Blazing Trails for Winter Adventures in Alaska

Winter visitors enjoy the northern lights in Wiseman, a town near Coldfoot, Alaska. Photo: Jack Reakoff

Blazing trails is something Alaskans and visitors to Alaska know a lot about. Traversing far and wide through wilderness, skiing, mushing or hiking in the quiet and solitude of nature. Getting the feeling like you are the first one to explored an area!! The expression “blazing trails” was first used in the late 18th century to mean marking a forest trail by making blazes, or notches, in bark. Today, the term refers to breaking new ground or doing something with a pioneering spirit. It’s that pioneering spirit that is both fed by and helps protect Alaska’s unique wilderness and places like the Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge.

Blazing trails isn’t just about being out in the wilderness. It’s about finding creative ways to connect people to the wonderful wild places of Kanuti Refuge. In the past few years, the staff, along with partners, blazed a special trail — providing winter-time visitor services in remote Coldfoot, Alaska.

Coldfoot Field Station covered in snow. Photo by USFWS

Winter visitation was sharply increasing in the Brooks Range which is an area near the Coldfoot Field Station. What a great opportunity to provide services such as information and interpretation about the nearby public lands (Kanuti, Yukon Flats and Arctic National Wildlife Refuges, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Dalton Highway Corridor).

We identified and carved out an underused area in the Kanuti Coldfood Field Office, no bigger than a tiny Alaskan dry cabin (think of an episode of Tiny House Hunters), and transformed it into a vibrant one-stop spot that provides winter visitor services. Though the center is small, the vision behind it isn’t. Kanuti staff, partners and volunteers created the new center almost exclusively by recycling resources, using them in fresh ways to provide most of the visitor services any new visitor center would, but without the cost! Now in the second winter of being open to the public, the little center continues to see increasing visitation, and a growing need for additional public services.

Winter adventurers express their appreciation for the winter visitor center in Coldfoot, Alaska. Photo by USFWS

The winter visitor center has closed as springtime takes hold and staff prepare to open the nearby Arctic Interagency Visitor Center, which is open from late May to early September. Before opening again next winter, improvements will be made that will increase heating and electrical efficiency and provide visitors with a little more room. Until then, Kanuti Refuge staff will keep “blazing trails” for the conservation of this special Refuge. Looking forward to seeing visitors next year at the winter visitor center and helping them blaze trails of their own.

Kristen Reakoff, Interpretive Park Ranger at Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

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