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Leo Rasmussen
Leo Rasmussen

Leo Rasmussen was interviewed on October 12, 2021 by Karen Brewster at his home in Fairbanks, Alaska. His wife, Erna, was also present during the interview and chimed in periodically to help Leo remember a detail. In this interview, Leo talks about the efforts to get the Iditarod Trail designated as a national historic trail, serving on the Advisory Council for the Iditarod National Historic Trail and on the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance, attending national trail conferences, and working with BLM on the trail’s designation and management. As a resident of Nome, and having served on the City Council and as mayor, Leo was very involved with the establishment of and continued running of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. He talks a lot about the race and how it helped revive the use of the trail and so get it protected as historic.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2021-04-01

Project: Iditarod National Historic Trail
Date of Interview: Oct 12, 2021
Narrator(s): Leo Rasmussen
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Ruth Sensenig
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Coming to Alaska, meeting Dorothy Page, and learning about the history of the Iditarod Trail as a freight route

Settling in Nome

Childhood in Michigan

Working on the North Slope of Alaska in the early 1960s

First Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1973, and it bringing attention to the trail's historic importance

Historic trail route versus sled dog race route

How the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race came into being

Getting involved with the Iditarod National Historic Trail Advisory Council, the National Trails Act and it being amended to include historic trails

The organization and functioning of the early advisory council

Historic trail comprehensive plan, and joining together different trail routes into a single trail

Advisory council coordinating with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and getting a full-time staff person assigned to the trail project

Serving as president, transition to the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance, attending National Scenic and Historic Trail Conference, and advocating for more local control of trails and creation of a national coalition of trail groups

Funding the trail management and oversight work

Trail advocacy in Washington, D.C., and obtaining funding for BLM trail manager position

Obtaining trail access on non-federal land and right-of-way easements, and selecting historic trail route

Other ways of using the Iditarod Trail besides dog mushing, and development pressures on the trail

Trail maintenance by volunteers, local Trailblazer groups, and creating large tripod trailmarkers out of Nome

BLM's role as land manager, and people who were involved in the early days of the trail designation and advisory council

Why he was so involved in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the importance of preserving history, and some historic uses of the trail

System of trail oversight, management, and advocacy, and trying to get the public involved in trail protection

Seward to Knik part of the trail, trail signs, and Trail Alliance's logo

Incorporating history into the dog race by having mushers carry official mail

History of KUAC public radio station in Fairbanks as a student-run organization

Health and safety of sled dogs

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KAREN BREWSTER: This is Karen Brewster, and today is October 12, 2021, and I’m here with Leo Rasmussen at his home in Fairbanks, Alaska. He -- we are also joined by his wife, Erna, who may chime in a little bit. LEO RASMUSSEN: I hope she does. KAREN BREWSTER: So I want to at least introduce her, in case we hear her voice.

Um, and this is for the Iditarod National Historical Trail Project Jukebox project for the National Historic Trail Alliance (correct name of the organization is the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance). LEO RASMUSSEN: Correct. KAREN BREWSTER: Am I saying the organization correctly? So thank you, Leo, for agreeing to let me come visit you today. LEO RASMUSSEN: It’s a pleasure, my dear.

KAREN BREWSTER: And um, I know you’ve been interviewed -- LEO RASMUSSEN: I work best to questions. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. Well, I have a whole pile of them. Whether we get to them all or not doesn’t matter.

Um, but just -- I always start these interviews just with a little bit of introduction about who you are. And um, I know you’ve been in Alaska a long time and you’ve done a lot of things, so when did you come to Alaska, from where, and why?

LEO RASMUSSEN: Uh, came to Alaska to continue my college education at the University of Alaska in the fall of 1962. So this is my 59th year in Alaska, and I have no intention on departing by any means.

Been so fortunate to have been here at a time that we could do something stupid and crazy like this eight-letter word called Iditarod.

And uh, I’ll respond to your questions in regard -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- to that, because so many other things are interwoven as a part of what took place with Iditarod.

I first met Dorothy Page in 1964. They were holding a -- and I’m trying to remember what it was, a woman’s -- ERNA RASMUSSEN: Beta Sigma Phi. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, Beta Sigma Phi in Nome.

And one evening at John Slagle’s house, another elder of Alaska’s history, and it was going on 'til -- it went on 'til two or three o’clock in the morning. Typical Alaska back then.

Dorothy Page showed up, who later became known as the mother of the Iditarod. She probably had more to do with introducing and moving forward Iditarod based on its history than any other single person alive. Dog mushers. Total.

And she was the spark plug that brought it together and made it grow out of this process, because mail was hauled on a trail back then, and it took dogs to move freight and people up and down the trail. There weren’t any airplanes flying back then. There weren’t any boats in the middle of winter that would go anywhere.

There was very few machines that could be trusted to travel more than maybe, 40, 50 miles, period, on flat land, not going up the hills and through the passes and crossing flowing rivers and the stuff that takes place all winter long.

And she conceived that there was something extremely valuable about the history of moving freight and gold and people up and down the trail as it expanded.

Most people think dogs were the only thing that ever moved on the trail, but they used several different kinds of animals to move the freight on the trail. The least of which was reindeer. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: And they actually trained the reindeer to haul or pull sleds on trail.

I’ve never seen any reports of how successful it was, but they used it for a couple years. And there was actually a mail contract let to one of the people who had the reindeer that they had trained to pull sleds on the trail.

So it’s -- it’s a real unusual mix. Testament to -- testifying of how you might try to do something, how it existed.

Let alone the fact they tried to put in a communications link clear back in the 1860’s between the United States and Russia. And they actually went all the way across there, putting telephone poles in. Of course, by the time next year came around, the telephone poles had been squeezed back out of the ground. But that -- that was all part of Alaska’s history of trying to move into the future with communication.

KAREN BREWSTER: So how did you end up in Nome?

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, I usually tell people I got on an airplane. I, uh -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, you didn’t dog mush there? LEO RASMUSSEN: No.

Dog mushing became a part of my life more than sleds and dogs. I was sort of an organizer and a person who created things that made the Iditarod survive to today. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

LEO RASMUSSEN: I got on a plane the first summer after finishing my first year here at the university. The only job that came about was with the Department of Fish and Game, and I worked out of the Nome Fish and Game office.

Half of the win -- half of the summer in Golovin with the fishery down there, and the other half of the summer in Kotzebue with a fishery.

And that was sort of my opening to living in Bush Alaska, which I’ve done for -- I’m pushing sixty years. Pushing hard.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So did you get your degree from the university? LEO RASMUSSEN: I got a degree of hard knocks, my young lady.

I knew enough, I guess, after a year and a half at the university here, that the education is out there in the world. You can sit there and read all the books and study everything you want to. That doesn’t make you functionable on the other side of the line.

And I gave up at three and a half years of college, not here, but various other places. Business college, a university and a college in Michigan.

And I began to experience Alaska. And that -- that first summer. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Going those three different places, moving from Golovin all the way to Kotzebue on a ship.

The ship -- and I’m trying to remember its name now. They called the ship the "Bering Sea." But, you know, how many ships -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- have been named the "Bering Sea" that are in the Bering Sea.

And it was 110 feet long. It was a fish processing ship. Second world war vessel. If it’d ever run into an iceberg, it would’ve sunk on sight, because they -- second world war, they built those ships to last for two sailings. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: Period.

KAREN BREWSTER: And where were you born? LEO RASMUSSEN: In Michigan. KAREN BREWSTER: In Michigan? So you came to Alaska from Michigan. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yes.

My father was a general practice doctor back when general practice did everything except refer you to some other doctor. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Hm.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And I -- I grew up with that background. He worked as a county coroner and, uh, went there with the intent of changing the context of just being who could win an election to become the coroner to being a person who was qualified and had a medical background to become a medical examiner.

And he made that change by participating in the election. And eventually, he got more votes than any other political person in the county, and they changed it to medical examiner.

So experiences throughout life. You’ve been through 'em. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: My god, how many things have you been through, one way or another, at least heard the recordings of. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: That it’s what you do out there that makes the difference, not what you consume in the process.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you moved to Nome in 1964, then, or something? LEO RASMUSSEN: I, well, I’ve -- because of my summer in ’63, I consider it, that was my awakening. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

LEO RASMUSSEN: But there's a few other things that took place in between. Summer -- or the spring of ’64, I worked in the North Slope. You know what was there in the North Slope in 1964? KAREN BREWSTER: Nothing. LEO RASMUSSEN: Robin-Nodwells. KAREN BREWSTER: Ah, right. LEO RASMUSSEN: That was it. Everything was little camps of Robin-Nodwells.

I don’t know if you’ve seen one or not. They were probably the best vehicle at that juncture for working in the Arctic.

KAREN BREWSTER: I’ve seen more recent Nodwells. I don’t know that I’ve seen those early ones. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, I’m not sure I’ve seen a recent Nodwell. I’m in no rush to see another Nodwell. KAREN BREWSTER: No. But I know the concept, the big tires. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. Yeah, and the big tracks so you didn’t sink.

