Local History: The 1995 Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race -- So Close, Yet So Very Far Away

Twenty Years Ago In The Copper River Valley...

Alaska dog mushers (including Charlie Boulding) at a CB300 lodge in the Copper Valley.
The "Roadhouse Race" -- Mushers Assembled In The Brown Bear Roadhouse During An Early Race. Photos are not necessarily from 1995.  (c) 1986-2014 Copper River Country Journal

Local Musher Fred E. Heinz at Waters Edge.
A Young Martin Buser Checks In.
The Copper Basin 300 that was held in 1995 was just another typical and exciting dog race. It was sponsored primarily by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, which helped with the logistics. It was developed at a lodge in Lake Louise, as a "roadhouse race," hopping cross-country from one roadhouse to another, reminiscent of the old trails that traveled the same region in the early 20th century. The entire community got involved in this event, as it was so unusual back then to be able to get out and about in the dark of midwinter. The race gave everyone an excuse to socialize, drive around, and have actual, meaningful "work" that allowed them to use the brand new technology of the newer snow machines that had just been brought out on the market. As you look at this series of pages, you'll see familiar businesses, and some businesses that are no longer in existence in the Copper Valley. Several businesses have changed their names since then.

A Copper Basin 300 Musher Checks In With A Volunteer At Gakona Lodge Checkpoint. 
The 1995 race, held 20 years ago, was a "Roadhouse Race" with a purse of $35,000.  By the time the 1995 race was held, Summit Lake Lodge, a checkpoint at the northern end of the Richardson Highway, had already burned down -- in 1993, on November 3rd, at 3 am. Sourdough Lodge, a totally authentic and historic checkpoint that actually dated back into the Gold Rush, had burned down the year before, in 1992. This left only 6 of the original Copper Basin 300 participating lodges left, of the 8 lodges on the original trail. Chistochina Lodge, another historic roadhouse, was still there in 1995. But it, too, burned to the ground -- in November, 1999, taking another major checkpoint off the list of Copper Basin 300 stops. 

The 1995 race began at Meiers Lake. At that time, the race moved its starting point every year, and also sometimes alternated directions of the race, "changing it up"  -- so nobody could "practice" winning strategies.  
Since the Copper Basin 300 passed through so many small communities, and the trail went over so many people's driveways, "spectator etiquette" was a big deal. Many families along the route had children and dogs, and the race brought out large crowds of both incoming visitors and locals...
Volunteers came from all over Alaska, and from the local region, to work on the 1995 race. There were checkers, judges, a race marshal, an honorary race marshal (from Alyeska Pipeline -- the race's primary sponsor), local and state veterinarians, fund raisers, contact people, road crossing monitors,  EMS volunteers and people to help handle dogs, pick up banners, and do work at the individual lodges, checkers, timers, chute guards, shuttle bus operators, stake pickup personnel, Glennallen crossing guards, and the 1995 race manager, Bob Sunder of Copper Center. 

There's concern this year -- for the 2015 race -- that there will be open water out on the trail. That was an expectation 20 years ago, too. 

The run between Gakona Lodge and Brown Bear Roadhouse was one of the most visible to the driving public, because the trail ran alongside both the Glenn and Richardson Highways, and through Glennallen. "Dog care" was a major theme of the entire race. The Copper Basin 300 had some of the most stringent dog care rules in the entire state, and did much to lead Alaska's dog mushing into a "kinder, gentler" sport. The mushers who came to the CB300 were the leaders in dog care in Alaska, and were vocal about promoting the race for this reason.
Festivities surrounding the 1995 Copper Basin 300 took over three days, and involved a broad range of communities, all over the Copper River Valley. The original roadhouses involved: Meiers Lake, Sourdough Roadhouse, Lake Louise Lodge, Tolsona Lake Resort, Brown Bear Roadhouse, Gakona Lodge, Chistochina Roadhouse, and Summit Lake Lodge, all had their individual responsibilities. Community members who lived near the various roadhouses worked with overall volunteer and logistics coordinators to plan and implement the race. And, each roadhouse benefited from the unexpected midwinter level of activity and commerce that went with the race. As the roadhouses burned down, one by one, checkpoints changed. By 1995 (see below) there had already been several changes. Although there was no Sourdough Lodge, there was still a Sourdough Checkpoint. 

KCAM Radio was instrumental in keeping people up to date on what was happening during the race. You could also call some -- but not all -- of the checkpoint lodges. If you look at page 5 of this series, you'll see that there was some brand new technology in use during the CB300 20 winters ago -- the cellular phone. These were nothing like modern cell phones. They were what were called "bag phones" -- large, cumbersome phones. In bags. Five race officials got to use them for the 1995 race. 

