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SELAWIK: Students journey 200+ miles across arctic Alaska
Alaska Region, April 16, 2014
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Noorvik High School students and teacher all geared up for the trail and looking good!
Noorvik High School students and teacher all geared up for the trail and looking good! - Photo Credit: B. Sweeney/USFWS
A snack break along the trail.
A snack break along the trail. - Photo Credit: B. Sweeney/USFWS
The beautiful scenery of the upper Kobuk River was one
The beautiful scenery of the upper Kobuk River was one "wow" factor of the trip. - Photo Credit: B. Sweeney/USFWS
Caribou skulls decorate one prominent trail marker along the winter trail to Ambler, Alaska.
Caribou skulls decorate one prominent trail marker along the winter trail to Ambler, Alaska. - Photo Credit: courtesy Robin Gage, Northwest Arctic Borough School District
Selawik National Wildlife Refuge's Education Specialist Brittany Sweeney, in arctic winter dress.
Selawik National Wildlife Refuge's Education Specialist Brittany Sweeney, in arctic winter dress. - Photo Credit: courtesy Robin Gage, NWABSD
The team of musher Jeff King arrives in Ambler checkpoint. King was the eventual champion of the 2014 Kobuk 440.
The team of musher Jeff King arrives in Ambler checkpoint. King was the eventual champion of the 2014 Kobuk 440. - Photo Credit: B. Sweeney/USFWS

In Northwest Alaska you will find lands as wild as any left in North America. There are no highways here, no boundary markers or fences, and beautiful vistas of mountains, tundra, rivers and forests. In an undeveloped place like this, journeys are memorable and wonderful, but also require knowledge and preparation on the part of travelers. Recently over a dozen high school students got a chance to experience a 200+ mile backcountry trip, increasing their outdoor skills and soaking up spring sunshine.

 

The students traveled with adult support on the region’s network of marked winter trails. Snowmobiles were the vehicles of choice, as they are for most in the region now. Both traditional wooden basket sleds and plastic freight sleds were towed along, loaded with gear, food, survival equipment and sometimes passengers. The group traveled at a leisurely pace along the frozen Kobuk River, stopping to take in the sights and a few snacks. Even in “spring” temperatures are below freezing here, north of the Arctic Circle.

The local Northwest Arctic Borough School District orchestrated the trip, and invited Selawik National Wildlife Refuge’s Education Specialist Brittany Sweeney to take part in the project. Similar trips have taken place for the last several years with refuge involvement (check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtNEXAXF88s and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_l4utWsvDGI). Students were given guidance in how to dress and pack, and helped to prepare machines, load sleds, and tie everything on tight. Everyone gained experience in safe group travel methods and became more familiar with the terrain along the river, passing through Selawik National Wildlife Refuge and Kobuk Valley National Park during the journey.

To top off this awesome adventure, the trip was timed to coincide with the region’s annual middle-distance dogsled race, the Kobuk 440. The group supported the race by marking trails, volunteering in checkpoints, and stocking shelter cabins along the way. This allowed for insights into the world of dog mushing: seeing how mushers cared for their teams, eyeballing the gear the used, and passing mushers respectfully along the shared trail. Once the main method of winter travel used in the region, mushing is less common now, but local mushers have been among the field in each of the recent Kobuk 440 races, greeted warmly in every community along the route.

Similarly, the student group was treated well by Mother Nature, with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures for the majority of the trip. All the equipment functioned perfectly, and the combined effect was of an outdoor experience all will remember fondly. These young people, many of whom will spend most of their lives in this region, now have a positive connection with healthy outdoor activities and wild places where such things can be enjoyed.


Contact Info: Brittany Sweeney, (907) 442-3799 ex.13, brittany_sweeney@fws.gov



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