Takotna is a checkpoint at mile 329 on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. According to iditarod.com, it is “one of the smallest towns with one of the biggest welcomes.” Residents look forward to the hustle and bustle the race brings, and everyone pitches in to help however they can.
Jeff Schultz, Iditarod photographer for decades, has the utmost regard for this community and shared some musings. “There’s a ritual in Takotna that all of the kids help out during the race. The main thing they do is to keep water hot in two different locations for the mushers,” says Schultz. “Mushers really appreciate having hot water. [The kids] also scoop poop and run millions of errands.” He echoes others on how locals take care of anyone who visits: “The village will cook a meal for anyone who is there. Whether you’re a volunteer, a dog musher, or just a spectator. They don’t overtly ask for donations, there’s simply a silver coffee can on the counter to put your donation into. It’s amazing what they do. They have hot meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
The most well-known local was Jan Newton (who passed away in 2012), dubbed the “Queen of Takotna” for her hospitality. She made the checkpoint famous with her delicious pies churned out during the Iditarod; the tradition remains. Takotna the rest of the year is like most small rural Alaskan communities—families making ends meet through multiple odd jobs, kids attending school, and subsistence activities like hunting, fishing, and berry picking putting fresh food on tables.
Summer temperatures range from 42 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with winter temperatures dipping into the minus 40s.
As with many places in Alaska, Takotna’s history is intertwined with mining. In the early 1900s, it began as a supply station for Bethel merchants shipping their goods to gold miners in the Innoko region. The townsite was as far upriver as Arthur Berry’s small sternwheeler could reach. According to the State of Alaska’s Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, “By 1919, there were several commercial companies, roadhouses, a post office, and about 50 houses.” Then during the 1930s, nearby McGrath became the region’s main supply center, and Takotna’s population shrank. Today, it’s home to about 65 people and has one store and one restaurant.
Travel to and from Takotna is via plane on the nearby state-owned 3,300-foot gravel airstrip and by snowmachine from McGrath, 18 miles east, in winter. About 80 miles of local roads lead to an air force station, a cargo landing along the river, and mines.
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