(c) 1986-2014 Copper River Country Journal

Check Out The 2015 Race!  Go to...

 Copper Basin 300 Website    Copper Basin 300 Facebook

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Santa Came To Visit The Copper Valley On December 13th

With Only 12 Days Left Before Christmas,

Santa Took A Quick Vacation Trip To Glennallen! 

Santa came to the Copper Valley Visitor Center this year.

Children from around the Copper River Valley came to see Santa Claus, at the Greater Copper Valley Visitor Center, in Glennallen. Also present were staff members from Copper River Native Association, who handed out toothbrushes!

The Copper Valley Chamber is increasing the number of events for families and children. Santa's visit is the second major family event at the Chamber in two months -- at Halloween, there was a Halloween Open House.

Here's a final list of everyone who gave to the program, or helped out:

Donations By:
1. IGA - Cookies
2. Casa de la Arte – Hot Cocoa/Coffee Pot
3. Youth Development Program – Cups
4. BP – Notebooks 
5. Quit Line – Candy Canes/ Misc. Items
6. Wells Fargo- Marshmallows/Stir Sticks
7. Wrangell Mountain Dental Clinic- Dental Care Items
7. Cathy Ulrich-Craft Supplies
Sheila Hurst
Nell Ulrich
William Tudor
Chantae Ulrich
Gene Tarver
Cathy Ulrich

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Copper River Valley: Christmas Bird Count On December 20th

                      Pine Grosbeaks in Kenny Lake. (Photo, Neil Hannan)

Check Out Local Birds For The Christmas Bird Count On Saturday, December 20th, & Call In Your Results.

There Will Be Counts in Kenny Lake, Copper Center & Gakona

Birder Althea Hughes, of Gakona, explained the count. The way it works is that there's a central point, and then a 15 mile circle around that central point. It's part of the National Audubon Society's 115th Annual National Christmas Bird Count effort. (So this goes way back -- to 1900!)

Kenny Lake's count is December 20th. Ruth McHenry is in charge of that count.
The Copper Center/Wrangell-St. Elias Park is being coordinated for Meg Jenson.
Gakona's count is being coordinated by Althea Hughes, also on December 20th.

People with feeders are asked to count. Others who are more adventurous go "out in the field," looking for birds. The most common birds here are pine grosbeaks, blackcap and boreal chickadees, gray jays, magpies, redpolls (which are kind of scanty this winter), junkos, hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers (again, these are scarce this year), boreal owls, ravens, great gray owls, great horned owls, spruce grouse, snowy owls, northern shrike, and occasional bald eagles...

To see how counts go...
The Gakona count has been done for 10 years. This is the 11th count. Gakona has seen 27 total species in midwinter in their counts. (That includes statistics from all 10 counts.) However, the smallest year for a species count was last year, with only 9 species. The most they've had in any one year is 2008, with 18 species seen in Gakona at Christmas. But, they don't always see the same species.

So there is the potential for seeing over 2 dozen species. In numbers of birds (in Gakona), the smallest numbers of birds that have been seen is 295 birds. The most seen in one year was 674 birds in Gakona. 

There's also a migratory bird count in May. 

Junkos Are Around Both Summer And Winter... (Photo, Kevin Hamel)

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Looking Back At Previous Christmas Events...

Small Schools That Are No Longer In Existence Fed Into A Larger Glennallen Junior & Senior High School 

Gakona School children from the Gakona/Gulkana area at a Christmas Pageant.
Until relatively recently, children in Chistochina, Gakona/Gulkana and Copper Center attended elementary school within their home communities.

Christmas Pageants were a popular event at these small feeder schools. Students spent their early years in their home regions, and eventually into Glennallen, in  Jr. and Sr. High School. This is a Gakona School Christmas Pageant.

(c) 1986-2014 Copper River Country Journal

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Copper Basin Sled Dog Race Scheduled To Start On January 10th, 2015 In Glennallen

Racers To Head Out The Chute At The KCAM Building In Glennallen 

Mary Helwig, starting musher for the 2015 Copper Basin 300. (Photo, CB300 Facebook) 

Check Out The 2015 Race

Go to...

 Copper Basin 300 Website

 Copper Basin 300 Facebook

Want To See What The CB300 

Looked Like 20 Years Ago?

Go to...

Trail Map For This Year's Copper Basin 300. To see the race map from 20 years ago, go to the "History" section of this blog, and check out the 1995 race. 

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December Christmas Dinner At "Old Town Copper Center" Was A Huge Success

Following A Century-Old Local Tradition

People From All Over The Copper Valley Celebrated An Early, Festive Christmas At Copper Center!

