Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
ARCTIC: For Refuge Volunteers, Arctic Wilderness Airstrip Restoration is Labor of Love
Alaska Region, June 7, 2004
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Under the glare of the midnight sun, the workers toiled, shoveling sand and silt, carrying buckets of gravel, and filling potholes. Forced labor? No, a labor of love! Three volunteers and two employees of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge recently completed maintenance and restoration work at the Grasser's airstrip near the Hulahula River of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Located on the north slope of Alaska's Brooks Range Mountains, several hundred people per year utilize Grasser's airstrip to access the Arctic Refuge to raft the swift and turbulent Hulahula River or to hunt for world-class Dall sheep. Over the years, the airstrip had become rutted, and several dips had developed from heavy use. Rather than abandoning the strip and looking for a replacement, the Refuge Manager decided to attempt to restore the landing surface. ?This was definitely a first for the Arctic Refuge,? stated Refuge Manager Richard Voss, 'since there are no established or improved roads, trails, or airstrips on the Refuge.?

Pilots traveling to the Refuge frequently land on river gravel bars which are often flat and typically sparsely vegetated. Over time, rivers also erode these old gravel bars and create new ones; so landing strips come and go. At the Grasser's strip, the problem was not re-contouring by the river, but use by aircraft over a number of years.

Because the airstrip is located within a Federally designated Wilderness Area, and in order to maintain the area's wilderness character, maintenance and restoration work needed to be accomplished without the aid of motorized equipment. ?It's like taking a step back in time,? quipped Refuge Pilot and Wilderness Specialist, Roger Kaye, as he hauled two buckets of gravel suspended from a canoe yoke. ?A person really has to stand in awe of some of the great projects of history accomplished without machinery. It's a humbling experience to see how much effort is required to accomplish even a small task without modern equipment.? Despite the daunting task of restoring the 1,200-foot airstrip by hand, there were no complaints heard. Refuge volunteer Andy Keller mused, ?The Arctic Refuge is such a special place. Just being able to be out in these spectacular surroundings makes this a labor of love.?

For more information, contact Deputy Refuge Manager Gary Wheeler at (907) 456-0549 or email Gary_Wheeler@fws.gov.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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