Pat Pourchot was interviewed on November 2, 2021 by Karen Brewster in a conference room at the Office of History and Archeology, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, in the Robert B. Atwood Building in downtown Anchorage, Alaska. In this interview, Pat talks about his involvement with the designation of the Iditarod National Historic Trail. He discusses working on the 1977 gold rush trails study for the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (The Iditarod Trail (Seward-Nome Route) and other Alaskan Gold Rush Trails), and the role Joe Redington played in getting the trail recognized and protected. Pat also talks about working for Senator Mike Gravel in Washington, D.C., negotiating with other senate staff, and helping to get the legislation passed that officially designated the Iditarod Trail as a national historic trail. Pat also talks about his other work on D-2 lands legislation, review of Wild and Scenic Rivers in Alaska, public land issues under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), serving in the Alaska legislature and as Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, as well as other trail and conservation advocacy work.
Digital Asset Information
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Coming to Alaska and his work history
Working on the study of gold rush trails in Alaska designated in the National Trails System Act of 1968
Recommending National Historic Trail designation for the historic Iditarod Trail, and the roles of Joe Redington and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
Conducting historic research about the Iditarod Trail and various routes, and exploring sections of the trail on winter ski trips
Historic methods of transportation along the trail, seasonal uses, and changing routes
Working for Alaska Senator Mike Gravel and initiating legislation for the historic trail designation for the Iditarod Trail
Trail management, establishment of a trail advisory committee, land use and selection
Senator Gravel's position on the historic trail designation, and the role of legislative staff in the legislative process
D-2 lands and passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980
Senator Ted Stevens' position on the Iditarod National Historic Trail
Negotiating with Senator Frank Church and his staff
Recognition of and public support for the Iditarod Trail
Historic trail route versus current trail route, and designation of a broad trail corridor
Trail management plan and its implementation, state land selections, and right of ways
Land conveyance, official trail designation, and public recreational access
Trail advocates, and documenting the early trail history and structures
Establishment of a hut-to-hut recreational trail system
Use of historic records to research trail use and roadhouse history
No travel to villages to learn history from local people
Trail study completed and funded by the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation
Changes to the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation
Enjoyment of the job and being able to get out on the trail, and being a trail advocate
Accuracy of history
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KAREN BREWSTER: This is Karen Brewster, and today is November 2, 2021, and I’m here in Anchorage, Alaska, with Pat Pourchot for the Iditarod National Historic Trail Project Jukebox project.
And Pat, thank you for coming and joining me today in the Atwood Building. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah, happy to.
KAREN BREWSTER: And um, just to give a little background before we get to your role in the Iditarod Trail, a little bit about some of the numerous other things you’ve done and when you came to Alaska.
PAT POURCHOT: Well, I came to Alaska in 1972, almost 50 years ago, from Denver, Colorado, where I was working for the US Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. And I transferred up here with the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation to work primarily on Alaska lands issues that were mandated studies from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. And, uh --
KAREN BREWSTER: So D-2 lands? PAT POURCHOT: So-called D-2 lands, right.
Uh, and in the process, after those initial studies were done, we did some other work, including the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation was charged not only with Wild and Scenic Rivers, which I originally was working on in Alaska, but also, it had primary responsibility for the Alaska trail system that was established in 1968.
And it designated two national scenic trails, the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, but a section of the bill also called for the study of additional trails, including some national historic trails. Um, Oregon Trail, the Mormon Pioneer Trail, the Lewis and Clark Trail, and quote “gold rush trails in Alaska.” There was no further explanation of that. Um, presumably put in by our -- some of our delegation back in the '60s.
Um, but subsequent to, you know, all of that, I worked in a number of different areas, including serving in the Alaska Legislature as a, both a representative and a senator, and worked for some non-profit groups, including environmental groups. And I worked for the Alaska Federation of Natives as a land planner.
And I worked for Governor Tony Knowles, first as his legislative director and then as the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.
And then more recently, I served as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior for Alaska Affairs here in Alaska, working for the Secretary on federal natural resource issues in Alaska. And I retired in 2016, I guess.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. So that, for your special assistant to the Secretary of Interior was under which presidential administration? PAT POURCHOT: Uh, the Obama administration. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
PAT POURCHOT: First with Secretary Salazar and then with Secretary, um -- KAREN BREWSTER: I want to say Jewel, but -- PAT POURCHOT: Sally Jewel, thank you. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, ok. I wasn’t sure if she was Secretary of Interior or the Park Service. PAT POURCHOT: Right. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But ok. PAT POURCHOT: Yep.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok, so your involvement with the Iditarod National Historic Trail goes back to that gold rush trail study, then?
PAT POURCHOT: Correct. And nobody had done any of the study work, but then we had a team from the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation up in Alaska. There were originally five of us, and then in ’74 a couple of the folks transferred back out again and there was just two or three of us left in the office here.