We were drilling 200-, 300-foot holes, dropping carbo -- Nitro-Carbo-Nitrate down there, setting it off, and then recording the reflected sounds coming back up.

And, you know, here I am, 20-some years old, young kid. I’m sitting on top of one mile south of the Prudhoe Bay well site. I can say that today. I didn’t know it then. KAREN BREWSTER: You didn’t know it then. No.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And you could see -- we had access to this highly paid, private information. And you could look at the bells as it went through the patches of oil. It’d be fractured all the way down. All these different little recording microphones that are out the side would be fractured, just jagged. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And then all of a sudden, it’d smoothly bell out, all these little microphones doing the same thing. And then it’d jagged again, and then it’d bell out again. Oil, oil, oil, gas.


LEO RASMUSSEN: And, you know, I can say, you know, had I been a little better off, and had I had a hundred thousand dollars in my pocket, I could’ve owned that well site.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hindsight is 20/20. LEO RASMUSSEN: It went for ten thousand dollars, dear. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow, that’s cheap. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

Um, so since we’re talking about the historic trail, the Iditarod Historic Trail, why don’t we talk about how you got involved in that effort to get the Iditarod Trail recognized as a historic trail.

LEO RASMUSSEN: There -- there’s a process, and Judy can tell you the times and so forth -- KAREN BREWSTER: No, no, but how you got involved and decided that you -- LEO RASMUSSEN: I got --

I wasn’t selected for the original committee people to put the big book together. KAREN BREWSTER: Right, the comprehensive plan. LEO RASMUSSEN: We’ve got one out there, that big book.

ERNA RASMUSSEN: Well, you -- Howard (Farley) got the letter from Joe (Redington), and he brought it to you. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah, and that -- but we’re talking about the historic trail part of it.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, yeah, but -- but the hist -- you said earlier before we were recording that the sled dog race, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, um, was a factor in getting the trail designated. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, absolutely. No question about it. KAREN BREWSTER: So tell me about that.

LEO RASMUSSEN: It was in ’73. And you would’ve had to have gone through that race to understand how close we came to killing long-distance dead mushing -- dog mushing forever. Forever. And I’m not kidding you.

When those -- and I can’t remember how many started now, but when all of them went out, they had no previous knowledge of what they were getting into, other than they were going to mush to Nome. And they all had different ideas.

Erna and I were there for the second start of the Iditarod, and we saw things happening then that must have been, the first one, that were just as horrible. And I can say that today. I wouldn’t have said it, five, ten, fifteen years ago, for fear somebody might feed on it to kill the Iditarod.

But Iditarod started, nobody had any idea of what long-distance dog mushing required for nutrition.


LEO RASMUSSEN: Those animals on the trail were being fed, I hate to say it, garbage, but nobody knew what they were -- what was needed to bulk an animal up. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: And keep those muscles going, and keep the nutrition going through the body. Enough moisture coming in to keep the body from shrinking. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And that first year, had there been better news coverage, would’ve killed the Iditarod.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, wasn’t there a race in 1967? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah, there were pre-races. KAREN BREWSTER: That kinda -- LEO RASMUSSEN: They were half, or less than half.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. LEO RASMUSSEN: There were three of them. Two of them that went round trip, I think, to McGrath and back. And there was another one that was shorter that came back, ’67, ’69, and I think there was one in ’71.

And mind you, it’s getting fuzzy upstairs, so. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And one of them was shorter, and it may have been the first one. But that first one, there were 60 -- I think 67 mushers that signed up for it. You can check your records, and -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: It’s blurry.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well yeah, but the -- but the -- the fact that all of you working on the Iditarod race and that -- knew that the trail was important, and so you were able to fight for the designation? Is that kind of how it went?

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, ’70, see, we’re -- that is several years ahead of the start of Iditarod. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEO RASMUSSEN: So in ’73, they ran the race and 23 finished. Howard Farley came in 20th. We didn’t -- weren’t sure he was going to make it. And John -- was it John Schultz was the last one? I’m trying to remember. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Uh --

LEO RASMUSSEN: Because we held a -- yeah, it was John Schultz. ’Cause we held a final banquet for him. He was the last one to come in. He was way last. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: Period.

KAREN BREWSTER: And back then it was weeks.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And, as we were, um, going through the celebration and honoring him, and he got, I don’t know, a $250 check for finishing, which was totally unexpected. And had the banquet for him, he finally stood up at the end of the banquet, and he said, "I’ve come to Nome to get drunk, and I’m drunk." And he sat down. That was the only thing he said at his banquet.

KAREN BREWSTER: He was just glad he made it. LEO RASMUSSEN: Came to Nome to get drunk, and I’m drunk. KAREN BREWSTER: I'd say, he was just glad to make it.

But yeah, but wasn’t it that you guys had been doing the race, and you realized how important the history of the trail was? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, I don’t think there was any -- any reason to believe we didn’t understand there was a value there that was far greater than what we were doing, because had we not had that feeling, had not enough of us had that feeling, the Dorothy Page, the Joe Redington, Sr., the Howard Farleys, you look at those original group pictures -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- on the south end of the trail. Had it not been there, the race would’ve been gone.

I mean, there might be something else going on the trail today. There’re people riding bicycles and walking and running and so forth, but uh, the original concept of dogs on the trail came so close to not being.

It took three years to clean up -- I call it the mess. Clean up the mess of learning how to treat these animals. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: These beautiful animals on the trail, so that they could not only survive from one end to the other, but they became professional athletes. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: That were going from one end to the other. Like it was back when they were hauling, two or three thousand pounds of freight. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

But the historic trail, um, that designation starts in Seward, and the race doesn’t start -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Never started in Seward. KAREN BREWSTER: Never started, no.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And that primarily is -- there were reasons. Anchorage had -- KAREN BREWSTER: Money. LEO RASMUSSEN: Resources. Seward could’ve never coughed up the kind of resources. I mean, that played in why it started in Anchorage.

There's probably a hundred other people could tell you there’s a different reason it started, but that was the big thing. At least we knew we could have the finances to put up the banners and get the thing going.

Originally, that first year, we went the whole distance. Now it goes to Eagle River, and they pick up and go out somewhere out in the country. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Because there’s no snow. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, no snow, uh, it’s traffic. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: It just -- it -- there are houses all over the place -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- that weren’t there in 1973.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So well -- and Joe Redington was living in Knik. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: At that time. And it didn’t start in Knik? It started in Anchorage? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, it started in Anchorage. Oh, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

LEO RASMUSSEN: We were there for the second start. There are pictures of both she and I down there with the start line in the back, down on Mulcahy Park, yeah. Down on the park. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: That’s where it started then.

ERNA RASMUSSEN: When was it Joe Redington wrote that letter to see if it -- LEO RASMUSSEN: To Howard? ERNA RASMUSSEN: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: In June -- June or July of ’73.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what was that letter? LEO RASMUSSEN: No, no, ’72. I’m sorry. Joe wrote a letter to Howard Farley, basically asking Howard, hey, we’re -- he talked as if he had this thing all put together. He never had anything together except his dogs.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that was to -- a letter to say, "Hey, I want to do this race?"

ERNA RASMUSSEN: Well, he said, "Do you think it’s possible to have a race from Anchorage to Nome? Let me know." And um, he came over to you, and you talked, and then you -- KAREN BREWSTER: You and Howard talked -- ? ERNA RASMUSSEN: (talking over each other) But Dorothy Page apparently had come to visit. LEO RASMUSSEN: Howard has that letter. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I’ve seen a copy of it. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Yeah, yeah. I think -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, ok. ’Cause essentially -- go ahead.

ERNA RASMUSSEN: I think Dorothy Page had given Joe the -- the incentive of this race. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, no question about it. ERNA RASMUSSEN: And then he took it from there. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

But then Howard talked to you. Were you mayor of Nome? No, you weren’t mayor yet, were you? LEO RASMUSSEN: I was on the city council then. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

LEO RASMUSSEN: We had just gone through the flood of ’72. It washed out Front Street. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Uh, because we were holding our city council meetings in the old federal building on the second floor. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: At that time.

And uh, I -- it came to councilmen’s comments, and I said, essentially, there’s a big race coming to Nome. It was big concepts, anyway. And I’m hoping you'll --

ERNA RASMUSSEN: They thought you were crazy.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, they -- They all looked at me, you know, he's gone really over the deep end this time, you know. That -- that was the concept. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: You’re gonna have a dog race all the way from where to where? KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: And there hasn’t been anyone on that trail since 1920-whatever? You know. You had to be crazy.

And I was the first one to make an announcement in Nome. I don’t know, Howard may have said something to somebody. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: He was working as a butcher in Nome throughout that period of time and fishing in the summer.

