Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Iditarod National Historic Trail Project Background

The Iditarod National Historic Trail recognizes a 2,400-mile system of winter routes that first connected ancient Native villages and later opened Alaska to the last great American gold rush. The Seward to Nome Trail was first scouted in 1908 by an Alaska Road Commission crew on dog teams led by Superintendent W.L. Goodwin. By 1912, thousands of prospectors, mail carriers, and freight shippers were mushing, snowshoeing or skiing the trail to get to the gold fields at Iditarod and Flat, Alaska. The trail fell into disuse after the end of the gold rush in 1918 and as air service replaced dog transportation in the 1930s. In 1925, parts of the historic trail were used by dog mushers rushing to deliver serum from Nenana to Nome to address a deadly outbreak of diphtheria. Today, most people are familiar with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which began in 1972 and follows parts of the historic Iditarod Trail route. The race brought renewed interest in the role of dogs in Alaska history and the importance of the Iditarod Trail as an early transportation route from tidewater to the interior. After years of advocacy by many Alaskans, including Joe Redington, Sr. who was one of the founders of the dog sled race, the Iditarod was designated as a National Historic Trail in 1978. Most of the historic Iditarod Trail is located on public lands managed by the State of Alaska or federal agencies (although some segments pass over private lands). The Bureau of Land Management coordinates cooperative management of the trail and the statewide non-profit Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance helps protect and improve the trail.

The Iditarod National Historic Trail Project Jukebox was commissioned by the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance in 2021 to document the history of the trail's national trail designation and the formative years of the Trail Alliance and its predecessor the Iditarod Tail Advisory Council. The Advisory Council was established in 1981 by mandate of the National Historic Trails Act to advise the BLM on development and implementation of the trail comprehensive management plan, advocate for trail protections and proper use, and expand public understanding of the trail. The Advisory Council sun-setted, and the Trail Alliance was formed in 1999 to continue the collaboration with BLM and promote trail stewardship. Through a public-private partnership model, the Alliance has been able to do projects on the trail and create educational content and opportunities to promote this important part of Alaska's past.