And in addition to the follow-up work and the EIS work on Wild and Scenic Rivers, which we were originally charged with, it was -- they kind of re-realized that there were these study that was called for in the Alas -- in the National Trail System Act in 1968 to study for potential designation as a national historic trail or trails. Gold rush trails in Alaska.
And so, we started kind of casting about, doing some research on what would -- what were some of the leading gold rush trails?
And it was first just kind of a listing exercise of lots of different trails. We started looking with a little more depth at the Chilkoot Trail, the Dalton Trail, which ran from Haines into the Interior into the gold fields, um, the Valdez Trail, which, you know, from Valdez to the Interior, Fairbanks, and also branches to the Klondike.
Um, and Wise -- what was dubbed Wiseman trails, which was really a complex network of trails leading from Fairbanks to the Brooks Range to the Wiseman area and other places, and it took various routes.
And the Iditarod Trail, running from Seward to first the gold trail of Iditarod. That was the original historic trail.
As we got into the study then later, the Iditarod Dog Trail, Dog Sled Race, had been initiated in ’72, and by the time we were doing the study, there was a lot of focus on the race trail in addition to the historic trail.
And so, our study included the race route and several branches, you know, to Iditarod, and alternate branches through the Chugach Mountains and some other places.
Um so, soon into -- I did a -- personally was involved in looking at the Dalton Trail and the Wiseman Trail and the Iditarod. And another guy was -- looked into the Chilkoot and the Valdez Trail.
And soon in, we realized that the Chilkoot Trail by then had already been designated within the Klondike National Historic Park. And it was fairly well protected and being used as a, you know, recreation trail managed by the Park Service.
The Dalton Trail had been largely overlain by the Haines Cutoff, the road out of Haines. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: The Valdez similarly, the Richardson Highway was mostly overlaid the original trail. Um, the Wiseman Trail was -- it was really not a trail, per se. It was a complex of routes.
Actually, all the trails were really started out as winter trails, not summer trails. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: So they took on a different character in Alaska. It wasn’t something that was necessarily hikable or, you know, even road-accessible in the case of the Iditarod.
But the Iditarod, on the other hand, we felt had, you know, had high historic values. Uh, it had some sections that were, you know, possible to hike through the Chugach in back of Anchorage, um, and maybe in the Alaska Range.
It had a lot of attention on it because the race was now beginning, it was in its third or fourth year by then, and a lot of national as well as statewide attention on the race and the race route. And so we felt that it had high potential for, you know, potential historic trail designation under the Trails Act criteria.
And then we -- so we did in-depth study. I largely was in charge of conducting that over the next year or two that we started.
And it culminated in a report and recommendation in 1977 was kind of the official publication date, recommending National Historic Trail designation for the Iditarod and its various branches.
In the process of that -- it was actually quite a fun project, and uh, it wasn’t something there were a lot of people involved in.
I made some contacts with folks that were involved in the race particularly, but had historic interest, namely Vi and Joe Redington, Sr. They lived out in Knik, and Joe was, you know, he’s the father of the Iditarod Race, but he also had longstanding interest in the historic routes of the Iditarod.
And he personally flew and kept kind of track from the air and on the ground of the historic routes and where they were and had real good working knowledge of, you know, the route, which was a winter route. And it changed a little bit, but there were roadhouses originally, uh, from Knik all the way to Iditarod.
And, at that time, in the early to mid-'70s, some of the roadhouses still existed, and you could see them. And Joe was quite interested in all that.
And one memorable day, he invited me out to Knik. It was in the wintertime when the trail was more easily seen through clearings, and, you know, with snow cover. And I went up with him in his PA-1, you know, Super Cub, and we flew over -- out of Knik past the Susitna River and looking at the trail, and he was so eager and so excited about it.
And his method of flying was following the exact curvature of the trail and, boy, about an hour into the flight, I was really nauseous.
And at one point, I think I asked him to -- if we could go back. ’Cause he was -- it wasn’t, you know, like a high elevation overflight, it was down on the deck kind of following the trail through the woods. But I learned a lot from him in that process.
And then I did, you know, historic research, you know, looking at the old records of where roadhouses were and what kind of travel and the season travel and alternate routes.
And a good example was back here in the Chugach, um, Crow Pass was used originally from -- as a shorter route from the end of the rail line. You know, the rail line kind of moved up from Seward over the early 1900’s, and uh, at some times of the year, it was, you know, you could go over Crow Pass down to the Eagle River area and cut off a lot of cliff face in you know, what became the Anchorage area.
But in the wintertime, it was really prone to avalanche. And it was dangerous. It’s still dangerous. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And there was -- sometimes people would use the Indian route. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: Over Ship Pass, Ship Creek, you know, drainage and Indian Creek drainage. It’s a lower pass and not so much avalanche.
And uh, a guy from BLM, Lou Waller, and I. Lou was the BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner. I think he still lives around town here. At the state office.
And he and I did a couple of winter exploration trips. And one of them was into the Ship Creek Valley, and we got about two or three miles in from the Ship Creek side, and it was snowing, big, wet snow, and we were, you know, on cross country skis. And we just bogged down. We camped overnight, and then in the morning, it was no better, and we turned around and came back. Subsequently, I skied across there a couple of times and hiked across Crow Pass in the summertime.