That’s how I ran into Joe Redington in Unalakleet. They were down there fishing -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: Fishing at the same time. A lot of water over the dam.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, so, do you remember how you got involved in the Trail Alliance for it becoming the Historic Trail? LEO RASMUSSEN: They, uh -- KAREN BREWSTER: It was the council at that point.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, there was -- there was a Democrat that was president at the time. Was it Carter? Because he did -- he wouldn’t appoint me to anything because I was a Republican. ERNA RASMUSSEN: That I don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: I can’t remember. 1978 was when the National Historic, uh, when the Iditarod Trail was added into the National Historic Trail things. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, but that came after this pre-committee. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: And put together the document, uh, that -- that brought about the trail itself. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And there was a federal -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, there was the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation report? Is that what you’re talking about? That recommend -- LEO RASMUSSEN: I think -- I think you’re right. KAREN BREWSTER: That recommended that the Iditarod should be included.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, recommended the Iditarod to become what eventually became the Historic Trail. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: It was -- it was the first historic trail moved into the National Trails Act. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEO RASMUSSEN: It was the driving force to bring all these other historic trails, which didn’t have what we had, and that was a driving force to -- to move it into the National His -- into this new law that amended the National Trails Act for historic trails. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: It’s all coming back to me now.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Well, I have 1978 as the year of the Act. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. That would’ve been the amendment of the National Trails Act to bring historic trails into it. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Up 'til that time, it was solely scenic trails. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s right. Just recreational trails. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. LEO RASMUSSEN: No, scenic and recreational. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, they were just scenic and recreational. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. And so, were you involved at that point? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, I was on the periphery, I guess you would say. Because I wouldn’t be on there because I wasn’t a Democrat. And the people that were on there were either NP, no party, or Democrats. And as soon as we got a Republican president, I was asked to serve on the committee. Um.

KAREN BREWSTER: I didn’t realize that they were presidential committees. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, they were probably authorized by Congress but had to be signed off by the president. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, did -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Typical. That’s the way it goes.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well yeah, I think of it as a local state council. I didn’t realize it would have to go through the feds. LEO RASMUSSEN: No, this was national. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, so did you work with the Alaska's -- um, congressman and senators on any of this? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, I wrote lots of letters somewhere along the line. We worked together as a committee in the beginning, and uh, boy, I’ve got -- she keeps hollering I’ve got piles of paper out there. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Yeah, you do.

LEO RASMUSSEN: It’s so much junk. And it’s fireplace place. KAREN BREWSTER: No, it'll go in the archives. It’s a good organizational history. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. And where is Alaska’s organizational history? KAREN BREWSTER: No, no. For this organization. LEO RASMUSSEN: Do you know where it is? KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it’s all over the place. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yes, and none of it’s in Alaska, either. KAREN BREWSTER: Um, I was thinking the history of the -- LEO RASMUSSEN: It’s in a warehouse in Seattle. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yes. The National Records. Oh, yes.

Well, um, so you first served on the advisory council? LEO RASMUSSEN: After we changed presidents. KAREN BREWSTER: So that would’ve been? LEO RASMUSSEN: And that would’ve been Reagan, I think, appointed me. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. Um. I’ve got that letter here somewhere, too.

KAREN BREWSTER: So do you remember how that advisory council kind of worked and what you guys did? LEO RASMUSSEN: We had -- it was -- quite honestly, it was sort of a sad state of affairs. I -- we have -- we worked under the Department of -- I’m trying to -- KAREN BREWSTER: BLM. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, worked under BLM.

And whoever was head of Alaska was the person who either moved the committee forward or did nothing, and we had a lot of nothing. I won’t blame anybody personally, but I sure can remember the names.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, if you can remember the names of who was involved without feeling like you’re blaming?

LEO RASMUSSEN: I’m blaming, because the committee would have a meeting, and this group would come together in Anchorage. I think we met once in Seward, and some -- just between us, some stupid stuff took place. They thought it was funny. You know, playing jokes and so forth.

But uh, we -- it took us quite a while to produce this document, which was pretty well written as it was. And going through and trying to piece things into it that belonged in there that were part of the history of why we were doing this historic trail in the first place.

And we finally got the document together. It was approved, and -- Now mind you, the Iditarod race has been going. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Throughout this period of time. Thank God, by the third time it was run, it was a driving force.

KAREN BREWSTER: Now, is that document, is that the comprehensive plan that -- that's -- that -- out -- yeah, it’s thick and it outlines what should happen? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And there, you know, wanted to do exhibits, or we want to do things. LEO RASMUSSEN: I’ve got a couple copies out there, too. KAREN BREWSTER: And how to manage it and maintain the trail? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And the historic part of it. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: 'Cause there's -- you see there -- only at one point there are two pieces of the race trail, but there are umpteen pieces of historic trail that aren’t on the race trail.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. So the race trail does not follow the historic trail exactly? LEO RASMUSSEN: It does almost entirely until it gets to -- Oh, what the heck’s that checkpoint that they -- nobody’s there? KAREN BREWSTER: Flat. Iditarod. LEO RASMUSSEN: No. Yeah, Iditarod’s one of them. Then there’s another one.

The trail from Iditarod to the Yukon River did not exist. We actually got -- in one of our meetings, we got the Secretary of Interior to endorse creating that trail to the Yukon River for the race.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, that’s not part of the historic -- ? LEO RASMUSSEN: It’s not truly historic.

KAREN BREWSTER: Where would the historic have gone, then? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, the historic, there -- there -- mind you, there were little gold camps all over. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: So these little trails went --

Once you got over the mountain pass, they went off this way, and they went off that way, and they came back together because they hauled mail down from Fairbanks down the river. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: To, you know, the Tanana to the Yukon, and it spread out from there.

There were probably half a dozen pieces of the trail that have never been recognized because this was such an immense undertaking. Look how long it took to put the Appalachian -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Or Appalachian Trail together. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

Well, I was thinking that, yeah, designating it as a one solid thru-trail, all those little pieces are going to get left out because they’re -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- little pieces. LEO RASMUSSEN: That’s what happened.

KAREN BREWSTER: The idea was to make it one thing all the way? LEO RASMUSSEN: And when the Iditarod had this little stupid race that went through -- off on one of these gold trails, and then ran out of trail between that and the Yukon River, so it would come back to the Yukon River in Anvik, and then go on up -- KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- To go over to Unalakleet. That -- that all sort of changed the concept of what you could really do.

We could have done a lot more. I -- I was working with a group, and I couldn’t get them to go with it to include in that the rest of the Yukon River to the Canadian Border. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: Because that was just as much a part of the Iditarod Trail as the original Iditarod Trail coming out of Seward. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: And I never got it.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it was its own trail, in a way. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, that was part of the problem. Somebody else wanted to create it as a trail of its own.

However, had we got it into the Iditarod Trail, we wouldn’t had to worry about -- it still hasn’t been approved. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: It may never be approved.

KAREN BREWSTER: But you’re saying there was that missing piece? I mean, somehow, when they -- historically when they were delivering mail, they had to get from the gold rush towns of Flat and Iditarod over to the river and over to Unalakleet.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, but they -- they -- they went back a different direction. They went back, and those -- those little places that the trails came together, instead of going to the Yukon, there was no need to go to the Yukon because Anvik was already on a mail trail called the Yukon. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. They just had to cut across.

So how come with the race you needed to go through Ruby and up that way? LEO RASMUSSEN: Two race trails that were over a thousand miles long. KAREN BREWSTER: So -- LEO RASMUSSEN: You heard it. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

So the -- if you’d gone the old way, it wouldn’t have been a thousand miles? LEO RASMUSSEN: And, yeah. Well, straight across, you’d lost a couple hundred miles. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And it was -- I mean, for us that were creating this race to Nome. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: And the people on the other end working on it, that was a perfect solution. If you could get to the Yukon River here, you added that 200-mile to the race trail. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

Um, so in those early years, working with BLM was not the most productive? LEO RASMUSSEN: No, I -- working with BLM personnel. But the appointed ding-a-lings. Ding-a-ling! (in a sing-song voice) The appointed people just didn’t have -- I mean they had other things that they had to do, and they wouldn’t focus one day out of the year or three meetings out of the year. Sometimes we didn’t even have a meeting in the year because they didn’t want to focus on it. They were too busy working on the scenic river that had the great falls and so forth. And that -- that just wiped out Iditarod.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, yeah, bec -- I mean, now there’s a BLM position. Sort of a trail -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, there has been for quite some time. KAREN BREWSTER: Has there? Was there in the 80’s when you were first involved? LEO RASMUSSEN: There was -- there were people tied to the document and creating the document that --

When it got published, they kept one person on after that. Uh, check the record. I could be off one way or another. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: But the concept -- we -- When I finally became president, the concept of having somebody on full-time became a standard for the Iditarod. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And the committee was with us. With me, with us, one hundred percent on doing that, because we knew if we didn’t have somebody full-time, we’d end up in the archives somewhere and that’d be it.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I did look at that original comprehensive plan, and it’s interesting. It’s from 1981. LEO RASMUSSEN: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: To read it and think, well, that didn’t happen. That’s not going on. You know? LEO RASMUSSEN: You put your thumb right on it.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so, I was sort of wondering what happened there? LEO RASMUSSEN: It was the head of the BLM that they sent to Alaska to do all these projects.

