One part of the Iditarod Trail is for racing. But the entire 938-mile stretching from Seward to Nome, the Iditarod National Historic Trail, is a chunk of Alaska history dating back thousands of years that recently captured $20,000 in attention from the American Express Company.
"This funding will help Alaskans claim the historic importance of this trail," said Iditarod National Millennium Trail chairman Nyla Marsilio of Kasilof.
American Express Company grants of $20,000 will be given to each of 16 trails from across the United States that were honored as Millennium Trails in June 1999 as part of a collaborative effort of the White House Millennium Council, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC). Awards can be used by trail groups to fund outreach programs, conduct trail studies and strategic planning, improve trail infrastructure and maintenance or provide initiatives to attract new trail users.
"We are making a $500,000 grant to Millennium Trails in recognition of this great legacy of our nation," said Harvey Golub, chairman and CEO of American Express Company. "It builds on our long-term support for historic and cultural trails worldwide."
In a press release, Hillary Rodham Clinton, honorary chair of the Millennium Trails Celebration Committee, also noted the historical significance of the program.
"Millennium Trails is a national initiative to create, enhance and celebrate more than 2,000 trails as part of America's legacy for the new millennium," she said. "These legacy trails symbolize the spirit of our efforts to connect our nation's culture, heritage and communities."
Rodney Slater, secretary of transportation, said "The Millennium Trails initiative connects our nation's landscape, heritage and culture and demonstrates our national commitment to improving the quality of life for all Americans."
RTC is charged with distributing the grants.
"These grants are given in recognition of the contribution these trails will make to our nation's cultural and natural heritage," said David Burwell, RTC president. "They represent a positive, permanent contribution to our nation's future that will be enjoyed throughout the coming millennium."
According to Marsilio, a "Hands Across Alaska" Millennium Trail event is scheduled for September 11 through 17. Interviews of people living along the trail, with an emphasis on children and elders, will be recorded in video and book format. Representatives from Secretary Slater's office and National Geographic will take part in documenting the celebration.
"This trail was being used before Christopher Columbus arrived," said Marsilio. "That puts its importance in context. It's enough to give you goose bumps."
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