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Heidi Schoppenhorst, Part 1
Heidi Schoppenhorst

Heidi Schoppenhorst was interviewed on November 16, 2006 by Marie Mictchell at the Boreal Lodge in Wiseman, Alaska that Heidi and her husband, Scott, own. In this first part of a two part interview, Heidi talks talks about her experiences growing up in a remote, wilderness area; her hunting stories with family and friends; her impressions of the community of Wiseman, both past and present; her views regarding the construction of the Haul Road, both positive and negative; her appreciation of the natural resources and the culture in Northern Alaska; her interest in the tourism industry, particularly in providing services for visitors to Wiseman; her work experience in Wiseman and Coldfoot, Alaska as a postmaster, cook, interpreter, and hunting guide assistant. She also discusses the necessity of hunting and gathering the natural resources to offset the high cost of living in Wiseman.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


1) Her father, Rick Reakoff

2) Growing up in Wiseman and getting an education

3) Old-timers who lived in Wiseman

4) Memories of Florence Jonas

5) Preserving the old schoolhouse and cabins in Wiseman

6) Historic property in Wiseman

7) Construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline

8) Making a living by commercial fishing and trapping

9) Guiding as the family business, learning to hunt, and writing about their lifestyle

10) Meeting her husband and moving back to Wiseman

11) Construction of the Haul Road

12) Story about hunting for Dall sheep and encountering a bear

13) Hunting small game, and hunting abilities of Alaska Native people

14) Charlie Breck's old cabin

15) Being a weather observer, and working at the Coldfoot Truck Stop

16) Start of the Coldfoot Truck Stop, and her husband working for the National Park Service

17) Cost of living in Wiseman, and earning enough money

18) Operating Boreal Lodge

19) Winter tourism

20) Generating electricity

21) Development of tourism in Wiseman

22) Changes in tourism, the Haul Road, and services at Wiseman

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


Section 1: Heidi grew up in Wiseman. Her father (Rick Reakoff) was a pilot and hunting guide. The only access into Wiseman then was by airplane. Her father also trained with a guide at Chandalar Lake. Her parents bought a guiding operation (from Red Adney) at Chandalar Lake. The family lived there for several years. Her father was a respected guide. He had exclusive guide areas, the North Fork of the Chandalar River to the east, North Fork of the Koyukuk River to the west (now within Gates of the Arctic National Park), and to the North Slope near the Anaktuvuk and Colville Rivers. Wiseman was centrally located to these areas. Her dad purchased three cabins in Wiseman, and used Wiseman as a base camp. Later, her parents lost the Chandalar Lake lodge. They then moved to Wiseman full time.
birthplace -- Wiseman\ Reakoff, Rick -- father\ pilot\ hunting guide\ respected\ Wiseman -- community\ remote\ Chandalar Lake -- business\ business -- lodge\ guiding\ guiding -- locations\ cabins -- purchase of\ location\ Wiseman -- base camp\ Chandalar Lake lodge -- loss of\ Wiseman -- relocation|

Section 2: Heidi moved to Wiseman when she was three or four. Her family moved to Fairbanks during the winter season for the school year. When her siblings graduated, her parents moved to Wiseman and lived there full-time. At age 10, she was home schooled (5th grade on). This was a shock to Heidi in how quiet it was after being around children for her first five years of school.
Fairbanks -- winter\ schooling\ siblings -- high school graduation\ Wiseman -- relocated\ Schoppenhorst (Reakoff), Heidi -- home schooled\ home school -- experience|

Section 3: The mountain behind Wiseman is named after Florence "Kahalabuk" Jonas, an Eskimo lady. Heidi often visited Jonas. Not many people lived in Wiseman back then. There was Charlie Breck, an orderly, trusting guy; Ross Brockman, a vegetarian who grew a garden and ate soybeans; and miner Harry Leonard, who had 3 dogs and lived across the creek. Ross and Harry would not talk to each other, only to Charlie.
mountain -- location\ Wiseman\ mountain -- name\ name -- Jonas, Florence "Kahalabuk"\ Eskimo\ Wiseman -- population\ small\ neighbors -- description\ Breck, Charlie -- orderly\ trusting\ Brockman, Ross -- vegetarian\ Leonard, Harry -- miner|