And I don’t want to say that they -- they weren’t doing something. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: They just had too much to do. And they had darn few people to get it done.

Alaska’s BLM lands are the same size as BLM lands for the other 48 states. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Yeah. Definitely. LEO RASMUSSEN: That’s a massive piece of real estate. KAREN BREWSTER: It is. And never enough staff people. LEO RASMUSSEN: Nope. KAREN BREWSTER: Um.

And yeah, they, also, I guess they needed to have money to fund the project. LEO RASMUSSEN: Really? KAREN BREWSTER: And -- LEO RASMUSSEN: You’ve got it right there. You couldn’t --

KAREN BREWSTER: The advisory council didn’t have any role in that, did they? LEO RASMUSSEN: If you took on a person and put ’em full-time -- And mind you, when we started out, our first person was 1/3-time, either 1/4- or 1/3-time person, so he had other things that they had to do besides try to make Alaska -- I mean Iditarod -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- become a reality.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you remember when you were president? When you became president? LEO RASMUSSEN: December of ’99, if I remember. That’s when we finally shut off all that direct assistance that BLM supposedly was doing for us. And uh, the -- the part-time or full-time person then became directly responsible -- We gave him direction and so forth.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. And then the advisory council, which was the first group. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yep. KAREN BREWSTER: That ended in 1998, and then the Trail Alliance --

LEO RASMUSSEN: And it took us another year to get to where they appointed me to be the first president.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok, so you were the president of the Alliance. Were you ever president of the Council? LEO RASMUSSEN: I think I was for 19 -- 1980-something. I want to -- I can’t remember for sure. ’88-'9. Something like that. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

LEO RASMUSSEN: I -- and you sit through all these stupid meetings I’ve been telling you about.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Well, I was thinking, it must -- maybe in ’88, because I have a note that in 1988 was the first National Scenic and Historic Trail conference, and that was held in Wisconsin, and that maybe you went to represent the council. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah. I went to that. I went to that representing the Iditarod. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: So --

KAREN BREWSTER: So, do you remember that? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, I remember it well. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, tell me about it.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, it was the first real convening of the historic trails and the scenic trails as an entity. And there were all kinds of federal people there who were all playing games, trying to hold on to their little entity and their incomes and so forth.

And they just knew that this new group was going to get rid of all these federal people. And that’s always been the situation with government. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: People are more concerned about their job than they are about why they’re there.

And we got through there -- I proposed a motion. I can’t remember what the heck it was, but at the end, I proposed a motion to the floor that something in this conglomeration of making it work together was brought to the floor. And the federal people just about came unglued. They just knew that if this motion passed, I --

You know, if you were to get a hold of Gary Werner, he probably could cough all of that information up. KAREN BREWSTER: And who’s he? LEO RASMUSSEN: He was the -- what was his official title? KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: He -- he -- of all the trails. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah. He -- I have his name here. He was instrumental in organizing the national partnerships. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yep. KAREN BREWSTER: The Ice Age trail in Wisconsin.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. He was head of the Ice Age Trail. And we made him chairman of all of the trails under one envelope, period.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. I know I have -- I’m looking here in my notes, ’cause I have a note here about something you proposed at that meeting for local groups. And I can’t remember what it was. Let me just pause this for a second.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, it’s probably in the minutes. I don’t know. And we just really had the feeling that we didn’t have control over what we were creating. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, well, that must have been frustrating.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, every step you take in life, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, yeah, I mean, but to have a -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Sometimes you’re lucky to get two at a time, but it don’t happen often.

KAREN BREWSTER: But to have a system set up that then you as the local groups don’t have any authority, that does seem like that would be frustrating.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, but the federal people wouldn’t let go. It -- it took a period of time before the federal people could see that this organization was the best thing that they could have going for 'em to guarantee they’d keep their jobs. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: I mean, it was that kind of a situation.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, here is -- I found my note about what you proposed at that conference. That -- proposed that group organize a non-profit coalition. Does that sound right? LEO RASMUSSEN: Coalition, yep. KAREN BREWSTER: So -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Bringing them all under one envelope.

KAREN BREWSTER: Bringing all of the advisory councils under one envelope? LEO RASMUSSEN: Bringing all -- at that time it was 16 trails. It’s now 39.

And that was my great fear was, once we got this thing started, that everybody would want to get into it because there’s federal money there. There’s federal money.

Well, every time you bring somebody in, you cut everything back down the line so you can pay them. And that -- that was my fear back then. Well, time goes on, you’re gone.

KAREN BREWSTER: So your proposal didn’t pass? LEO RASMUSSEN: It -- it eventually does pass, but the --

You know, that was just the beginning. There’s so many other things to be considered as you finally start quote, unquote, “working together.”

And the National Historic Trails were pretty much in line. We had some that were sort of shaky. Some that were so shaky, they didn’t even have an organization back home, period. And I’m trying to remember which one that was. One of the trails going through the mountains. But it doesn’t -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- make any difference. They finally came along.

KAREN BREWSTER: But so, was there then partnership and coordination with other national trail non-profits? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, the intent was that we would all be working together. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEO RASMUSSEN: To get that federal money into the budget, which would be part -- partake -- took apart and spread out. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEO RASMUSSEN: To fund the five different federal agencies that are participant in running the trail systems. It’s not just BLM. It’s the Park Service. It’s this, it’s that. KAREN BREWSTER: Forest Service. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh, is it State Parks? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, State Parks isn’t part of the federal. KAREN BREWSTER: No, I know. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But, who else be -- ? For -- BLM, Park Service, Forest Service.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, Iditarod goes through US Army land. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: See? So you’ve got another -- it’s just an odd connection of things.

Most of 'em today have turned over the responsibility of the trail to the main system, so you don’t have to go to the Department of Defense to get a -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- fifty-thousand-dollar piece of money to fund the trail in there. It’s all being done under the big trail system now, so.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I mean, it would seem like the Iditarod Trail Advisory Council in Alaska partnering with a historic trail in California and partnering with another one in Wisconsin that you guys could all help each other. And learn from each other and advocate together. LEO RASMUSSEN: You -- you said it well.

KAREN BREWSTER: That was your plan? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But it didn’t happen?

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, it didn’t happen instantly, because you’ve got all these managers sitting back here not wanting to give up their authorities, their budgets, their you-name-it.

You’ve got Forest Service trail here, and you’ve got BLM here, and you’ve got some other federal agency here, and they’re all fighting each other to get a piece of whatever’s coming for the trail. I -- it just -- it was opening a Pandora’s box at the beginning when we brought them all together.

KAREN BREWSTER: But it eventually happened? LEO RASMUSSEN: I think it has gone relatively well.

I mean, if you get time to talk to Gary Werner. I think he is retiring now. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: He would be a source to give you the next step and why this works.

KAREN BREWSTER: And that’s for the -- but he would be for the national level, not for the Alaska? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, he -- he was chair -- he was head of the Ice Age Trail for eons. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: So he has another perspective. That’s not a historic trail. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. LEO RASMUSSEN: So --

KAREN BREWSTER: And, now, did you go to Washington, D.C.? LEO RASMUSSEN: Several times. KAREN BREWSTER: And what did you do there? LEO RASMUSSEN: Twiddled thumbs. KAREN BREWSTER: And what were you -- LEO RASMUSSEN: What do you do in Washington?

KAREN BREWSTER: What -- why -- I guess I should rephrase it. Why were you -- why did you go there? Why were you sent there? LEO RASMUSSEN: We were having this overall meeting of all the trails. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. LEO RASMUSSEN: Originally it was 16. It’s now 39. And kept --

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So the trails conference or whatever it was called? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Ok.

And so sometimes they had 'em in D.C.? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yep. Sometimes they had them on a trail. You know, there’s several trails that come together in the middle of the country. We’ve had ’em there. The Mormon Trail, the Pacific Crest. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: All come together right there at St. Louis, so.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Um, but yeah, so was there advocacy in the -- in Congress? LEO RASMUSSEN: We didn’t have much problem in Alaska, because, you know, we don’t have -- at that time, we only had, you know, maybe three-four hundred thousand people. So you -- you didn’t have this conglomeration of pieces all over the place that were all fighting for their little bit, whatever it was they were working at.

And our -- Alaska’s, probably feeling about the same as Hawaii. You’re sort of disconnected. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: So when it comes to doing something -- the Hawaiian problem is completely different. Its Native land claims -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- is extensive. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: As far, piece of land.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Well, I know that you were one of the few people who went and represented the Iditarod Advisory Council on a national level, so I was just, you know, trying to get an idea of what you did. ’Cause nobody else was there to --

LEO RASMUSSEN: No, I didn't -- True. And then eventually Judy (Bittner) was coming along with me. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And we never had a problem with our delegation in Alaska, period. Ted Stevens was a godsend. Congressman Young, no problem whatsoever.