But the other couple of trips that we had, one was during the race. I thought it would be a good opportunity to see the route in the wintertime because they were breaking trail, so one of the early years, ’74 or ’75, a buddy of mine and I skied from Knik out past -- to the checkpoint there on the Susitna River.
And it was early March, and it was unbelievably cold that time. And we stupidly, one -- we were out two nights. First night, it was a little windy, and we camped in some trees. And it was like, only zero.
The next night we thought we’d get out of the wind, and we camped down in a low point. And we had a thermometer hanging from a branch where I could see it, you know, at eye level. We were camped out on the snow, and it was 32 below zero that morning at about 7:00 when I could read the thermometer, and we were freezing. We had pulled all of our clothes, everything, into the sleeping bags. All our coats.
And we were talking to each other and not sleeping, not -- and we said, whatever comes first, either 10:00 or 10 below, we’re outta here. We’re just gonna, not eat and anything, but just grab everything and shove on our boots as best we can and ski down until we warmed up.
And exactly ten o'clock, it was 10 below, and we got up and, you know, jammed on our frozen boots and got the skis on and took off. But that was an interesting trip, but it -- it -- it really gave a feel for winter travel along the Iditarod.
The next year, Lou Waller, from the BLM, and another guy who worked for the Park Service, uh, Wilde. His last name was Wilde. I’ve kinda forgotten his first name. Larry, I think.
And the three of us flew out to the checkpoint at above Finger Lake, kind of in -- in the middle of the Alaska Range, and we skied and camped out two or three nights.
And skied the race route, which at that time, they were going through Ptarmigan Pass not Rohn Pass. They were two side-by-side passes. Ptarmigan Pass was a little gentler and not so much steep downhill like the Rohn River Gorge is the scene of many dog team crashes.
But we skied the Ptarmigan Pa -- route down to the Rohn River Roadhouse, which was still around. Now, it’s gone. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, it is? PAT POURCHOT: It washed out. It was kind of in a flood plain area and subsequently washed out. But then it was still around, although they had upgraded another nearby cabin where the race checkpoint people were.
So we camped out a couple nights before, and one night was 25 below, uh, very memorable. The Northern Lights were out, and the mushers were still coming by. Not the leaders, but the other trail enders. And they were running at night.
And we could hear ’em calling to their dogs in the night. And it was just very still, but we could hear ’em yelling at their dogs and talking to their dogs and whistling and the Northern Lights were out, and it was quite memorable. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
PAT POURCHOT: And, but when we got to Rohn, the checkpoint guy, the dogs had almost all gone through by then, and he invited us into the cabin, and he had a big stove going, and we were very appreciative of that. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.
PAT POURCHOT: But again, it was -- it was a great way to see the route and to kinda get a feel for the roadhouse, you know, time.
And people were -- they were walking sometimes between roadhouses. So they were -- I mean, it was a -- it would’ve been a long hike, but do-able in a day, so it was like 15 to 20 miles. And --
KAREN BREWSTER: But in the winter? PAT POURCHOT: In the winter, and people were either -- KAREN BREWSTER: Snowshoes?
PAT POURCHOT: Snowshoeing or even walking if the trail had been packed. It was interesting, I didn’t get any accounts of people skiing in those days. Skiing wasn’t like it is now. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: You’d think that, like, in Nordic countries -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- skiing is a big deal.
But here, cross country skiing, it could’ve been easy, but it wasn’t used so much. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: So, it was probably a cultural thing more than anything.
KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe. I’m going to interrupt you for just one second. After you take your sip from your container, if you move it out of your reach a little bit ’cause you’re fiddling with it. PAT POURCHOT: Oh, yeah. Thank you. KAREN BREWSTER: You can still drink from it, but -- PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: It makes a little bit of noise, so. PAT POURCHOT: Noise. Yep.
KAREN BREWSTER: Um, but yeah, your interest about -- so people walked. They mushed the original trail. They snowshoed and walked. PAT POURCHOT: Yep.
KAREN BREWSTER: Did they use horses? PAT POURCHOT: Yep. Yeah. There were horses. You know, it’s surprising, but --
And, you know, some of the earlier accounts of exploration around Denali and McKinley in the early days, primarily by prospectors, in the summertime, there are accounts of taking horses, you know, and it was miserable. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: Just and -- you know, lots of marshy, soggy soil. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: Lots of bugs. Uh, a lot of river crossings.
It was amazing some of the early transportation methods. And, of course, an incentive to a lot of this was gold. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And people were doing all kinds of things. Risking their lives, you know, to try to reach gold fields or reach prospects of gold.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well so, was the Iditarod Trail out -- was that used in the summer at all, historically? PAT POURCHOT: No. No.
KAREN BREWSTER: I mean, I think of it as -- that part of Alaska you would not want to be tromping through in the summertime. PAT POURCHOT: No. No.