Section 4: After Florence passed, Heidi's mom purchased and renovated Florence's cabin into a Chapel. Heidi recalls Florence giving her dry meat, pilot bread, and tea. Florence could not read. Heidi pretended to read and recited stories. Her parents did not want her to eat the dry meat, she later found out why. Florence would hang the meat out to dry on her porch in the summer. Flies were a problem, so Florence would spray it with Raid. Apparently, the chemicals did not affect her. She lived up into her eighties. Florence had seven children. She delivered her babies wherever she was out in the country. Jonas taught Heidi to speak some Iñupiaq.
Jonas, Florence "Kahalabuk" -- cabin\ cabin -- purchase of\ cabin -- Chapel\ Jonas, Florence "Kahalabuk" -- friends with\ dinner\ stories -- telling of\ dry meat -- story of\ dry meat -- not permitted\ reasons\ insect spray -- Raid\ Jonas, Florence "Kahalabuk" -- children\ children -- delivery of\ Eskimo -- language\ teaching of|

Section 5: Heidi's parents purchased the schoolhouse and the teachers' quarters. The structures were run down, and very small for the family. In the late seventies, her father renovated the schoolhouse. The school house had everything in at as if the students were still there. When the pipeline was built near Wiseman, the crew was robbing any vacant place. An old covered wagon was one of the first things to be stolen. The cabins were open, no locks. The residents respected each other's property, so theft had never been a problem until then. Harry Leonard took it upon himself to sell many of the cabins that did not belong to him. The true owners were not present.
schoolhouse -- purchase of\ parents\ teachers quarters -- purchase of\ parents\ school house -- renovation of\ schoolhouse -- story of\ pipeline -- near Wiseman\ property -- theft\ construction crew\ old covered wagon -- theft\ cabins -- no locks\ residents --property\ property -- respect of\ Leonard, Harry -- cabins\ selling of|

Section 6: Wiseman was a town of miners and traders. Miners put up cabins and lived in them. People respected each other's properties. People owned the cabins, but not the land. Heidi remembers hearing that Wiseman would be a historic site, which made residents feel threatened. In the early 1980s, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) surveyed land being used around cabins that people owned, and made the land available for purchase. BLM had to track down all the people who owned the cabins. Susan Will of BLM was instrumental in this project.
Wiseman -- description\ residents -- miners\ traders\ cabins -- miners\ properties -- respected\ cabins -- private\ land -- public\ Wiseman -- historic site\ Bureau of Land Management (BLM) -- surveyors\ land -- purchase\ BLM -- tracking\ cabins -- history\ ownership\ Will, Susan -- BLM|

Section 7: Heidi was five when the pipeline was built. The Wiseman community was not favorable toward the pipeline because "pipeliners" had robbed cabins and taken personal property. Heidi recalls seeing caribou migrating through the valley and it looked like a whole mountain was moving. Since the construction of the Haul Road and pipeline, caribou do not migrate through the valley near Wiseman.
pipeline -- building of\ Schoppenhorst (Reakoff), Heidi -- age of\ Wiseman -- pipeline\ pipeline -- opposed\ "pipeliners" -- thieves\ caribou -- story of\ migration\ numerous\ pipeline -- effects of\ caribou -- effected by|

Section 8: Each summer, her family commercial fished in Bristol Bay for the red salmon run. During winter, not many people lived in Wiseman. Wiseman was dead quiet. There was no satellite dish, only a radio. She became an avid reader, and had few friends. She missed the social aspect of growing up. She hunted and ran a trapline in her early teens, catching marten and lynx.
summer -- commercial fish\ Bristol Bay\ fish -- red salmon\ winter -- Wiseman\ quiet\ technology -- limited\ communications -- 2-way radio\ friendships -- few\ youth -- lonely\ hunted -- trap-line\ marten\ lynx|