KAREN BREWSTER: They all supported it? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yep. Murkowski (Frank), the old man, he was pretty much there, but you just -- you didn’t have the feeling it was secure. But, it -- you know, it was three Republicans, so you knew, you know, trail money wasn’t going to go up the flue because one of 'em went off to cry in the corner or something.

And uh, with Lisa (Murkowski), she had never been a problem. And, now mind you, I have been sorta removed -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- for KAREN BREWSTER: I was thinking -- LEO RASMUSSEN: -- five-six years now. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, in those early days, like before Judy -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- started going, and when you were -- you were the person going on behalf of the council.

Yeah, what -- what had to happen at a national level. But going to those conferences. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, it -- looked like my daughter driving down -- um, the -- the real problem was to make sure that the BLM -- our BLM person, was always funded. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: And not 1/2-time, or 3/4-time, but became a full-time person.

And that was an annual process of increasing the funding for that BLM person. Iditarod is a BLM trail in spite of the fact there are five federal agencies. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Involved with the trail, so -- Maybe more today, but --

KAREN BREWSTER: And do you remember some of the other things that the council did? What they worked on? Issues they had to do -- take care of? Sort of like, what is the council responsible for?

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, the trails are not always on federal land. So you end up in some instances -- and I’m trying to think, Wyoming, Montana, there are some pieces of the trails that go through there that are in state or even county lands.

And it’s a matter of getting them to release their authority to that, so it becomes a total part of the federal.

KAREN BREWSTER: So for the Iditarod, that means they were right-of-way easements? Is that what you mean? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah. We had a major one right up out of Wasilla that somebody had, in the process of statehood, had lands that they got title to from the State of Alaska that the historic trail went right through the middle of.

Or went through the side of. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: Or would split. And so, you had a Y in the middle of their property.

And I -- Judy Bittner could tell you more where that is today. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

LEO RASMUSSEN: But those are private lands. And they have nothing to do with federal jurisdiction unless you can negotiate something with the people that’s acceptable to be -- make it federal -- federally open.

ERNA RASMUSSEN: Do you want something to drink? KAREN BREWSTER: I’m fine, thank you.

LEO RASMUSSEN: The, uh -- generally with the Iditarod, in our process of setting it up, we have set aside 100-foot-off-center line rights-of-way throughout Alaska to guarantee that that is federal land negotiated with the trail.

And there are places it is only 25-foot wide period, not centerline. 25-foot wide. Because of the original federal act, which never recognized the 200-foot width, 100-foot off centerline.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. And the council -- the advisory council dealt with those right-of-ways or that was all BLM negotiating? LEO RASMUSSEN: That was part of the original act.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. But to acquire a right-of-way, negotiate that with the land owner -- ? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, but in the 25-foot right-of-way, see, Native Land Claims was taking place at the same time. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEO RASMUSSEN: So, when they negotiated the trail or the Iditarod National Historic Trail, the first historic trail. When they negotiated, that’s why you see other trails having different problems. Each time’s a new negotiation.

Through Native lands, they put a 25-foot corridor. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. LEO RASMUSSEN: For the historic trail.

And there are variations of 25 to 200 feet throughout Alaska for the historic trail. I don’t know where all that is because that’s still ongoing. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And I know some of the Native land claims, uh, had one point were getting close to some kind of negotiation to widen the trail.

Except when you get to, oh, east of Solomon, the trail comes through, goes right through the middle of a cemetery. Brilliant people down there in D.C., you know. KAREN BREWSTER: That wasn’t your guys’ choice? LEO RASMUSSEN: No, it wasn’t our choice. KAREN BREWSTER: I guess I would have thought --

LEO RASMUSSEN: And -- and we have come to an accord with the Native corporation to move the trail very much out of the corridor of that cemetery.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, that’s a good example to -- for my question, which is, how was the trail mapped out? Did the advisory council decide we want it to go here, here, here, and here? Or BLM drew the line on the map? LEO RASMUSSEN: Someone at BLM drew the line. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. LEO RASMUSSEN: And I’m sure it’s a pencil line somewhere.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I -- you know, but your example made me wonder, yeah, how -- how -- I assumed there was an obvious route, and it would just be -- LEO RASMUSSEN: And Judy was a lot closer to some of that. And she might have the answer to that -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- question. If you want to ask her -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- of it. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEO RASMUSSEN: It just -- it just amazed me as you’re going along, down in the valley coming up the mountains, why, you’ve got these 200-foot right-of-ways. And, of course, you have to move ’em a little bit because there’s a development here, and someone has a summer fish camp there, and there’s an old cabin that’s been there since 1902 that burned to the ground. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: In 1974, it was an original checkpoint. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: And, of course, it’s gone. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: And nobody’s out there building a new one to take its place. KAREN BREWSTER: No. No, that’s what happens. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, so why has it been important to you to have the Iditarod Trail designated as a historic trail? LEO RASMUSSEN: It has more than just the dog mushing potential. It can become a full trail system through Alaska from sea to shining sea.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is it only possible to do that as a winter trail, or can it be done as a -- in other seasons? LEO RASMUSSEN: I think if the trail accedes to a use where people are willing to come to Alaska in the summer and hike a piece of it that has never been hiked before, has never this, has never that.

Mind you, we’ve had people walk from Seward to Nome. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: In the last couple decades. KAREN BREWSTER: In the summer? LEO RASMUSSEN: No. KAREN BREWSTER: In the winter. ERNA RASMUSSEN: And bike the trail. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, bike. Yeah, but that’s all when it’s frozen.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Remember the first guy that walked there? It took him 50-some days or something? ERNA RASMUSSEN: He was from Italia, wasn’t he? LEO RASMUSSEN: No, no, not the Italian. There was one before that. An old fellow. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: Old, yeah. Sixty-some years old.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I was just thinking, you know, you get out there in those -- in the flats out there. It’s all swamp and -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, no. KAREN BREWSTER: -- river, and that you can only do it once it’s frozen.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Go down and take a look at pieces of the trail between Seward and Anchorage. I mean, they’re building stuff right over the top of it so you’re walking on a tread. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: Of some sort. Either boards or -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: Rock or so forth.

You can walk almost the way from Seward up to where the trail goes up over the mountain. KAREN BREWSTER: To Hope? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, Hope. You can walk almost all the way now.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, but I was thinking, like, from Knik and out into Iditarod, and -- LEO RASMUSSEN: No, I know. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s the big -- LEO RASMUSSEN: You and I aren’t going to be here to see it done. KAREN BREWSTER: The big rivers. Susit --

LEO RASMUSSEN: But, mind you, it will be attractive enough that people will be willing to have federal funding spent to put that trail in. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: And --

KAREN BREWSTER: So when you got involved in the '80’s, you envisioned it as something like that even back then? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, I think I had envisioned of something like that from Fairbanks to Nome.

There’s been umpteen -- 1927, they first surveyed all the way from Fairbanks to Nome for a road. It’s never been built. They’re out there surveying it now.

KAREN BREWSTER: I know there’s been proposals for a railroad to Nome, as well. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. But until that railroad comes from Russia, it’s not going to go to Nome. Not to haul one trainload of fuel.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Um, are there other things you can think of that the council or the alliance have done that you’ve been involved with? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, I think we have -- I say "we," five-six years removed. I think that the council has continued to put pressure on BLM. Not that they need it. They just need the guidance to make sure the funding is there.

And there is a continuation of putting in more permanent trail from Seward to Anchorage. If they finish that, they’ll be -- the rest of the trail will be a piece of sweet cake, comparatively speaking.

’Cause you’ve got all those valleys like this. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: You have to build a bridge across, or you’ve got to find some way to go clear around to get to that point. And then they’re building dams yet.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, modern technology. We all want all these new things, right?

LEO RASMUSSEN: You do know they’re building a dam -- or were building a dam that would wipe out 20-some miles of the historic trail. KAREN BREWSTER: No. Where was that? LEO RASMUSSEN: Between Seward and Anchorage, of course.

KAREN BREWSTER: Where are they proposing to build the dam? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, I’ve driven through there. Um, they’re actually about four locations that have been recommended, and all of them are right along the highway.

When you get down along the -- the long lake in there, the L-shaped lake. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Kenai Lake? LEO RASMUSSEN: It’s right in there. And then, as you come over the pass, just before you get over the pass, there’s another one up in there. I’ve -- KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: I just --

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I’ve not heard about those. Uhm. LEO RASMUSSEN: Your good friend in Seward can name ’em. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes, I’m sure. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So are you still on the alliance? LEO RASMUSSEN: Nothing. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok. But you were on -- LEO RASMUSSEN: I’m a has-been.

KAREN BREWSTER: No, no. But you were on the council, and then it switched to the alliance. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: You were there during that. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, yeah. We were the people that switched it. Because --

KAREN BREWSTER: Why did it switch? LEO RASMUSSEN: So we had control over what was going on instead of having to wait for the BLM to come to us with their, either lack of, or proposals.

