While the air temperature turned very cold over night in Nenana, the community welcomed Iditarod in the warmest way. Iditarod Officials and checkpoint coordinator Tyrell Seavey have been working with the mayor of the village and tribal leaders to design the layout and operate the first checkpoint of the 2017 Iditarod Trail. The advanced efforts created an incredibly efficient and user friendly layout. The village of Nenana deserves a huge and heartfelt thank you for all the energy and effort expended to welcome Iditarod and make the experience work for the mushers.
Nenana is located in Interior Alaska 55 miles southwest of Fairbanks on the Parks Highway. In Iditarod trail miles it’s 60 miles from Fairbanks via the Tanana River. Nenana lies in the Tanana Athabascan Indian Territory. Gold played a role in the past history and development of Nenana.
When gold was discovered in Fairbanks in 1902, miners flooded the area. With miners came the need for a trading post and of course a roadhouse. Soon a school was built for the area’s children and a post office opened. Completion of the railroad tracks in 1915 caused the village population to double. There were nearly 5,000 people living in the area at that time but by 1930 as the gold boom slumped the population fell to 300. The village incorporated in 1921. A railroad depot was completed in 1923.
For Serum Run history buffs, the diphtheria was delivered from Seward by train to the new railroad depot where Wild Bill Shannon began the relay of 20 dog teams that carried the life-saving medicine to Dr. Curtis Welch in Nome. The relay delivered the serum in just five and a half days. Shannon and his team of eleven Alaskan Malamutes carried the serum for 52 miles to Tolovan where he passed the precious package to musher Dan Green.
Every bulletin board in every store far and wide has a poster for the Nenana Ice Classic. It’s a popular competition that was started by surveyors back in 1917 who laid out the railroad tracks in the area. People guess the date and time of the Tanana River ice breakup. This is a big contest and it all depends on how many people enter and how many pick the exact right date and time when the tripod goes into the water as to how big the payout is.
Many of the community residents as well as team handlers and family awaited the arrival of the first mushers. Linwood Fiedler came into town, crossed under the railroad bridge, passed by the Tribal Community Center and checked in at the checkpoint at 16:11. His time en route from Fairbanks was 5 hours and 3 minutes. Cody Strathe and his Squid Acres Team arrived at 16:19 covering the distance from the start in 5 hours and 13 minutes. Arriving at the same time was Misha Wiljes with a run time of 5 hours and 15 minutes. Martin Buser arrived at 16:27 covering the trail in 5 hours and 1 minute. Teams continued to arrive one right after the other for the remaining daylight hours. It was a spectator’s paradise as well as a photographer’s dream.
Some teams picked up supplies from their handlers who were allowed to support the musher and team at Tanana and then continued on past Nenana to camp in quieter surroundings. Many teams parked in a designated area on the river near the tripod to camp. Once the dogs were cared for the mushers, handlers and family members walked back to the Tribal Community to Center to have supper. All sorts of entrees had been prepared by the community residents and were available for the volunteers and mushers to enjoy. As the temperature was dropping, a good hot meal really hit the spot.
Out on the river where the teams were parked, Cindy Abbott and Laura Neese were both very happy with their run and also very happy with the trail. Laura was enjoying several slices of olive pizza that had been sent out in her drop bags. Parked nearby, Aliy Zirkle was munching on a grilled ham and cheese while preparing supper for the SP kennel athletes. Inside the community center, school children were shyly approaching people who looked like they might be mushers to ask for autographs. At one time the room was filled with their mushing heroes – DeeDee Jonrowe, Aliy Zirkle, Allan Moore, Al Eischens, Monica Zappa, Ryan Anderson. Jodi Bailey and others. The kids will have fun comparing autograph books.
The race is nearing Tanana. The first musher is expected in around suppertime. The checkpoint is ready and the local residents are excited to be hosting an Iditarod checkpoint.