.
  • City of Whittier Parks and Recreation – awarded $9,500 for Horsetail Falls Trail improvement and interpretive signage.

Kids from Seward Elementary visit Manitoba Huts this past year, sponsored by a KMTA mini-grant. Photo courtesy of Jean Beck.

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. More information about KMTA grants can be found here: http://www.kmtacorridor/grants/

KMTA Board Meeting Sept 14th

September 3, 2018

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm CCA Board of Directors will be meeting September 14th from 10am – 4pm at the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward. The meeting is open to the public. The Board will be considering grant applications for the KMTA National Heritage Area program for the coming year.

KMTA NHA grants are offered to communities to promote and preserve the historic, cultural, scenic, and recreational resources of the KMTA National Heritage Area. The current grant application period has closed, but will reopen in spring 2019. Projects supported by past KMTA grants include trails, historic preservation, monuments, murals, and educational programs.

Community Celebrates Moose Pass History Project

July 6, 2018

By Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan

A kids’ history assignment became a project that had an entire community rummaging through drawers and attics for photos. The culmination of the project, two years later, celebrated the origin of this small town of 217 people with the installation of several interpretive panels at the Moose Pass Library.

The project celebration was held during the Moose Pass Summer Solstice Festival, June 16-17. Tourists and community members alike spent time looking at the display, telling stories, and reflecting on the past. As part of the celebration, students were invited to tell about themselves and the person or place they were assigned. Sixth-grader, Trevor Guernsey, who wrote about Bill Lawing said, “Personally, I like history, so it was an interesting project.”

Students from the Moose Pass school helped create interpretive panels depicting the history of their town. Also pictured are Dan Walker, President of the KMTA National Heritage Area and board member Martha Story. The project was funded by a grant from KMTA NHA. (photo credit: Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan)

His classmate, Casey Bryson, who researched Kenneth Condit, said, “It’s not often that kids’ work gets published like this.”

Second-grader Regan Seibert said she didn’t remember much about the assignment because she was only in kindergarten at the time but noted, “I think about the amazing people who made this town what it is today.”

Project coordinator, Willow Hetrick, spent countless hours talking to old-timers in the community, sometimes tracking them down as they checked for mail at the Moose Pass post office. She said her conversations were nothing short of delightful, as she worked more than a year to piece together the story of Moose Pass. The kids’ text was augmented by her work and then checked by Dr. Rolfe Buzzell for historical accuracy.

The newly remodeled library is open five days a week, and itself is historically significant. The inviting, modern space was at one time Moose Pass’s fire station. Where a fire truck was once parked, today the community can meet, work on computers, and check out books.

The interpretive panel project was funded by a grant from the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm (KMTA) National Heritage Area. KMTA Board President, Dan Walker, Vice President Bruce Jaffa, and Martha Story, representing Cooper Landing attended the celebration as well as Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan, former Executive Director, Nanette Stevenson, the Project Designer, and Melissa Alger, KMTA Publications Coordinator.  The project included production of five interpretive panels; development of a DVD slide presentation that included hundreds of historic photographs; enlargement and framing of several historic photos for display at the library; and the printing of photos for use as postcards.

KMTA National Heritage Area supports projects that recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic, scenic, and natural recreational resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm area. This project highlights KMTA’s work in the region and celebrates a small town’s history, giving people a chance to connect with the opportunities available through their National Heritage Area. New grant applications are currently being accepted through August 15th. Visit for more information.

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