Governor Proposes 500 Mile Hiking Trail From Seward To Fairbanks

Original "Trail To Fairbanks" Started In Valdez & Became The Richardson Highway  Trailhead in Cooper Landing, Alaska. (File ph...

Original "Trail To Fairbanks" Started In Valdez & Became The Richardson Highway 


Trailhead in Cooper Landing, Alaska. (File photo, Journal/Bearfoot Guides)

A $13 million  amendment to the Senate budget calls for an Appalachian type 500-mile hiking path running from Seward to Fairbanks. 

The amendment would be paid for with federal Covid relief money, and passed the Senate unanimously. 

The project is currently called "The Alaska Long Trail" and has been an idea that Governor Mike Dunleavy has explored in the past. To come to fruition, it would have to be approved by a conference committee. 

There are several existing trails along the way  that tap into that route. At one time, the port of Seward was the entrance to the tangled "Iditarod Trail." Seward's trail didn't go to Fairbanks, though. It went to Nome. 


There are two existing trails in the Kenai Peninsula which, together, link Seward to the town of Hope through Cooper Landing. 



Existing Trail to Seward. (Journal map) 


THE TRAIL TO FAIRBANKS WAS
ON OUR SIDE OF THE STATE

The actual trail to Fairbanks was the Richardson Highway, which followed a military trail built shortly after the 1898 Gold Rush. The original walking trail was used by miners and known as "The Eagle Trail,"  "The Valdez Trail" or the "Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail."

This, Alaska's very first U.S.-built "trail,"  began in Valdez. It was pushed through because the route used by gold miners in 1898 crossed the Valdez and Klutina glaciers, and was too dangerous to continue using. 

The Valdez Trail was a narrow trail suitable for dog teams, walking or horses. Many roadhouses were built along its route. 

Originally, its first leg led to Eagle on the Yukon River. Not much later, when the Yukon gold fields played out and were replaced by gold mining in Fairbanks, a second leg was put in north to Fairbanks. 

Gakona Junction marks the spot where the two routes of the old Valdez Trail split. The Richardson follows the Valdez Trail north to Fairbanks. The Tok Cutoff follows it northeast to Tok and Eagle. 

Things change slowly in Alaska. Today, at Mile 128 Richardson Highway north of Gulkana Village, you can still find three different routes, side by side. These three routes are all left over from historical days. 

The oldest of these paths is in the woods, on the east side of the Richardson, headed north. It's a remnant of the original "Valdez Trail." This trail has a sod and dirt undersurface and is overgrown by brush from the sides. Forty years ago, you could still see ruts from wagons, sledges and old cars, but that memory has now disappeared. 

On the west side of the Richardson, paralleling the current highway is a section of the "Old Richardson Highway." Locally this is also known as "the dump road" because there was once a popular dumping ground there, overlooking the Gulkana River. 

Between the two is the current highway. 


ORIGINAL TRAILS 
The first trails through the Copper Valley were Native American. They were hunting, fishing and traveling trails, and wound through the territory all over what is now the state of Alaska. 


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