Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
INNOKO: Wildland Firefighters Put Trail-building Skills to Use for Science Camp
Alaska Region, August 10, 2012
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Old trail to Innoko Science Camp.
Old trail to Innoko Science Camp. - Photo Credit: Kristi Bulock
The new footpath to the Science Camp.
The new footpath to the Science Camp. - Photo Credit: Kristi Bulock
Vegetation from the newly created footpath was used to rehabilitate the old trail.
Vegetation from the newly created footpath was used to rehabilitate the old trail. - Photo Credit: Kristi Bulock

Building a footpath through a forest is a lot like building a fireline. So when organizers of the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge Science Camp needed to build a new trail to their campsite, they were quick to seize the opportunity to put highly trained wildland firefighters on the job.


The Gannett Glacier Type 2 Initial Attack Crew was stationed in the Interior Alaska community of McGrath in June. Since there was a temporary lull in fire activity, State of Alaska fire managers were happy to make half of the 20-member crew available to help with the project.

The science camp has operated for about 15 years as an interagency effort organized by the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, with assistance from the State of Alaska, Bureau of Land Management and the Iditarod Area School District. The camp focuses on increasing students’ knowledge of biology and their sense of stewardship of the environment.

Getting to the camp requires a five-mile boat ride down the Kuskokwim River from McGrath and a one-mile hike inland through a forest of black spruce. The camp and the trail leading to it are on State of Alaska land. Over the years the trail had seen heavy ATV use as supplies were transported in and out of the camp during the summer months. Eventually, the trail became muddy, rutted, hazardous to foot traffic, and in desperate need of rehabilitation.

Organizers of the camp were anxious to rehabilitate the old trail and replace it with a new more sustainable trail. With skilled workers available to do most of the labor, Assistant Refuge Manager Chris Eggleston and Fire Management Officer Kristi Bulock organized the effort and transported the crew downriver to the trail head. The crew made quick work of the project, cutting trees and brush to clear a mile-long trail just wide enough for foot traffic in one day.

“We had a great day and got a lot done. We’re really grateful to the crew for all their hard work,” Eggleston said. “I think it worked out well all around. We got a new trail to the camp and the firefighters got an opportunity to keep their skills sharp during a slow time in the fire season.”

The new trail was constructed just out of sight of the old trail, but still uses portions of the old trail where boardwalks cross wet, boggy areas. Bulock and Eggleston took the brush and woody material cleared from the new trail and used it to rehabilitate the old trail, placing it over open, muddy areas to provide shade, reduce the melting of permafrost, and allow vegetation to grow back. No ATV traffic will be allowed on the new trail or the old trail. Only winter snowmachine traffic will be allowed on the old trail to minimize damage and improve chances for revegetation.

In addition to providing safer travel for the Science Camp students and staff, Bulock used the trail project to give the students a real-life lesson in landscape conservation and how a landscape can be restored.

Contact Info: Maureen Clark, (907) 786-3469, Maureen_Clark@fws.gov
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