There were, you know -- and what we identified eventually in the report was winter trail. It would probably -- and there were routes that changed every winter. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: Depending on snow and ice and water conditions.
And the trail had to be flexible. It couldn’t be one surveyed part on the ground. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.
PAT POURCHOT: And so, we had always thought about a corridor in which you would try to protect land status for the historic route. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Knowing that it might change. Just like the Iditarod race every year. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: It alternates. KAREN BREWSTER: Does it? PAT POURCHOT: Depending on conditions. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: A litt -- You know, somewhat.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Well, and, of course, as you say, in the winter, a lot of it was on frozen rivers. PAT POURCHOT: Yep. Yep.
KAREN BREWSTER: And that means, you know, sometimes you have to probably go inland to get around an open spot or something like that. PAT POURCHOT: Right. Right.
We did identify a couple of areas, one through the Alaska Range, one through the Chugach Park here, either Ship Creek Pass or Crow Pass that, you know, had summer potential and suitable for summer travel.
Um, the Crow Pass route obviously is popular in the summer. And Indian Pass, uh, it -- the state parks is still looking at upgrading a route out of the -- kind of out of the stream bed to try to make it more usable and accessible in the summertime. It isn’t quite there yet.
Uh, it is a popular -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. PAT POURCHOT: -- winter route. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: For cross country skiing. Uh, can be done in a day, either way, from Indian to Arctic Valley or Arctic Valley to Indian.
Uh, it can be -- we did it one time, we were breaking trail in two feet or more of rotten snow. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. PAT POURCHOT: We had to keep changing leaders to break trail. It was just melting out from under and crumbling.
So, you know, it, too, varies considerably by seasonality and whether it’s a big, you know, thaw or winter, hard winter or easy winter, and -- and -- But Parks is still looking at ways of making it a better trail, both winter and summer. KAREN BREWSTER: Make it a more recreation opportunity? PAT POURCHOT: Yep.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it sounds like you have great luck in picking the best times to go on these expeditions. PAT POURCHOT: Well, yeah. We hit some un -- more unusual conditions on some of these.
KAREN BREWSTER: I mean, you certainly don’t plan to go out to look at the route when it’s 32 below? PAT POURCHOT: No. And first of March, first week of March, you really expect, you know, teens, maybe. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: You know, it’s not -- it’s not the coldest part of the winter, generally.
But, anyway, we -- we finished the study then, and it got finalized in -- early in ’77. We probably finished our work in ’76. And then it, you know, went through the typical Washington, D.C. reviews and edits, accompanying EIS.
But the, um, the Department of Interior forwarded the recommendation for Iditarod National Historic Trail status to the Congress in ’77.
And about that same time, I left the Department of Interior and went to work in Washington, D.C. for Senator Mike Gravel, who was the Alaska senator at the time, along with Senator Stevens.
And when I got interviewed, the chief of staff was very interested not only in my so-called D-2 work, or the Alaska lands work which I had done with -- on particularly Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Parks, but he -- but they also had known, or I told them, that I had worked extensively on the Iditarod Trail study.
And uh, probably not coincidentally, Joe Redington had approached Senator Gravel on one of his trips back to Alaska and was really pushing him and making the case for trying to get some national designation for the Iditarod Trail and the Iditarod race.
And so, Senator Gravel and the chief of staff were kinda primed for this. They didn’t know a lot about it, but I went to work, and Senator Gravel asked me to initiate legislation that would make the Iditarod a national historic trail.
And so, I helped draft the legislation and got the background materials together, and Senator Gravel introduced a stand-alone bill designating the Iditarod Trail in ’77.
Um, but it -- it was clear early on to me -- I was working primarily on the Alaska Lands legislation, but following some of this other legislation on natural resources, including the Iditarod Trail. And it was clear early on that the stand-alone bill wasn’t going to get much traction with the appropriate committees. You know, they were looking at big stuff. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: And lots of other things.
Um, but as it turned out, the National Trails Act in 1968 had also called for study of the Oregon Trail, Lewis and Clark Trail, Mormon Pioneer Trail, as national historic -- potential national historic trails. It also designated some study trails for national scenic trails, like the Continental Divide Trail. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: Well, Frank Church was a prominent senior senator from Idaho at the time, and he served on the key committee, the Natural Resources -- before the Energy Committee, it was called the Senate Natural Resources Committee, I believe. And he had introduced a national historic trails bill that designated the Lewis and Clark, the Oregon, and the Mormon Pioneer Trail as national historic trails.
So I -- we didn’t -- we didn’t enjoy good relations with Senator Frank Church or his staff, really, for a variety of reasons, historic, personality, otherwise.
KAREN BREWSTER: Same party? PAT POURCHOT: Yep, same party. Majority party in the Senate. KAREN BREWSTER: Democrat? PAT POURCHOT: Democrat. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, ok.
PAT POURCHOT: Um, and I didn’t know a lot about that history, but all I knew was, uh, when I went to talk with Frank Church’s staff, Senator Church’s staff, they were cool. They were not necessarily in -- instantly in a mood to help me or Senator Gravel.