Section 9: Her parents were self-employed. Her brother (Jack) did a lot of hunting and obtained a hunter's guide license. Guiding was a family business. Hunting was natural for her. She hunted her first moose at age ten, and a moose, grizzly bear, sheep, and caribou by the time she was sixteen. Her father encouraged her to write an article for "Outdoor Life" magazine. They bought it and published her article, which is how she met her husband, Scott.
parents -- self-employed\ Reakoff, Jack -- brother\ hunter\ guiding -- family business\ moose -- hunted\ first one\ hunt -- moose\ grizzly\ sheep\ caribou\ hunting -- age of\ article -- encouragement of\ article -- Outdoor Life magazine\ article -- publication of\ husband -- meeting of|

Section 10: Her husband read the article in "Outdoor Life" in 1985. Her father placed an ad (for guiding business) in the same magazine where her article was published. Her husband noted the address and wrote to her. He was interested in Alaska and hunting. They became pen pals for years. At 19 years old, she moved to Michigan for a short time. She met her future husband in person, and they got married. She didn't want to move back to Wiseman. Wiseman was too remote, and the winter season was not her favorite season. When her husband saw Wiseman, he liked the remoteness. Soon after, they relocated to Wiseman full-time.
husband -- story of meeting\ interests\ pen pals\ Michigan -- traveled to\ Schoppenhorst (Reakoff), Heidi -- Wiseman\ impression of\ winter -- not favored\ husband -- Wiseman\ remote\ Wiseman -- relocation to|

Section 11: When the Haul Road was being constructed, there was a lot of construction and traffic noise from bulldozers, trucks, equipment, and helicopters. Helicopters continuously flew over Wiseman. Heidi says, "Here you stick yourself out in the middle of nowhere, and suddenly the highway is here." Around 1980, she drove the Haul Road for the first time. There was a checkpoint managed by Alyeska at the Yukon River Bridge. A permit was required to cross the bridge. Drivers had to prove why they wanted to cross the river or head north. Heidi mostly hitchhiked; it was convenient and safer back then. Everyone looked out for each other. Truckers were very helpful. Heidi is now glad the road is here.
Haul Road -- construction\ traffic noise\ bulldozers\ trucks\ equipment\ helicopters\ helicopters -- continuous\ Wiseman -- effected by\ Haul Road -- transportation\ checkpoint -- story of\ truckers -- story of\ helpful|

Section 12: Hunting for Dall sheep and encountering a bear.
hunting\ Reakoff, Jack\ brother\ sheep\ weather -- bad\ hunting -- sheep\ hunting -- hard work\ climbing\ bear -- encounter\ bear -- scared off\ sheep -- running off|

Section 13: Hunting small game, and hunting abilities of Alaska Native people.
hunting\ small game\ snowshoe hares\ squirrels\ ptarmigan\ hunting -- methods\ hunting -- guns\ Alaska Natives -- learning from\ Jonas, Florence\ Nunamiut\ Etalook, Arctic John\ Etalook, Esther\ Riley, Louisa Etalook\ father\ hunting -- solo\ hunting -- sheep\ hunting -- women\ Wiseman -- community\ community -- diversity\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ relatives|

Section 14: Heidi and her husband relocated to Wiseman in 1989. Her parents bought Charlie Breck's cabin, which is where she and her husband stayed. They eventually bought the old telegraph office, which was privately owned. The cabin structure needed work, and a creek ran through the cabin every spring. Heidi learned that it was one of the first cabins (built around 1905). The original family did farming in the area -- had horses and grew rye. Heidi is not sure what year the US Army Corps of Engineers acquired the place for a telegraph office, but notes that the cabin was also a weather station. Heidi heard that the official second report about the bombing of Pearl Harbor came through that telegraph office. Wiseman used to have wires stretched around town to the telegraph station.
Wiseman -- relocation\ Breck, Charlie -- cabin\ purchase of\ telegraph office -- purchase of\ cabin\ renovation of\ creek -- story of\ cabin -- age of\ history of\ telegraph office\ telegraph office -- stories of\ Pearl Harbor -- announcement of|

