Trail to history

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 20:00

Anyone who’s lived in Chugiak-Eagle River for a while likely felt a twinge of sadness when watching last weekend’s Iditarod ceremonial start festivities in Anchorage.

Up until the early part of this century, the state’s most famous sporting event and this community were intertwined, with mushers running from Anchorage to the Eagle River VFW post — where a sign still proudly marks the spot alongside the Glenn Highway where mushers arrived at Checkpoint No. 1.

Due to poor trail conditions in several consecutive years, along with increased development and traffic, the Iditarod officially abandoned its Anchorage-Eagle River portion of the route in 2005. It’s likely we’ll never see another spectacle like that which area residents used to wait all winter for.

That doesn’t mean we can’t still reflect on the historical significance of Eagle River to the race and the historic trail on which it was run.

In the early 1900s, the trail linking Seward and Nome was a vital mail and supply route between the Pacific Ocean and the Interior gold fields, which were the site of the continent’s last true gold rush. Thousands of people made this incredible crossing by dog sled and foot, driven by wanderlust and a desire to strike it rich in an unknown territory.

The old Iditarod Trail is now part of the National Historic Trails system, a prestigious honor shared by just 18 other historic trails in the United States. And, as luck would have it, the trail runs right smack through the heart of our community.

When the trail was used by hearty miners, mail-haulers and others, folks used to go up over Crow Pass through the Chugach Mountains and arrive here in Eagle River, where they’d beging their trek into the heart of Alaska.

Although it’s not quite as fan-friendly as having a dogsled race run through town, the idea that such a significant trail crosses through here should give Chugiak-Eagle River residents great pride.

As Iditarod historian and race pioneer Rod Perry, of Chugiak, said during a recent interview, “It would be as if the Oregon Trail passed right through your back yard.”

We’ll miss the Iditarod race, but as long as we remember why the race used to run through Eagle River – and all the good memories from when mushers passed through at the start of the race – the Iditarod Trail and all its stands for will still be a vital part of this area’s history.\

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