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Eagle residents not worried as winter closes in

Posted: Sunday, October 15, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- It won't be long before winter shuts off the village of Eagle from the rest of Alaska's roadway towns. But the 150 or so residents of the small Yukon River town aren't sweating it.

Friday marked the last day of state maintenance on the 160-mile Taylor Highway until spring. And while the road is still drivable, it will only be a matter of time before it becomes impassable.

''I'd like to go to town again next week,'' said Bo Fay by phone from Telegraph Hill Services, a gas station on the edge of town. ''I've got a fuselage that's getting worked on, and it was supposed to be done last week.

''If the road's still open next week I'll go in and bring it back,'' he said. ''If it's not, I'll just wait 'til next spring and work on something else this winter. Patience is a characteristic you should have if you live out here.''

The Taylor Highway and the 136-mile Denali Highway, which runs from Cantwell to Paxson, are the two major gravel highways that are closed in the winter because the state does not maintain them.

The state puts signs up on both highways warning people the roads are not maintained and that travel is not recommended, but they cannot legally block the roads, said Marty Caress, area DOT manager in Cantwell.

While there are no towns along the Denali Highway, Eagle has the distinction of being located at the end of a road that is closed eight months a year. It is a bustling, little tourist town in the summer and an isolated outpost in the winter.

''When people quit driving in, I guess winter is here,'' Fay said.

With only a few inches of snow on the ground in Eagle, the Taylor Highway is still in relatively good shape, though.

''People are coming and going and probably will until we get more snow,'' said longtime Eagle postmaster John Borg.

They will do so at their own risk, said Jim Fehrenbacher at the DOT office in Tok. ''We are through maintaining it.''

The DOT closed its two camps on the Taylor Highway on Friday, said area manager Jim Fehrenbacher. Heaters were shut off, water lines were drained and equipment was taken out to be used in other places this winter, he said.

''There were quite a few folks traveling on it yesterday,'' Fehrenbacher said. ''The road is still quite passable if you take your time... We don't know how long that will last; it can change in an hour.''

It doesn't take much snow to close the road once the wind starts blowing in places like 4,500-foot American Summit, which is about 20 miles out of Eagle.

''It's all predicated on whether the wind blows up on top,'' Fay said.

State maintenance on the Denali Highway ended Sept. 30. Vehicles were still able to cross the highway from Cantwell to Paxson as late as Monday, but a 6-inch dump of snow on Thursday night likely shut the road down for the season.

''I doubt you could make it now,'' said Tom Weber at the Maclaren River Lodge, which is located 42 miles from Paxson. ''Once you get a foot of snow and it starts to blow around, it's an iffy proposition.''

Three people -- two grandparents and a small boy -- died on the Denali Highway in January 1996 when they attempted to drive across the highway from Cantwell to Paxson, got stuck in a snow drift and tried to walk for help. Their bodies were found eight miles from the car and just a mile short of Maclaren River Lodge.

The lodge is the only business that remains open on the closed section of road in the winter and is a popular destination for snowmachiners who use the highway as a snowmachine trail.

''We'll be snowmachining on the road into Paxson in the next couple days,'' Weber said.

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(Distributed by The Associated Press)



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