We had meetings that were just absolutely a waste of federal money, because nothing. One of them, the manager never even bothered to show up for. He was busy rafting down some river somewhere else in Alaska.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is there any -- well, I guess -- when you were involved, was there any management being done of the trail? Like, brushing it out and putting up signs and things like that? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yes. And I say that advisedly, because most of what has been done on the trail has been funded as a volunteer effort, period. Period.

From clear back in the '60’s right up to current day. Iditarod, the race, because of its race manager, puts together an effort to go out and brush parts of the trail every year.

And he does get some funding for flying machines out and so on and so forth. And I’m not even familiar for the last five years what’s being done, but I would guess that he’s still alive. He’s still the race manager. I'm sure he’s still doing it for the benefit of the race, really.

ERNA RASMUSSEN: Who’s that, now? LEO RASMUSSEN: Uh, it’s the --

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that the trailblazer group? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, trailblazers have something to do with it. The -- the -- I don’t want to call him manager. Not the race manager. The, uh -- KAREN BREWSTER: Like the trail manager? LEO RASMUSSEN: No, the trail judge. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Oh. Oh.

LEO RASMUSSEN: The head man for all of the race judges. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Um-hm. Yeah, I think I can see him before me, but I can’t remember his name. LEO RASMUSSEN: He was the one who painted the monument or shellacked, varnished, the monument the last time.

ERNA RASMUSSEN: Ok. He was in Nome for a while. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, well I was thinking about, yeah -- uh. LEO RASMUSSEN: He’d be a good one to talk to about the current situation.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Well, and I know that -- that there’s the Nome Trailblazers and Knik Trailblazers and the Seward Trailblazers. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, I -- KAREN BREWSTER: Were you involved? LEO RASMUSSEN: -- created the Nome Trailblazers. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And I -- If they function today, more power to them. KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t know if they’re still functioning. LEO RASMUSSEN: But I -- No, I don’t think they are.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when did you create them? LEO RASMUSSEN: Darn, I don’t -- KAREN BREWSTER: Well, what was the --

LEO RASMUSSEN: I was always creating something. KAREN BREWSTER: I know. You're a busy guy. LEO RASMUSSEN: Creating more trouble than anything else.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, what was the reason for creating them? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, first of all, uh, we had to put out mileposts that were more permanent than a trail stake stuck in the ground with a pie plate on it. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: And that’s -- for years, that’s all there was.

I put together a group of people in Nome, and we put in tripods on the mileposts of the historic trail all the way into Nome from Solomon. And there were a few before Solomon.

So, and that would’ve been -- it would’ve been a tripod like this, and these two legs right here, with it like this, would have a sign on it that had 106 or 299, whatever the milepost was. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Then there would be an arrow on this side that would be pointing down the trail, which would say South. It would have the letter S with an arrow off it. The other side would have one with N, with an arrow pointing up.

And that was all my design. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: Of trying to give permanent designation to the trail on which way you were going if you came to one of the mileposts. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And there’s all kinds of lath and stuff out there now in between each of the mileposts.

KAREN BREWSTER: So each of those tripods with the sign, they were each a mile apart? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah.

And they were made out of beach logs, oh, anywhere from 6 to 8 inches in diameter. And then I drove a -- I actually drilled holes in the top where the three logs came together and put a bolt through there and bolted it together.

KAREN BREWSTER: So the lovely Bering Sea wind wouldn’t knock ’em down? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, the Bering Sea has carried several of the tripods away. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, have they? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I thought the trailblazers maybe, you know, went out and broke trail. And, I figured they marked it, but --

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, in the winter, it’s not hard to mark, because you just stick a piece of lath in the -- in the hard snow.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, but that goes away.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, in the summer, it does. I mean, in the spring, why, it melts and they fall over.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and I was thinking, it doesn’t make it marked as an official historic trail. LEO RASMUSSEN: That’s why I put the tripods in. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: ’Cause on a clear day, you can see tripods for miles.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Now is the rest of the trail marked that way, or only what you did? LEO RASMUSSEN: Nope. Only because I lived in Nome did it get done. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And I had an agreement with -- oh, the musher from Kaltag, and a musher from Unalakleet. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Kalland? LEO RASMUSSEN: Huh? ERNA RASMUSSEN: Edgar Kalland? Way back? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, way back. He ran -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh yeah, Kalland -- ERNA RASMUSSEN: Edgar Kalland. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, Kalland, he was on the first council.

LEO RASMUSSEN: No, not -- not Kalland. I’m talking about one that ran the Iditarod in 1977, and he was -- ERNA RASMUSSEN: Peters? LEO RASMUSSEN: He was -- No, he was the one that got run over by that snowmachine. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: Doesn’t matter. Other history.

KAREN BREWSTER: Lots of history. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, tons of it. There’s history for every musher that’s ever run the Iditarod. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

Well, and there’s another thing. Nowadays, that Iditarod trail, as you say, is used for -- people biking, snowmachine race, the Iron Dog snowmachine race is on that -- parts of that trail. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And who decided that these different things can happen or if it was supposed to be just for dog mushing? LEO RASMUSSEN: BLM. And those mushers have to do certain things and make certain requirements and so forth. It --

BLM has done a pretty legitimate job. I can’t speak for the last five years. KAREN BREWSTER: No, but while you were -- we’re just talking about when you were involved, yeah.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And I worked directly, when I was president, when I was on the pre-board and so forth, with Mike -- What the heck was his name? He -- he was priceless. He’s retired. KAREN BREWSTER: Of BLM? ERNA RASMUSSEN: Mike who? LEO RASMUSSEN: I’m trying to remember his last name.

KAREN BREWSTER: I’m looking in my notes here. Um. ERNA RASMUSSEN: And where is he from? LEO RASMUSSEN: He was from Anchorage then. I don’t know. He’s retired and where he lives now.

KAREN BREWSTER: He was the BLM guy? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. The hireling. Not -- not the manager. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LEO RASMUSSEN: But he was BLM’s representative to Iditarod. And he was always challenged to do this and that and so forth. Real good guy.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I have for BLM, some of the early -- Well, this was the early days. Cary Brown, Terry O’Sullivan, Steve Peterson. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, those are very early. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LEO RASMUSSEN: That’s before there was any organization, really. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I have ’79 to ’81.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, that’s putting that big book together. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Have you seen the book? KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. LEO RASMUSSEN: Ok. KAREN BREWSTER: The library has it.

Yeah, I see that, I have the names of who were the first appointed in 198 -- January 1981, the first council members. Joe Redington, Clay Beal. He was Department of Agriculture. William Coghill. Floyd Sharrock. Chip Dennerlein. Ken Chase. Ray Collins. LeRoy Davie. Wilda Hudson. Andy Edge from Nome. LEO RASMUSSEN: What a waste.

KAREN BREWSTER: Jack Garrison of Big Lake. Shirley Heatwole, Anchorage. Edgar Kalland, but he died shortly thereafter. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: So he wasn’t on very long.

Fritz Livesay. Michael Meehan. Roderic Perry. Clyde Peters. He was from Galena. Rosemary Phillips from Nome. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yep. KAREN BREWSTER: Dan Seavey. And Mary Shields, from here.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, there were six people on there that were worth their weight, period. I just kept track of the names. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Do you want to say whom or not? LEO RASMUSSEN: I don’t know. Do you want me to say who or not?

KAREN BREWSTER: I’m happy to get your opinion on the organization and what you think they -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, I just -- I worked with a number of the people, and then about half of them weren’t there by the time I got involved. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: They’d already flew the coop or died or whatever, I don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: As we know, many of these sorts of organizations, not everybody stays as long as somebody like you or Dan Seavey then -- You know -- LEO RASMUSSEN: No, I know. KAREN BREWSTER: Or Ju -- Now Judy. She’s been involved for a long time.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, she’s probably been there as long now as I was there long. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: So.

KAREN BREWSTER: But it's those early years. So um, on these names, were some of these people ones you worked with once you got involved? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yep. KAREN BREWSTER: Such as? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, just hand me the list. KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t know if you can read my -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Don’t lose the page. KAREN BREWSTER: It’s up here. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, ok. KAREN BREWSTER: If you can read my bad handwriting.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, Joe, Sr. Bill Coghill. I was amazed to find out he was on there. Department of Transportation. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: Interesting. KAREN BREWSTER: So he was a repre --

LEO RASMUSSEN: Ken Chase. He was one of the original mushers the first year of the Iditarod and ran several times afterwards.

Andy Edge was a city manager in Nome. Was worthless. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Utility manager. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, he was city manager, too. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Oh, was he? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So he was sort of put on there to represent the City of Nome, probably? LEO RASMUSSEN: I assume so. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Edgar Kalland was priceless. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, unfortunately he was appointed in January. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, I know. KAREN BREWSTER: And died in April, which is too bad.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Rod Perry was probably worth something, but I could never find what it -- he was worth. KAREN BREWSTER: So what was --

ERNA RASMUSSEN: He wrote a book, didn’t he? LEO RASMUSSEN: Huh? ERNA RASMUSSEN: Didn’t he write a book? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, well, he -- it was his writing the book that left him on the edge. KAREN BREWSTER: So what was his role? Where was he from, or why he -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Chugiak. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok.