Jim Odden on guitar, Mary Odden on fiddle, and Nigel Young on accordion. 
The familiar, historic Copper River Valley legacy of "Christmas At The Nearest Roadhouse" was replayed December 4th when Copper Valley Chamber members came together in an annex of the old Copper Center Lodge. Though the historic lodge itself burned down, several years ago -- as many lodges have, in the Copper Valley -- Kim and Tom Huddleston have pulled together their existing complex of buildings, and proceeded on -- as "Old Town Copper Center."

The Club 96 annex, a gorgeous -- equally historic -- log building next to the Copper Center Museum, was decorated with lights, packages, and even a Christmas tree, for the December 4th meeting.

Both District 6 Representative Dave Talerico, of Healy, and District 9 Representative Jim Colver, of the Mat Valley, were invited to speak. Colver was unable to attend, due to a death in the family.

People brought food donations for the Food Bank, and were delighted by the festive holiday decorations and the delicious meal. Tom and Kim Huddleston and their staff outdid themselves, making it an exceptional location to meet. 

Live Americana music was provided by Jim and Mary Odden and Nigel Young.

Local people expressed their interest and concerns about a wide variety of topics with Talerico, the new legislator. These includes electrical rates and local roads.

Dave Dengel, head of Copper Valley Telecom, came up from Valdez and also spoke about the recent award given to the telecommunications company, and his trip to the White House.

"Old Town" Copper Center hosted the December 4th Chamber Dinner. This is Representative Talerico. 

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"Copper River Watershed" To Hold Meeting December 3rd At 9 am In Tazlina

Sign at Mendeltna Creek Rest Area Showing The Copper River Watershed. Valdez Is Actually Not In The Watershed.

Meeting Held From 9 am to Noon at Copper Valley Economic Development Council On December 3rd

Copper River Watershed Logo

The Cordova-based organization will be holding a 3-hour meeting on Wednesday, December 3rd in Tazlina at the Copper Valley Economic Development Council.  The topic of the Tazlina Watershed meeting will center around a small cultural grant project, involving the Copper River Valley. The public is welcome to attend the Tazlina meeting. The meeting will be held from 9 am to noon.

The Copper River Watershed Project  is coordinated in Cordova, which is west of the mouth of the Copper River. The Copper River originates in the Copper River Valley, and flows around the Wrangell Mountains, down to the ocean.  Valdez and Cordova are considered Prince William Sound Communities.

Board of Fisheries Meeting December 3rd-8th In Cordova

At the same time,  a Board of Fish Meeting will be held in Cordova -- which will start on the same day, December 3rd at 8 am -- and run to December 8th, at 4:30 pm.

Topics of the Alaska Board of Fish Meeting, also starting on December 3rd, revolve around fishery decisions for the 300 mile long Copper River. according to the Watershed website:

Twenty-five proposals for changes in management of Copper River fisheries will be considered by the Alaska Board of Fish this December. Proposals address king salmon management, personal use dip net salmon fishery management, a request by the Ahtna Corporation to re-establish a 24-hour station for checking fish permits and harvested fish, and increasing the grayling limit on the Gulkana River.  

The Board of Fisheries' main role is to conserve and develop the fishery resources of the state.  This involves setting seasons, bag limits, methods, and means for the state's subsistence, commercial, sport, guided sport, and personal use fisheries.  The board is charged with making allocative decisions, and the department manages the fisheries based on those decisions.  

If you need to know more, call the Cordova Watershed Project office at 424-3334 or the Development Association office at 822-5001. Or, you can go their website:

Much of The Region's "Ahtna Country" Is "Watershed Country"

This is a Copper River Watershed map from the Watershed website. The historic Ahtna settlement Batzelnetus, near Mentasta, marks the "headwaters" of the watershed.  This map shows that almost all of what local people consider to be "the Copper River Valley" lies within the watershed -- except for Nabesna, Lake Louise, and the eastern end of the Denali Highway. The only coastal community shown to be part of the Copper River Watershed is a place called Katalla -- which is now just an abandoned ghost town.  Katalla was once an industrial-based boom town, back in the first decade of the 1900's, when oil was discovered there. Other well known places along the coast -- Valdez, Tatitlek, Cordova, Eyak and even Cape Yakataga -- are all outside the boundaries of "The Copper River Watershed."

"Copper River Country" -- Where Are We?  To see the Copper Valley's unofficial boundaries, go to the story about the new welcome signs to the region...

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Christmas Season Chamber Meeting Agenda: December 4th At Copper Center

Chamber To Celebrate Christmas, Meet Two Legislators, At Old Town Copper Center (Lodge) December 4th Dinner Meeting

The Copper Center Museum at Old Town Copper Center.

December 4th Agenda, Greater Copper Valley Chamber of Commerce

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