For only the third time in the race’s history, the Iditarod is starting in Fairbanks. During the next Talk of Alaska we’ll speak with past champions about how the 1,000 mile race has changed over the years and what current mushers think could be the future for the sport.
HOST: Lori Townsend
- Lisbett Norris
- Lance Mackey
- Libby Riddles
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
The Iditarod trail won’t be full of just mushers: a teacher will be following along as part of a yearly program.
For two years, Annie Kelley, of St. Andrew’s School in Chicago has been preparing for a new type of lesson plan.
“My job is to fly out on the trail in little planes and report back to classrooms across the country that are using the Iditarod as a teaching tool,” Kelley explained.
Kelley found out she was a finalist for the program in January of last year. And just as mushers have extensive planning on the Iditarod with years of training and work, so too, does Kelley. Between an application process that required letters of recommendation and long term lesson planning, she said the experience has been constant.
“So since I was selected as Teacher on the Trail, I’ve been keeping a website, and that has tons of lessons that I’ve been doing with my kids in Chicago and I share it with teachers across the country,” Kelley said. “I’ve been presenting at a couple conferences, and getting my cold gear weather clothes ready. Chicago did not prepare me well this year. It was a very mild, mild winter there.”
For Kelley, getting ready for the weather means more than a hat and gloves. She listed all the clothes she plans on wearing:
“I think four layers on the bottom, topped with some heavy duty LL Bean snowpants. Boots that go down to -100, and there’ll be feet warmers in those boots. Probably four layers on top with a parka that was well tested at the Junior Iditarod. A giant hat and like four pairs of gloves, and I’ll probably only be wearing two at each time, but I’ve got lots of gloves. And hand and feet warmers will be used at all times.”
While this is the first and probably only time Kelley will be Teacher on the Trail, she said back in Chicago, she loves incorporating the Iditarod into lesson plans for her fourth graders.
“So my lessons, a lot of them revolve around language arts. We write letters to the mushers – so writing friendly letters,” Kelley said. “And a lot of times they write back, which is really fun. My favorite is one year, one of the rookie mushers handwrote a letter to my students, front-back side of a sheet of loose-leaf and it was just so cool that he took the time to do that.”
While Kelley will be reporting to her students on all of the mushers, she said she has a couple favorites.
“You know, I have a few favorites,” Kelley said. “Charley Bejna is a musher from Chicago, and he’s come into my classroom and it’s been really awesome. And Ally Zirkle – girl power – I’m excited to see her come in at the finish. So those are two that I’m rooting for.”
And Kelley’s students are just excited as she is for the opportunity.
“They’ve been hearing about for about two years now, this whole process. The biggest thing is ‘Just keep warm, Ms. Kelley.’ is all they tell me and be safe,” Kelley said. “I had one student write me a card and it said: ‘If you’re afraid of heights and small, little planes, don’t worry. You’re the Teacher on the Trail. You’re not scared of anything.'”
The last great race formally started today and Ms. Kelley will be reporting to teachers across the country every step of the way.
The state Senate today (March 6) unanimously passed a bill that would make October 25th African American Soldiers’ Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day.
The bill, introduced by Wasilla Republican David Wilson, was created in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the construction of the highway.
Wilson said that he feels little recognition has been given to the African American soldiers who helped to build the highway with the Army Corps of Engineers.
About a third of the soldiers who built the highway were African American.
In a time of segregation and overt racism, Wilson called the Highway project “one of the first bridges to civil rights.”
The bill has now moved to the Alaska House of Representatives.
Alaska has five national monuments — public lands that are given special protections, and Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski doesn’t want anymore of the state added to that list.
She re-introduced a congressional bill in January to limit the Antiquities Act, which gives the president the sweeping authority to make those designations.
In Barack Obama’s last year in office, some wondered whether the president would use the Antiquities Act to lock up offshore drilling leases in the Arctic Ocean.
He did it a different way, but those types of land or water designations still have some Alaska legislators worried.
“It’s clear to some degree the federal authorities are, in my opinion, overreaching,” Eagle River Republican Rep. Dan Saddler said.
In a meeting Thursday at the capitol, legislators discussed a joint House resolution to back Murkowski’s congressional bill: essentially, a letter of support to overhaul the Antiquities Act.
The bill outlines that the president would need approval from Congress and the state before creating a national monument.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, thinks it’s a good idea.
Ed Fogels, a deputy commissioner with DNR, said the Antiquities Act was created more than 100 years ago to protect sacred and cultural sites from things like grave robbing.
“You know, we’re seeing an expansion of that to where vast areas are put aside and it may not be necessarily in the spirit of that intent of the (Act),” Fogels said.
In a controversial decision, President Jimmy Carter created at least 11 National Monuments in Alaska in 1978.
Congress later acted on a significant conservation bill that rolled some of those monuments into national parks. The Antiquities Act gave Carter the authority to make that decision quickly.
Erik Grafe, an attorney with Earthjustice, thinks it’s an important tool for a president to have.
“Presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to George W. Bush to Obama have used that to protect things from large swaths of the ocean to the Statue of Liberty,” Grafe said.
Grafe said the Antiquities Act can still be used the way it was intended because important sacred and cultural sites have a new threat.
“It’s as relevant in Alaska as anywhere else and maybe even more because of climate change,” Grafe said.
But Ed Fogels, with the department of natural resources, said Alaska’s current fiscal crisis is a reason to be concerned.
“Our economy is based on responsible natural resource development,” Fogels said. “So, the less of that lands there is, the less of a land base we have to work with.”
If Murkowski’s bill makes it through Congress, it won’t undo Alaska’s existing national monuments, but it will create an extra step in the process and make it more difficult for the president to make sweeping designations.
States like Utah are going a step further, urging President Donald Trump to overturn national monument designations made under President Obama.
In Episode 6, we talk about: The 2017 Iditarod’s restart in Fairbanks, weather and trail conditions in the Interior, and race strategies.
In Episode 5 we talk about the ceremonial start of the 2017 Iditarod, and: Fur Rendezvous; trailgating; mushers’ reactions to the allowance of two-way communications devices on the trail; and innovative musher clothing designs.