But I kind of persevered, and in the end, their bill was moving. And I think they realized that it would be a very easy thing to roll in the Iditarod Trail as another national historic trail, and they did.
And I was very appreciative. I don’t know if Senator Gravel was appreciative or not, but it worked. And they rolled the Iditarod in, and I don’t remember, they must have had a couple of hearings, but it was very low-key.
I think in that -- in the session that was -- that Congress would’ve been ’77-78, and there were a lot of things going on in the Natural Resources Committee, not the least of which was the Alaska lands legislation.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right, I was going to say, ANILCA was going through that. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah, and it was hard to kinda separate out those things and treat it separately because there was a lot of things being discussed about Alaska.
But, I think, fortunately, Iditarod kind of slipped through, you know, as just another historic trail, not a flashpoint in the Alaska lands debate. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: And --
KAREN BREWSTER: It was hidden in with all that other stuff and nobody noticed. PAT POURCHOT: Right. Yeah. And so, Senator Church’s bill passed in ’78, and the Iditarod was included, and so there was several of these new national historic trails designated, including the Iditarod.
There was a couple of scenic trails designated, including most notably, the Continental Divide Trail. And uh, it was signed into law then in ’78.
There was very little in the way of description of what was to happen in the bill itself. Pretty -- pretty sparse. And so, it -- BLM was, when we did the study, they were always the assumed manager. They owned all the federal land, virtually all the federal land that the Iditarod went through, and the land that wasn’t federal was state-owned, and a lot of the route now is, you know, a good share of it goes through state lands. But --
KAREN BREWSTER: 'Cause the state was still selecting lands at that point? PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. Right. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
PAT POURCHOT: Or they had selected lands, but they were pen -- what was then called light blue on the map was “state selections pending,” or “state selections tentatively approved,” TA’d land. They weren’t all patented, and the state was still dealing which lands they ultimately wanted to take title to.
But there was a lot of the land that was in the Interior, you know, through the Alaska Range, and, you know, all the way to the Yukon River that was, you know, a lot of it was state land.
Um, but anyway, BLM was always the assumed and then designated federal manager. And I think that was, you know, an appropriate choice, a good choice.
And once it was designated, I think BLM stepped right up and took it seriously and established, you know, the -- the first task was to do a management plan. Uh, they had a state-wide advisory committee, and I think they did some input initially, but then at some point, they had an advisory committee just for the Iditarod National Historic Trail.
And so, they started in on the management and hired some folks to, uh, look, you know, to kind of structure that. Obviously, they were working closely with the race people who were, you know, quite interested in the designation and the route.
Um, there was a lot of effort in, again, in identifying where exactly are you talking about? And being a winter trail and varying year to year, that was not a simple question. And at the same time, there was an effort made to, you know, to -- you didn’t want to give away portions of the historic trail, you know, in land transactions. And so, both the state and the federal government, I think, put some effort into identifying a corridor and then specifics where it was possible to reserve rights-of-way along the trail.
And, you know, it was always assumed that that wouldn’t necessarily prohibit upgrades of certain places for roads or trails, that it, you know, just like Lewis and Clark or the Oregon Trail, I mean, some of that was upgraded to roads, and people go along the roadway and, you know, look at features of the historic trails. That was -- that was conceived as part of a national historic trail. Of course, we didn’t have any roads, but that was always a question. Well, is that going to block future roads? And I think the answer is clearly, no.
But where the trail had historic integrity and value, there was, you know -- they didn’t want to let people stake, you know, a home site or a -- the state program then was going in full swing, the open-to-entry program. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right.
PAT POURCHOT: And, you know, there was concern, not just for the Iditarod, but other places, that, you know, you open big areas just to staking, and, you know, in that process, you don’t want, you know, portions of a historic resource to, you know, just slip by default into private hands that might have larger public value.
So I think both the state and the feds, you know, started in to try to identify routes and protect the routes in a reasonable way.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what about the Homestead Act? Was that -- PAT POURCHOT: Homestead Act. KAREN BREWSTER: By ’77-'78, it wasn’t being used anymore?
PAT POURCHOT: The -- it went away in ’72 under a phase-out 'til '74. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
PAT POURCHOT: And Alaska was the last place in the United States that -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- that actually allowed and patented, I assume, some homesteads. And that was --the last open to homesteading was in the upper Copper River area. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: By Slana. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
PAT POURCHOT: And even today, there are socioeconomic remnants of that -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- little experiment that, you know, by a lot of accounts, wasn’t necessarily good.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. But so, that didn’t affect the -- the acquisition of lands, like you were talking about the open entry thing, that didn’t -- the Homestead Act was a moot point? PAT POURCHOT: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: For the Iditarod Trail? PAT POURCHOT: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. So back with the work you did in Senator Gravel’s office, uh, first what was Gravel’s position on this and his role, if any? Besides just introducing the bill.