So was he appointed as a musher? LEO RASMUSSEN: I -- yeah. He ran the Iditarod -- KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- a couple of times.

Rosemary Phillips, she -- let’s see. At that time, that was ’81. Yeah, she may have been the executive director of Iditarod. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And Dan Seavey and Mary Shields. Mary was priceless, so. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. They both were mushers.

And like you, Dan has been very, uh, outspoken about the importance of history. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah. But he came to Alaska in ’64 as a teacher, so. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Right. I know the -- yeah.

And uh -- yeah, so why is the history so important to you? LEO RASMUSSEN: Why is Iditarod? I don’t know. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Good question. LEO RASMUSSEN: Why is it? ERNA RASMUSSEN: Good question.

LEO RASMUSSEN: We probably have invested half a million dollars in Iditarod. Why is it important? KAREN BREWSTER: And half your life. LEO RASMUSSEN: It’s a good thing to waste your money on. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and um, most of your life.

ERNA RASMUSSEN: I think it’s just because he likes to be involved in something, and um. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, this was more than something. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Yeah. I don’t know. I’ve -- good question. I don’t -- KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and there's --

LEO RASMUSSEN: There’s no question the values of history and trying to preserve something. You know, they talk about that historic trail. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEO RASMUSSEN: But that historic trail wasn’t just a gold rush trail. The Native people who lived here went back and forth on that trail for thousands of years. I mean, we have proof of that right out on the -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: -- on the Bering Sea, right along the coast.

That trail has been used forever. That’s what irritated me about not getting the Yukon River in. It had been used forever. Period.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you know, I -- I will admit that before I started this project, I would have assumed the historic trail designation came out of the dog race. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh. KAREN BREWSTER: I didn’t know that history of the gold rush in Hope and Sunrise and the mail delivery from Seward and it going all the way.

LEO RASMUSSEN: That’s because the dog race gave it identification. There was no real identification unless you read a history book somewhere. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

So you feel like the -- LEO RASMUSSEN: The race saved the trail. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. Quite simple.

KAREN BREWSTER: Now, do you feel like the trail is being protected? That wasn’t a very good question. I kind of lost my train of thought.

LEO RASMUSSEN: In one sense, it’s probably overprotected. It depends how you look at it. When you’re trying to do something, to put something permanently in place, and you’ve got to fight your own government to do anything. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: Even when you’re willing to fund it.

That’ll go on for a long time, long beyond you and I, dear.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I guess my -- I think my question was, um, do you feel like it’s been a good thing that it got designated as a historic trail? LEO RASMUSSEN: No question. Absolutely no question. Probably should’ve been done in the 1920’s.

KAREN BREWSTER: But then it wasn’t historic. It was a being-used trail, maybe. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, 1920’s, there weren’t airplanes either. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: And that was yet to come, and, of course, that wiped out the trail.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, having been on the council and the alliance, do you feel that that system has worked, or not worked and why?

LEO RASMUSSEN: There were periods of time that I thought we should have fired ’em all. Period. ’Specially when that idiot went off on a floating trip down some river, some wild and scenic river that was more important than the historic trail.

I -- there were times, you know, I think all of us would’ve thought twice about coming back to the next meeting. And, of course, you may get different variations of that when you talk to the people.

But after going and seeing how, you know, some of the Appalachian Trail, 1818, and piecing it together for all that time. And having people going out there every two or three years to rebuild a set of stairs going up this side of the mountain, and -- and putting bridges in across rivers that washed out the bridge the previous spring and so forth. You know, they’ve kept that trail going since 1818, and it wasn’t much of a trail then. It just -- it was the backcountry.

KAREN BREWSTER: So do you see things that could be done in Alaska to create that same momentum for the Iditarod Trail? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, I think there’s a lot that could be done. And lo and behold that I should go tell people how to do something.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well no, it's just -- LEO RASMUSSEN: No, I mean -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- ideas you might have. LEO RASMUSSEN: I have an idea for you. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, see. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, or are there things --

LEO RASMUSSEN: I -- I have floated a lot of ideas about trying to do something with the trail. And just like putting those tripods in. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Thank God that Mother Nature made ’em strong enough, because 2/3 of them are still there today.

I set a committee up, and each tripod had a particular person in charge of that tripod. And that worked. Well, the tripods last all by themselves, and when you put a good-sized bolt through the head of that, they -- you know, the worst thing that can happen is it falls out. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, there’s enough weight, it’s not going to fall out.

KAREN BREWSTER: So what were some of the other ideas you floated? LEO RASMUSSEN: Uh, just trying to think my way through.

I -- Just -- just establishing the mileage of the trail was a real contest. Because you had trail that went two different ways. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: And neither of them were the same mileage.

So you had to -- you could either take the mileage and go straight across from McGrath to crossing the Yukon River. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Or you could go the two bypasses.

And if you went across the river, you ended up with about 790 miles to Nome. But if you went around either one of these, it was over a thousand miles.

KAREN BREWSTER: And it sounds better to have it be a thousand? Is that why? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah. No question about it.

KAREN BREWSTER: But yeah, what about the -- yeah, these ideas of getting -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Remember, when they first set the Iditarod up, they set it up to be a thousand-mile race, so you couldn’t come up with less mileage. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Right.

I was thinking other ideas for kind of promoting public stewardship and excitement about this historic trail. Not about the dog race. We got plenty of that. But about the historic trail and why it should be maintained and protected, like, you said, the Appalachian Trail?

LEO RASMUSSEN: That, I think, is harder. Until -- I tried at one point to use the mileage posts, the tripods. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: As a process of getting people involved historically in the Iditarod, and I never crossed that threshold.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what about on the other parts -- LEO RASMUSSEN: You could buy -- you could buy the rights to tripod 739, whatever, wherever it is, middle of the Yukon River. But, you have to maintain it, which means you have to go get on the Yukon River and go down to 939 and put something along the edge of the river that shows where 939 is. Or 739. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Whatever.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and it does seem like the -- Anchorage or -- you know, now it’s Big Lake to Nome section of the historic trail gets attention because of the dog race, as you said. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, absolutely.

KAREN BREWSTER: But the other part, the Seward to Knik part, is there public interest in that section, and -- and how do you get that excitement going? LEO RASMUSSEN: I tried to.

The fellow at the library down there. I’m trying to remember. KAREN BREWSTER: Lee? LEO RASMUSSEN: Hm? KAREN BREWSTER: Lee? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, Lee. I tried to get Lee interested in creating an event on that portion of the trail, but it isn’t continuous yet. And I think --

I mean, you can walk the railroad all the way to Anchorage, but that’s not the trail. It’s a part of the trail, but it’s not the trail.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did it go over Crow Pass? Is that how it -- from Girdwood, did it go up over Crow Pass down to --? LEO RASMUSSEN: The railroad? KAREN BREWSTER: No, the trail. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, the tra -- one of the trails goes up over Crow Pass, yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: Have you been up there? KAREN BREWSTER: No. No. But I -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Do it sometime. It’ll give you an experience you’ll be writing about the rest of your life. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. That’s why I haven’t done it.

And now, yes, you could walk along the Inlet (Cook Inlet), Turnagain Arm. And there are a number of trails now that go from --

LEO RASMUSSEN: Some of that trail is almost impassable. KAREN BREWSTER: Which, the Crow Pass? LEO RASMUSSEN: We -- we’ve walked up -- no. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, no. Around Anchorage? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. It’s incredible.

You’re going -- I mean, there wasn’t any road down below. KAREN BREWSTER: I know. LEO RASMUSSEN: And you had to go over those sheer cliffs. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: You had to go over the top. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, 'cause I was think -- LEO RASMUSSEN: And they were taking mules over that stuff.

KAREN BREWSTER: I was thinking that now there might be a trail all the way from Anchorage to Girdwood. LEO RASMUSSEN: There -- there might.

KAREN BREWSTER: There’s a bicycle path, but -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, there is, down on the bottom. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, but -- LEO RASMUSSEN: But not back where the -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- not the actual trail went. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Because I know there are a lot of trails in there, but um, so.

Well, I think we’ve kinda touched on all my big questions. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, you run into something, pick the phone up.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, the other thing I was thinking of just interpretive signs and guides. I know they’ve put out a lot of publications and things, but --

LEO RASMUSSEN: Bill -- ERNA RASMUSSEN: Hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, made the Iditarod sign out of plywood. Remember they spraypainted them and so forth? And had the red and white stripes on it and the dog head on it? ERNA RASMUSSEN: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: We got one out in the garage somewhere. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Hm, yeah.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Bill. What was his name? KAREN BREWSTER: Well, as I say, I know that the -- ERNA RASMUSSEN: I don’t know who did it.

