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An Iditarod checkpoint offers a warm welcome [by Natalie Baumgartner] IN 1974, MCGRATH RESIDENT BABE ANDERSON WAS THE FIRST MUSHER FROM THE AREA TO ENTER THE IDITAROD TRAIL SLED DOG RACE. Over the years, 16 others from McGrath and surrounding villages followed in his footsteps. Notable competitors include second-place  Finisher Eep Anderson and third-place finisher Ernie Baumgartner, as well as many others placing in the top 10. During the Iditarod’s early years, most everyone in town participated in some way. Local families hosted racers and their teams as they arrived in McGrath, 311 miles into the race, where the hospitality and strategic location along the trail made the stop a favorite for many to take their mandatory 24-hour layover. Local competitors helped fuel the excitement and community support in the early years, and normal day-to-day activity halted. Everyone in town attended large fundraisers for racers. Non-stop entertainment while the…

DIGENEGH (MCGRATH) “Over on the Kuskokwim River” in Deg Xinag, the Athabascan language of Shageluk, Anvik, and the Athabascans at Holy Cross. Of about 275 Deg Hit’an people, approximately 40 speak the language. McGrath is featured in Luc Mehl’s story in this month’s Community section. (source: Deg Xinag Learners’ Dictionary) SUYITNA (SUSITNA RIVER) Dena’ina for “sandy river,” referring to the river’s silt and many sandbars. The river begins at the Susitna Glacier in the Alaska Range and runs 313 miles to the ocean near Anchorage. It drains nearly 20,000 square miles, mostly within the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, home to this year’s Arctic Winter Games. Learn more about the games in this month’s Profile section by Tim Lydon. (source: Shem Pete’s Alaska) Above: Sandbars in the Susitna River as seen from the Denali Highway. Courtesy Bo Mertz

Eielson’s epic mail flight On February 21, 1924, Carl Ben Eielson flew Alaska’s first official air mail service. The 280-mile flight from Fairbanks to McGrath took just a few hours, compared to 18 days or more by dog sled. Eielson used a de Havilland DH-4 open cockpit biplane to carry the 164 pounds of mail, and he bundled up in caribou-fur socks, moccasins, a reindeer parka, a marten-skin cap, a wolverine-skin hood, and multiple wool layers, as well as goggles. Born in North Dakota in 1897, Eielson flew in the U.S. Army Air Service during World War I. In 1922, he took a teaching job in Fairbanks but soon devoted his time to flying bush planes for miners and their cargo, quickly becoming one of Alaska’s most pioneering bush pilots. He died in 1929 while trying to rescue a ship full of furs that was mired in ice off the…

10 Alaska summer music festivals that will get you groovin’  If winter has you restless, maybe it’s time to plan a roadtrip to one (or more) of Alaska’s summer music festivals. The lineup of multiday events has grown in recent years and offers both Alaskan and national acts exploring a range of genres. For Alaskans, the festivals are community celebrations that offer a break from summer’s busy pace. For visitors, they’re a chance to dive into a local scene, with great music against a backdrop of gorgeous scenery. Here’s a quick sampling of 2024 events. Alaska Folk Festival The music is mostly acoustic, but the atmosphere turns electric as hundreds of musicians descend on Juneau each April for this seven-day festival. It offers nine four-hour performances averaging 15 acts each, along with workshops. The music also runs late-night at bars, restaurants, and even street corners. If you come by ferry,…

A hidden gem on the Middle Kuskokwim by John Chythlook Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s ReelTimes newsletter. Additional species information is also from ADF&G. Ever thought of fishing a little-traveled river in the middle Kuskokwim River drainage? If so, a trip on the Hoholitna River should near the top of your list. The Hoholitna River is a tannic, clearwater river that flows 165 miles north from its headwaters in Whitefish Lake in the Nushagak Hills to eventually join the lower Holitna River. There is excellent fishing for Dolly Varden and arctic grayling, as well as large, voracious northern pike in the lower river and sloughs all summer long. King and chum salmon are available late June and July, while coho salmon are present during late August and September. Anglers normally access the lower Hoholitna by chartered boat from the village of Sleetmute.…

High Drama When the River Runs Again by Beth Grassi In late April 2014, I stood on a bridge in Fairbanks watching the Chena River waking up under my feet. Flat chunks of ice bumped and bobbed down the river, some a thin, translucent gray, others rafts of white several inches thick. Ice floes and slush hissed through the rush of river water. It felt like standing on the prow of a ship, pushing through to spring. “Spring breakup” may sound like a sitcom episode, but in Alaska it’s a landscape-size drama. Most of Alaska’s rivers freeze over in winter, with ice up to several feet thick. When the rivers finally break free, usually in April and May (or even June in the Arctic), ice floats downstream. Sometimes ice jams—jumbles of ice floes—dam up a river. Large ice jams can cause dangerous flooding. Breakup plays out differently each year on…

Discovering ancient bones near McGrath. The water level in the Kuskokwim River rises and falls in response to snowmelt and rain. High water plucks trees from the muddy riverbanks, transporting them down the river. Low water strands jumbles of wood on sandbars. These wood piles are welcome to the river communities because the logs are a convenient source of firewood. I was six years old when we set out from McGrath to collect firewood. Francis, my stepdad, drove the boat upriver, so that the collected logs could then be floated downriver. Our strategy was to tie a raft of logs to the bow of the boat and gently motor the raft back to town. While my mom and Francis were sawing wood for the raft, I played games with my older brother Burke—setting up sticks for target practice with rocks or a BB gun. Burke recalls that one of the…