PAT POURCHOT: Well, he was -- he was very supportive of it. He was very deferential to Joe Redington and his wife, Vi, and wanted to help, you know, the cause.
I think it was a new, relatively new concept for him. I mean, it was something that, I think, a constituency brought to him. He thought it was a good idea.
I remember early on talking to him and um, you know, he wanted to know a little bit about it, and I said how the study had set up, uh, possible designation and how that could work. He liked that, and he said, "Go ahead, and do it."
At one point, I did go back to him and said, "I don’t think we’re going to get the stand-alone bill passed, but I think I got a way to tag it onto the National Historic Trail with Senator Church’s bill." I don’t quite remember that. I don’t think he was overjoyed about it, but I think he -- he clearly understood the political scenario and the process at the time, and he said, "Fine. Go ahead and do that."
So, you know, I think he was fully supportive of the designation and thought -- thought it was a good idea.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, that shows how much the staff in a congressional office does. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Sounds like you were doing all the leg work and the behind the scenes, and -- PAT POURCHOT: Which isn’t unusual. That -- that’s not -- KAREN BREWSTER: No, that’s what I’m saying, it's -- PAT POURCHOT: Necessarily a testament to me. That’s what a normal, good staff person would do. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: To, how do I get to the end zone, you know, through various ways? KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
Well, I know, that’s what I say, that's interesting. You know, we think of, oh, it’s the senator or the congressman, but really, the staff is doing the research. And you said you were writing the bill, and you were doing the maneuvering with Church’s staff and um, you don’t really think about all that is what happens.
PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. Boy, you should -- I mean, lots of major legislation has that dynamic going on, but uh, I got it in spades on the Alaska lands legislation. KAREN BREWSTER: I’m sure.
PAT POURCHOT: There was all kinds of staff work that went into that to effect compromise. What do you think about this? What do you think about that? You know, what if we did this?
You know, then triangulating and circulating through all the various players, and yeah, that’s the nature of the legislative process and the nature of staff. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And it happens at all levels. I worked in the Alaska Legislature both originally as a staff person and then as a legislator, and staff were very instrumental in, you know, putting the mechanics of the legislation together.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, that’s interesting. So wasn’t Gravel -- with the D-2, he was still senator with ANILCA passing. PAT POURCHOT: Correct.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wasn’t there something between him and Stevens and -- PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: That Gravel voted one way or something. I don’t remember the details.
PAT POURCHOT: Yeah, they took much different tactics on the whole legislation, which went on for three years. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: The legislative process.
It failed to pass in the first Congress in ’78, largely through Gravel’s filibuster. Stevens got back. He had left the Energy Committee that was chaired by Scoop Jackson, and when it -- in ’77, when it looked like -- or in ’76, when the legislation was kind of ripe. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: Before Congress. After the studies and the administration had submitted proposals, and other people had submitted legislative proposals, Stevens got off of, I believe the Commerce Committee that he was on, and, you know, kind of senior by then, and got back on the Natural Resources Committee.
And he, then, for the next several years, worked closely with Scoop Jackson, the chair, on the lands bill, and trying to effect changes to benefit Alaskan interests of various kinds, economic, commercial, subsistence, other things.
He and the bill -- Gravel was not on the committee, didn’t want to get back on the committee, and kind of took a more aloof position. And uh, tried, you know -- he was really trying to make a political case why this, you know, was unfair to Alaska. And how, you know, there should be a lot more accommodation for Alaska interests.
And he was a guy noted for bold moves, and so he, you know, did a filibuster at the end of the ’78 session, stopping the bill and then tried again in ’80, but -- but failed. There was no support for that. They invoked cloture, cutting off debate on him. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: Um, and he was in a primary race in August of ’80 with the grandson of Ernest Gruening, Clark Gruening. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: Who had been in the legislature.
And lost a week later after his thwarted filibuster, lost the primary. And then, uh, was kind of a waiting game.
The Senate went ahead and passed their bill. The House had already passed a bigger bill, a little stronger bill in terms of -- KAREN BREWSTER: Conservation. PAT POURCHOT: Conservation. And everyone waited around for the presidential race that was being held that year. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok. PAT POURCHOT: Between Jimmy Carter, the Democrat, and Ronald Reagan.
Conventional wisdom was that if Jimmy Carter won re-election, there would be a better climate the following year to get a -- more like a House bill.
On the other hand, if Reagan were to win, the Senate-passed bill might be the best that could be hoped for by the House. And so, Reagan won. The House quietly accepted the Senate version of the bill.
It did contain a lot of -- of -- lot of provisions for special kind of access provisions and different things it tried to address. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Subsistence. And trying to address some of the more unique Alaska characteristics of land use.
Um, and then President Carter signed -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- the bill, then, in December of 1980.
Stevens had voted for the Senate bill. Gravel had voted against the bill. But Stevens still maintained -- and then he maintained, you know, somewhat correctly, that there were a lot of things that were tailor-made for the Alaska situation in the Senate bill that he had engineered.