Section 15: Heidi contacted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to ask about volunteering for weather readings. NOAA accepted her offer. At the time, she did not know her cabin had been used as a weather station; she thought what a strange coincidence. When her family moved to Wiseman, there was a very low population. Miners and pipeline workers owned some cabins. The previous owner of her place was a pipeline worker. Wiseman is primarily a mining area, with more miners in the summer. She and her husband are not miners. It is very hard to find work and make a living in this area of the Arctic. She and her husband have decided to stay despite this. She started working at Coldfoot Truck Stop (1992), cleaning rooms, running the post office, working in the kitchen, and managing the store.
cabin -- weather station\ Wiseman -- low population\ miners\ pipeline crew\ Wiseman -- description \ mining area\ work -- limited\ Coldfoot Truck Stop -- employment with\ jobs -- type of\ cleaning\ post office\ kitchen\ management|

Section 16: There were no services in Coldfoot until 1980. There were the remains of the old pipeline camp and a few cabins from the gold rush days. One fellow owned a bus and a tent, and he was granted a State lease to sell burgers at Coldfoot. He partnered with Dick Mackey. They started the first hamburger stand out of the bus at Coldfoot. Her sister (Missy) worked for him making burgers. Even though the Haul Road was closed to the public, Princess Tours had access to the road. Princess Tours purchased the ATCO units used during road construction. These ATCO units were made into hotel units. Before the Coldfoot Truck Stop, there were no services between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay. By the time she worked at Coldfoot, there was a café and ATCO unit rooms. She worked the post office in Coldfoot for four years, and did odd jobs at Coldfoot Truck Stop. Her husband worked in construction and welding and was employed with the National Park Service (NPS). He helped build the Marion Creek Ranger Station, and now maintains it. Both she and her husband work during the summer months. During the winter, her husband runs an extensive trapline, while she skins the furs. They sold furs to taxidermists, tourists, and fur buyers. She used to make fur hats, gloves, and jewelry for income before securing local work at Coldfoot.
Coldfoot -- no services\ cabins -- gold rush days\ Coldfoot -- services\ services -- starting of\ bus\ tent\ lease -- services\ hamburger stand-- Coldfoot\ Reakoff, Missy -- story of\ Haul Road -- limited access\ Princess Tours -- access\ Coldfoot Truck Stop -- employment\ jobs -- diverse\ varied\ husband -- construction\ National Park Service (NPS) -- employed with\ Marion Creek Ranger Station -- construction of\ summer -- employment\ winter -- trap-lines\ skins -- income|

Section 17: Wiseman is an expensive area to live. The biggest cost is fuel for running diesel generators that provide electricity. Heidi earns a living wherever possible because she enjoys the lifestyle. There is no grocery store. Hunting and gathering food is a necessity. Her family hunts moose, sheep, and caribou and picks berries to help stock the pantry. She sells her crafts made from harvested animals (furs, horns) for income. She used to rely on her crafts for income before her job with the Coldfoot Visitor Center.
Wiseman -- expensive\ fuel -- cost of \diesel generators -- electricity\ grocery store -- none\ hunting -- subsistence\ family -- hunting\ hunting -- moose\ sheep\ caribou\ crafts -- homemade\ income\ animals -- harvested\ income\ Coldfoot Visitor Center -- employment with|

Section 18: Heidi and her husband opened a lodge to serve people traveling on the Haul Road. In the early 1990s, only tour buses were permitted to travel the Haul Road. The Haul Road was opened to the public in 1995. Tourists wanted to see the country, not just the road. Coldfoot lodging prices are too high. Her husband renovated a lodge, built three cabins, and a store. In 1998, they started their lodge. Her husband wanted something nice and reasonable for guests. They opened the lodge in 1999. They always had running water, which is hard to find in the Arctic. The US Army Corps of Engineers had installed a well when their place was the telegraph office. They keep busy with the lodge and cabin rental during summer months.
lodge -- opening of\ Boreal Lodge\ reasons for\ Haul Road -- access\ limited\ tour buses -- permits\ Haul Road -- public access\ public access -- year\ tourists -- expectations\ Coldfoot -- lodging\ expensive\ Boreal Lodge -- description of\ well\ lodge\ cabins\ business -- busy|