KAREN BREWSTER: The -- the race certainly gets lots of attention, and people know about the trail, but I don’t know that the public realizes it’s a national historic trail. LEO RASMUSSEN: No, I know they don’t.

Second year, Bill Devine made these beautiful signs out of 3-inch -- or ¾-inch plywood. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. LEO RASMUSSEN: With -- with the emblem and the dog face on it and so forth. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: It was shaped like the emblem.

And, I don’t know, they made a hundred of them. And they went out and put ’em up on the trail along the way to show where the trail was. You want to know what? There wasn’t one sign left come next year.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, 'cause people took ’em as collector items? LEO RASMUSSEN: They were so beautiful, they couldn’t -- ERNA RASMUSSEN: People stole ’em. KAREN BREWSTER: Souvenirs. LEO RASMUSSEN: We've got one out here that Bill gave to me, so. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Oh, gosh.

KAREN BREWSTER: But that would’ve been on the race route, right? LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, that’s pretty much on the Iditarod Trail going out of Anchorage, anyway. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right. LEO RASMUSSEN: That’s where they put ’em up. KAREN BREWSTER: ’Cause the dog logo is the same for the -- what’s the -- LEO RASMUSSEN: It’s the same. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: That -- that is the official logo. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LEO RASMUSSEN: I know I’ve got it somewhere in this house. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: No, it’s not on the wall. I don’t think. KAREN BREWSTER: No, but I know it. I’ve seen it.

I was going to ask who designed that. ’Cause the historic trail has its own logo. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Which is different from your race logo. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, and I wouldn’t have approved that one except everybody was so glorified with --

KAREN BREWSTER: And now I can’t quite remember what it looks like, but -- LEO RASMUSSEN: It’s green on white or something like that. KAREN BREWSTER: Do you remember who did it? LEO RASMUSSEN: I think she did. KAREN BREWSTER: She?

LEO RASMUSSEN: But I have no idea who did it. I mean, that was just some of the stuff that was going along as we were trying to get ourselves organized and so forth. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Who is she? KAREN BREWSTER: Who is she? LEO RASMUSSEN: Uh, she lives across from where Tokars live. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Oh, Bittner, you mean? LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah, Judy Bittner. ERNA RASMUSSEN: Oh. KAREN BREWSTER: They hired somebody or something. LEO RASMUSSEN: I have no idea. She had access to all that with the state job she had, so.

KAREN BREWSTER: But as you say, an organization, you form a board, you make your -- your bylaws, and you have meetings, and you get a logo, and right, that’s all that kind of stuff that happens. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, it’s all perfunctory stuff, you know.

I don’t know how many legal entities I’ve put together in my life, but there’s got to be 20, 25, maybe 30 that I’ve put together. It’s all sort of standard garbage anyway, so.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And uh, so do you feel like the advisory council, you’re glad you were on it, or do you feel it was a waste of your time? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, no. It wasn’t a waste of time. I was too intertwined with Iditarod. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: I mean, it wasn’t just the historic part of it. It was starting the race and being there to make sure --

See, I had a project for 45 years of Iditarod. Every year, mushers carried official mail. Every musher carried official mail over the trail. Hand-canceled in Anchorage at the post office. Hand-canceled in Nome on the day, date, AM or PM, that that musher delivered the mail. In fact, I’ll get you some.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I knew that they did that. I knew they carried mail. I didn’t realize that it was hand-canceled, and that they had to have it canceled in Nome. LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah. Either you do something right, or don’t do at all.

And I set out -- because I’ve collected stamps ever since I was seven years old, and that is a part of me. Well, you got involved, I don’t know how many different cachet-type projects, when we -- first flight from Nome to Russia. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: We had all kinds of stuff went with that.

And uh, I don’t know how many other mail projects we’ve had.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and it -- I mean, it makes sense for the Iditarod, because -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- it was -- LEO RASMUSSEN: A mail trail. KAREN BREWSTER: -- a mail trail to start with.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, Iditarod got rid of that when -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, they don’t do it -- LEO RASMUSSEN: -- when I departed. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LEO RASMUSSEN: They don’t do anything. That’s work, you know. Not only work, but you have to sell it. And they couldn’t sell the doggone mail.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I think you could probably sell just about anything in an idea. LEO RASMUSSEN: Are you for sale? (laughter) KAREN BREWSTER: I think any -- having you on a committee -- LEO RASMUSSEN: How much is that worth? (laughter)

KAREN BREWSTER: Having you on a committee, I think you have lots of ideas and a pretty good salesman.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, we’ve been through a lot. 53 years here in a month -- in a week, so. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. Great.

Um, you have some notes there. Is there something you want to talk about? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, this was something I --

When I first ventured to Alaska, I ended up working at KUAC. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LEO RASMUSSEN: Originally, it was KUOA. But they found out Alabama had a KUOA. So they had to go back and redo things, and they got KUAC.

Well, in the process, when I got involved with it, it became an FM station. I don’t think anybody listened to it, but it was an FM station.

And uh, we -- I am supposed to turn something in down here, a little thing to help promote their -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right. Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Funding every year, so.

And uh, in 1964, the station became professionalized and entered the U of A’s responsibility. Before that, it was a student-owned radio station. KAREN BREWSTER: I didn’t know that. LEO RASMUSSEN: Most people don’t even know that. Even the students that were there didn’t know it.

And it became sort of professionalized in responsibility, and the tutelage passed on to the university. Uh, became staff responsibility to make sure this all took place instead of the student union body. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

LEO RASMUSSEN: So for about 60 years, KUAC FM’S existence, you the listeners have gratuitously funded our programming and the operation. That’s what I was going to give to them. KAREN BREWSTER: Good. LEO RASMUSSEN: I haven’t gotten to the station yet. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you could probably phone it into them. LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, I don’t know. I’ll go down and talk to 'em. It’s a bunch of young punk kids anyway.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, well, anything else about the Iditarod National Historic Trail and your involvement with that?

LEO RASMUSSEN: I just, uh, I look at those initial three years of starting the race, and we are so lucky that the Humane Society was so stupid they didn’t come and kill the race.

We had trouble with the Humane Society for years. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, and -- LEO RASMUSSEN: Right down to the last minute before starting the race.

And then getting an injunction from the court to stop them from doing their thing, and the race started on time.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and nowadays, nutrition science for dogs has advanced so much, and veterinary medicine and all those things.

I mean, with those min -- original mail carriers, I mean, what were they feeding their dogs to keep them healthy? Fish? I don’t know. LEO RASMUSSEN: Yeah. Fish, reindeer, moose.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, so I was just asking whether the dogs that worked the original mail trail or the serum run or whatever, did they end up in Nome skinny and malnourished like that first race team's? (sound of dishes clattering in the background)

LEO RASMUSSEN: My experience in talking with the diphtheria serum run and so forth, those were professionally used dogs, and they had to maintain certain standards with their dogs at the kennels or they wouldn’t have been a musher transporting the mail, the freight, and so forth.

I -- having talked at length with Edgar and so forth over the time. KAREN BREWSTER: Edgar Nolan? LEO RASMUSSEN: I don't -- Edgar Kalland. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, Kalland, ok.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Uh, and talked to -- I’m trying to remember the other musher. He and his wife were at the house, and they were in their late 80’s when they were there. They had twelve kids.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, yeah, I mean, those dogs -- I mean, they didn’t have high-tech nutritional science to keep their dogs fit and healthy. Maybe they rested them more, or they went shorter legs than the race was making people go? I don’t know.

LEO RASMUSSEN: Well, when we did the diphtheria serum run, we hauled it by the train from Seward to -- KAREN BREWSTER: Nenana? LEO RASMUSSEN: Nenana. And then from there down -- We replicated every actual segment going to Nome. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok.

LEO RASMUSSEN: So you had 20, 30 miles of trail, uh, which if you’ve got a well-rested dog team, man, they’re off and gone. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Yeah, and whereas the race, people were pushing those limits? LEO RASMUSSEN: Oh, yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so that makes sense why it would be different.

LEO RASMUSSEN: I just -- I never heard anything over the course of years about mishandled dogs involved with carrying freight and mail on the trail.

Now, aside from that, you know, you’ve got a dog kennel, and you’re using them to go fishing in the summer (sound of running water in the background), and you’re having to house them during the summer and get food for ’em, and all that stuff. There’s ups and downs that take place. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEO RASMUSSEN: And I can’t help but know that abuse has taken place. KAREN BREWSTER: It must have, yeah.

LEO RASMUSSEN: But the professional stuff, they needed their animals. (sound of dishes clattering in the background) KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LEO RASMUSSEN: Because they were making their living with it. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s true. LEO RASMUSSEN: And the living came during the winter. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: Which was a tough time for a living. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LEO RASMUSSEN: So.

KAREN BREWSTER: All right. Well, that finished up that. Thank you very much. I’m going to turn this off.