Um, but when the bill came for final signing, he expressed a great wrong. Was -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- but he said, we’ve just begun to fight.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Yeah, I think of Stevens as being against the bill. And I know that got us off subject, but it’s an interesting thing about --
I knew there was some conflict with Gravel and Stevens. And it must have been that filibuster that Stevens was all ready for that one to pass, and then he blamed Gravel for -- PAT POURCHOT: Yeah, it --
KAREN BREWSTER: Getting -- for it not passing, and then they didn’t get as good of a deal as he wanted, or something like that.
PAT POURCHOT: Well, that was one of many things. It goes way back. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: They had issues going back to strategies on approving the oil pipeline. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Oh, ok.
PAT POURCHOT: That Gravel kind of went over the top on that and won, and Stevens wanted to, you know, take a different approach on how to -- how to get approval for the oil pipeline back in ’74, I think it was.
Um, there were a number of things. They just varied so much in style. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: And strategy.
Uh, and Stevens, you know, was very much a detail kind of guy and working the trenches, and, you know, looking at finer details of things.
Gravel was kind of a big-picture kind of guy. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: And different personality. So yeah, they never did get along very well.
KAREN BREWSTER: Um, which now I can circle us back to the Iditarod Trail, because Stevens was the other senator at the time. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: When that was going through the Senate. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: For Alaska.
So, did he support the Iditarod Trail and Historic Trails Act? PAT POURCHOT: I’m sure he did. I don’t know that.
I don’t recall ever having conversations with Stevens’ staff specific to the Iditarod. I think it was something that Gravel had introduced originally.
Stevens -- I mean, you know, you don’t necessarily jump in on somebody else’s legislation. I think he probably got the same constituency support that Gravel did for, you know, wanting a designation. Uh, he probably -- I assume he supported it. He never raised any concerns.
The bill, remember, was voted on as a bigger -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- National historic -- I’m sorry, not even historic trails. It was a National Trails Act -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- amendment in ’78. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And I’m sure -- KAREN BREWSTER: And he supported that. PAT POURCHOT: I’m sure he did, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
PAT POURCHOT: He would’ve been on -- he actually would’ve been on the Senate Natural Resources Committee at the time. That would’ve been the first committee of jurisdiction. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: His votes are a matter of public record there. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, right. PAT POURCHOT: I just don’t remember what they were. KAREN BREWSTER: You don’t have anything -- Yeah, and the fact you said, he didn’t cosponsor the stand-alone bill. PAT POURCHOT: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: Initially. PAT POURCHOT: And that wouldn’t be un -- that would not be unusual. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: Uh, you know, that wouldn’t be unusual.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Well, then you also mentioned, uh, working with Senator Church’s staff and getting the Iditarod Trail rolled into their bill. Knowing how the legislative process works, I wonder, what did Gravel have to give in return for that favor?
PAT POURCHOT: Well, uh, that’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that. It was not lost on his staff. I don’t know about Senator Church.
But his staff, you know, that was -- my initial meeting with them was all about "What have you done for us lately?" Which was not much. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: And -- but I don’t know. They may have just been playing -- playing a card there.
KAREN BREWSTER: But there was nothing you and the staff negotiated -- PAT POURCHOT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: -- back and forth on? PAT POURCHOT: No.
No, it was more an act of charity and a recognition that it was nothing off them to do it. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: And it made sense. Substantively, it was perfectly reasonable. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And, you know, everything flowed from all the provisions of the original act. And so -- but uh, that concept was not lost on my initial contact with the staff.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Well, and as you say, you know, we also wonder, well, after the fact, did Church go back to Gravel and say, "Ok, I did this for you, now -- " PAT POURCHOT: I don’t know that. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: I kind of doubt it, because it was a pretty small thing. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: The whole thing was very -- including Church’s trails, were very non-controversial. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: It had a lot of public support. Not -- not in Alaska, but -- I mean for -- KAREN BREWSTER: Those other ones, right.
PAT POURCHOT: -- Oregon Trail, and, you know, Lewis and Clark trail. That was a -- you know, those were name-brand -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- routes in -- in the -- in --
You know, states had a way of capitalizing. You know, you put up signs and you get people to drive the route and, you know, stop at Lewis and Clark restaurants and --
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and I’d think in Alaska, the fact that the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race had started up. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Brought statewide recognition of something called the Iditarod Trail. PAT POURCHOT: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: Which people might not have heard of before.
PAT POURCHOT: Right. And that, of course, Joe Redington and others readily knew that. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: And -- and that’s what they were hoping for, was national recognition of the race. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: And the route, and the history of it.
And, you know, as we know from years of following the Iditarod, the serum run. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: You know, kind of gets blended into the Iditarod. Of course, the serum run was more from Fairbanks along the Yukon River, which does utilize the Iditarod race route.
It was really distinct from the original historic trail from Seward to the town of Iditarod. The old mining town. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: You know, different era. But -- but, you know, it all kinda, you know, blends nicely together.