Section 19: Her lodge opens from May to September. She started to receive winter business due to the northern lights. The rental cabin has skylights for guests to view the northern lights. There is a four-day minimum stay in winter, because it takes a week to warm the cabin enough for the water system to work. The lodge burns a lot of fuel in the winter, which is why it is not feasible to rent a room for only one night. The crew who built the new Arctic Interagency Visitor Center at Coldfoot stayed at the lodge for almost a full year.
Haul Road -- tourism\ Boreal Lodge -- seasonal\ winter -- northern lights\ business -- winter\ reasons for\ lodging -- winter\ requirements\ heating of\ fuel -- expensive|

Section 20: Her parents had owned a generator since the late 1970's. When her parents agreed to manage a phone line in Wiseman, they had to power the line 24 hours a day. Their generators were running all day. Scott and Heidi own two generators. With fuel prices increasing, they are spending half of their income on fuel. They purchased a battery bank for an alternate source of power, and to save on fuel. They also purchased a windmill on an 80-foot tower to generate additional power (this helps recharge the batteries). Within two years, they are hoping the upgrades will pay for themselves and offset the cost of the fuel. Alternative energy is becoming a necessity in Wiseman with rising fuel costs. This new system is feasible because of her husband's knowledge about installation and maintenance. She could not afford the upgrades if they had to hire to build or hire for repairs. "One has be industrious to survive in this area."
generator -- power\ operation\ daily\ generator -- number of\ reasons for\ power -- alternative sources\ power -- types of\ battery bank\ windmill\ necessity|

Section 21: At first visitors were hesitant to see a strange little town in the middle of nowhere, and to see all these old cabins. Now Wiseman is starting to become a destination. Heidi has worked with the National Park Service (NPS) since the late 1990's. She has worked with visitors for a decade now. Primary destination for most visitors is to visit Prudhoe Bay or the Arctic Circle, then Brooks Range or other public lands. Coldfoot now has a new visitor center, which encourages people to stop. Wiseman is getting known as the one historic mining community in the Dalton Highway corridor north of the Yukon River. Wiseman is still authentic. More advertisement would increase tourism to Wiseman. Heidi noted several film crews stayed in Wiseman. People are now becoming aware of the area, the beautiful scenery, national parks, wilderness, hiking, and remoteness. Wiseman is a subsistence community, so it fits the perception of the area.
tourists -- skeptical\ Wiseman -- reactions to\ Wiseman -- tourism\ destination\ tourism -- increase in\ National Park Service (NPS) -- employment\ Haul Road -- destinations\ Prudhoe Bay\ Arctic Circle\ Brooks Range\ public lands\ Coldfoot -- visitor center\ Wiseman -- historic mining community\ unique\ Wiseman -- advertisement of\ Haul Road -- awareness of\ tourism\ impressions of\ Wiseman -- subsistence community\ expectations|

Section 22: Tourists make highway comparisons. Tourists come in and say the Dalton Highway was great, though they had all these warnings. Dalton Highway is compared to the Dempster Highway in Canada, which is worse. Some people complain about the road, depends on the traveler. In general, people are surprised at how good the Dalton Highway actually is. There is a rumor about paving the road north of Coldfoot. In the 1980's and early 1990's, the Haul Road was treacherous, now it is better. Tourists drive rather than fly. Scott and Heidi are planning to build a coffee-gift-shop at their lodge. The Wiseman community is positive about tourism. Wiseman started as a trading and mining community, making it a service community. Wiseman had a roadhouse, a trading company, and cabins. The services are not much different now, except the Wiseman community is serving the tourists and not so much the gold miners.
highway -- comparisons\ Dalton Highway -- impressions of\ Dempster Highway -- worn\ Haul Road -- changes in\ improvements\ tourists -- transportation\ automobile\ Boreal Lodge -- additions to\ coffee-gift-shop\ Wiseman -- community\ supportive\ Wiseman -- history\ trading post\ mining community\ service community\ Wiseman -- infrastructure\ roadhouse\ trading company\ cabins\ Wiseman -- changes in\ tourism|