Iditarod Trail centennial celebration kicks off in Seward

100 years on the trail

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2008


  This postcard, circa 1913, shows sled dog teams arriving in Seward to deliver gold from the Iditarod fields. Photo courtesy Iditarod Historic

This postcard, circa 1913, shows sled dog teams arriving in Seward to deliver gold from the Iditarod fields.

Photo courtesy Iditarod Historic

While most people are familiar with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that takes place next month, not as many folks may be familiar with the 100-year legacy of the Iditarod National Historic Trail itself, but a celebration this weekend in Seward may be a great way to learn about its rich history while also having a good time.

"We want to carry on the 100-year legacy for another 100 years," said Bobbie Jo Skibo, interagency coordinator for the USDA Forest Service, in regard to the "Iditarod Days" centennial celebration of America's Last Great Gold Rush Trail.

Skibo said the year 2008 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Alaska Road Commission's efforts to open an overland route from Seward to Nome. First scouted in 1908, the Iditarod Trail was completed by hardy crews working through bitter winter temperatures of minus 50 in 1910 and 1911. Within a year of its completion, thousands of gold-seekers hiked or mushed the government trail to the Iditarod gold fields, and gold-carrying sled dog teams became a regular sight along the trail.

In 1912, due largely to population increases resulting from the rush to the Last Frontier, Congress elevated Alaska from District to Territorial status. In 1978, under the leadership of President Jimmy Carter, Congress designated the Iditarod National Historic Trail to commemorate this historic route.

"It was one of the first National Historic Trails and it's the only one in Alaska," Skibo said.

Wanting to commemorate these epic achievements of dog and man, an interagency and partner alliance has chosen February 2008 through October 2012 as the official Trail Centennial. Over the next four years, the group will create public awareness of the history and recreational benefits of the trail, while increasing partner and community involvement to protect trail resources for future generations, according to Skibo.

"We're really trying to highlight the history of the trail up to its modern use today. A lot of people still hike it, skijor it, and a few still mush on it," she said.

Saturday marks the start of this four-year celebration, and Skibo said "We have a packed day with a lot of really good community events."

The festivities kick off at 9 a.m. at the Seward Senior Center where a "Sourdough" Alaska breakfast will be served. Adults can partake in the buffet for $10 while children and seniors get the meal for $8. All proceeds go to the senior center.

Following the chow-down, the opening ceremony will take place at noon at the official Milepost 0 of the Iditarod National Historical Trail, located next to the Alaska SeaLife Center on the bike path. Several local dignitaries will speak including Seward Mayor Clark Corbridge. Governor Sarah Palin has also been invited. Following the ceremony, the real fun begins.

"We'll be having a theatrical re-enactment of Walter Goodwin's 1908 blazing of the Iditarod Trail, kids sled dog rides, husky face painting, historic mushing photos and other family entertainment will also follow," Skibo said.

These events will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Other entertainment will include a Trail First Aid and Positive Dog training seminar, and an Amazing Kids vs. Dogs Challenge where children can find out who is smarter, them or a husky.

"There will also be some great presentations," Skibo said.

These will take place in the Legends Building Theater (on Fifth Ave. and Washington St.) and include: at 1:30 p.m., "History of the Iditarod Trail" presented by Lee Poleske, Seward Museum curator; at 2:30 p.m., "Mushing the Mail on the Iditarod Trail" by Linda Chamberlain, writer and owner Howling Husky Homestead; at 3:30 p.m., "Pioneer Show and Tell" by Mona Painter of the Cooper Landing Historical Society; at 4:30 p.m., "Iditarod Trail Project Update" by Jaime Schmidt, USDA Forest Service, and Kevin Keeler, Bureau of Land Management; and at 5:30 p.m., "The Iditarod Trail: A Native Perspective" presented by Diane McRae, Council President of the Qutekcak Native Tribe.

The Seward Museum will have historic memorabilia on display throughout the day.

On Sunday, there will be one last event, as the Seward Nordic Ski Club will host a skijor race at 10 a.m.

"It will have a mass start and be a total fun run," Skibo said.

The location and distance of the skijor race is still to be determined. For more information call 907-224-3848.

For more information and a complete schedule of events for the celebration, visit the Internet site,, or call Bobbi Jo Skibo at 907-288-2123.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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