National Park Service Mushes for Wilderness Cleanup

National Park Service Mushes for Wilderness Cleanup


We got funding last year to do it via snow
machine. It got approved by our compliance team, but then sequestration hit and we cancelled
the patrol. As 2014 rolled around, this was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act,
so we started to looking to see if we could use a wilderness friendly method of retrieving
the barrels. That’s one of the parts of this job that I
really enjoy the most, is the discovery and the problem solving and the creative solutions
that we need to come up with to accomplish these projects with the minimum tool. These
sled dogs are not only our minimum tool, but they’re also the traditional tool for travel
in Alaska. Some of the dog sleds are disappearing after
the snow machines start coming. Everybody starts taking care of snow machines more than
dogs. Everybody says, “What happened to all the dogs?” and these are our dogs out there
and you know they’re going out by snow machine. Anytime we can accomplish a project with sled
dogs we are keeping alive the history and the tradition that’s so much apart of Alaska We travelled with Gates of the Arctic staff
and they were a several days ahead of us on snow machines, breaking trail. After
several days of dog team travel we finally met up with our snow machines and followed
them with our dog teams right out to the wilderness boundary where motorized transport is not
allowed. Their staff, thankfully, had snow shoed in a trail already for us. I wasn’t sure how the dogs were going to handle the transition from a really nice, wide well-packed snow
machine trail back to a pretty narrow soft snow shoe trail. I think in some ways they
were relieved and excited to be back on a familiar trail of snow shoes powered by humans. They jumped right on it — ears forward, ready to go. Using metal detectors we found all seven barrels.
Several were in deep snow. We got out all but one due to not trying to tear up the tundra too bad. We hooked up the team. We loaded up the barrels,
and we headed out for May Lake with the full moon guiding our way. It was bright enough
that we really didn’t need head lamps. Which means the dogs always want to run faster. They
love running at night in the dark. The northern lights were dancing overhead. It felt like traveling in a dream. It’s about 12:30 and we just lost the trail.
The snow came and swept over it last night. Jen’s completely lost. Scott’s looking for
the route. As we mush the dog teams into town I think
the most striking moment was to watch the elders lining the streets and cheering us on with
a very knowing look in their eyes. They have strong memories of their own experiences with
dogs on the trail. That was just like you, you have to take care
them like you yourself because without them we never would have survived. Right as soon as I entered they were screaming
and waving. We turn a corner in town by the ranger station and the elder was cheering
us on. A young boy ran out and ran along my dog teams. The other part of it was kids running
along with just this fascination and the enthusiam for something so new and different coming
into town. Of course they were curious just to understand more of how does a dog team
work. So we talked through the different positions in the team. And the kids were really
eager to actually be sled dogs themselves. So they all grabbed the tug lines and started pulling
on the sled. One of the rangers hopped on the back of the sled and kids were pulling him
around the streets of town. The highlight too was also sharing the experience
with the people in Anaktuvuk, having the community meeting. Showing them that we’re cleaning
up their backyard using traditional means, sled dogs, still today to do projects. Something
they’ve been using for generations. I don’t think there is ever a time that I
feel more silenced and stilled on the trail than listening to the dogs howl at night or
howl in the middle of the day for reasons that are beyond my knowledge, but knowing
that they are connecting to something bigger out there, something wilder than us. For a park visitor, they think it’s kinda crazy that we’ll go out for weeks at a time in winter when it’s dark and it’s cold and it’s 50 below and there’s howling winds and blowing snow.
They look at us and say “why would you do that?” And to explain to them that we do it in honor
of the wilderness character of this place.

5 comments on “National Park Service Mushes for Wilderness Cleanup

  1. Sad I think to hear that the native Alaskan children were interested in dog sleds as something "new and different" and wanting to know how they work.  You would think that is something they already know and were brought up with.

  2. So powerful is the spirit of Alaska and its people. What a honor and privilege it must have been and a spectacular experience that you were able to experience. Thankyou not only for the environment but educating the public. Very nice video. God bless all of you.

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