And in terms of the race, you know, the serum run and Balto and all of these other -- the new word -- be memes of surrounding the -- you know, the Iditarod. You know, it was -- it was all -- it all was good. And, you know, the race still gets national publicity. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And, you know, in terms of -- that’s what you kind of hope for on, you know, resource conservation issues is some, you know, national moxie to it, some national recognition. And because it bestows it on the historic route and the historic resources.
So, you know, we’re still utilizing that connection on some of the upgrades of things down the Turnagain Arm. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: Seward Highway. We have this National Scenic Byway, and parts of it are along the historic Iditarod trail route. Forest Service and others are trying to upgrade routes.
And I’ve been involved in a project called the Alaska Long Trail. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I’ve heard of that. PAT POURCHOT: And we’re trying to piece together some of these segments on different people’s ownership. And parts of it are the Iditarod Trail. And, you know, upgrading that to, you know, different kinds of recreation. Winter trail use, but summer hiking, biking.
And um, you know, the ultimate goal is to try to get a, you know, a real usable recreation trail from Seward to, you know, on up to Fairbanks. And the first part of it, all the way to, you know, Eagle River, would utilize portions of the historic Iditarod Trail. Same general route.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So, the serum run connection, it didn’t use any of what is now the historic trail? PAT POURCHOT: It did. Um, you know, one of the race routes now goes up to Ruby. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: So the serum run came out of either Nenana or Fairbanks. KAREN BREWSTER: Nenana. PAT POURCHOT: It went, you know, the Tanana to the Yukon. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: And then from Ruby, it would’ve followed the -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, it would’ve gone -- PAT POURCHOT: The Iditarod race route over to Unalakleet and around the coast to Nome.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok, so they wouldn’t have followed the Yukon all the way up around Galena. They would’ve cut across from Ruby. PAT POURCHOT: No, no. It would’ve been along the Yukon River. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: Ruby, Galena, uh, -- KAREN BREWSTER: Kaltag. PAT POURCHOT: All the way to Kaltag. And then over the -- to Unalakleet. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: And then around --
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. So that part, Ruby to Unalakleet, that’s the historic trail route? PAT POURCHOT: Um, well, yeah. Historic trail/Iditarod Race route. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
PAT POURCHOT: And the race route changes, you know -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- year to year, and they run it all, you know -- KAREN BREWSTER: The north or the south. PAT POURCHOT: -- more along the historic route to Iditarod and over and Flat. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Which is now gone, but -- and then over to the lower part of the Yukon. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: At Shageluk. And then up to Kaltag, and then over to Unalakleet.
So, you know -- And when we were doing the study -- 'cause the race was going on and -- during that it had already been an annual event, it -- Early on we recognized that, you know, we’re going to deal with branches of the route. And they all have significance.
And, of course, some of those portions, like Kaltag to Unalakleet, shoot, that’s been going on for millennium, probably. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: I mean, some of them were very well-used routes.
KAREN BREWSTER: That was an important portage from the Interior to the coast. PAT POURCHOT: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Traditionally, for sure.
PAT POURCHOT: Yep. And then, you know, around the Bering Sea coast on the ice. I mean, people were doing that for a long time. There was a number of villages, as you know, all the way, you know, around to Nome. Actually, some of the villages were there before Nome was there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. But so, this idea that there were all these little feeder trails and things. PAT POURCHOT: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: How did you then decide what was the main corridor to get designated?
PAT POURCHOT: Um, so there’s a map reference, and without looking at the report -- We did try to map some of these. And so, it was more designated than just Seward to Iditarod. There were, you know -- it was more branches than that.
And I’m assuming, as I recall, it was a lot of the main race routes. But you’d have to look at the map. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: By the way, the other trails that were designated are kind of like that, too. Uh, Mormon Trail, Lewis and Clark, they’ve got alternate routes and branches, and they’re referenced on the maps.
KAREN BREWSTER: But so, those alternate routes and branches are considered part of the national trail designation? PAT POURCHOT: Yes. Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: I thought maybe you had left those out and decided there was one main -- PAT POURCHOT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: No. No.
Yeah. And then the management plan, I think, followed up on that. And some of the right-of-way protections were extended, obviously, to other branches and routes.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now, after you did the study and you worked for Gravel and the trail designation passed, did you have further involvement with it? PAT POURCHOT: I was trying to think. I recall testifying before the local advisory council at some point. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.
PAT POURCHOT: And I just don’t know when that was or what -- what they were -- I think it may have been on the management plan or the beginning of the management plan, and I went down ’cause I was still interested in, you know, follow-through on the legislation. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.
PAT POURCHOT: So I was somewhat involved, but I didn’t follow it extremely -- very closely after that. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: It was pretty much in BLM’s hands then.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And would you have testified as a Gravel staff person? PAT POURCHOT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: Or as a personal -- ? PAT POURCHOT: It was personal.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Well, and there -- there -- at one point -- I know Judy was talking about the issue of the Iron Dog Snowmachine Race starting to use the trail, and that they did have some public hearings in front of the council on that. So I wonder if it was that. PAT POURCHOT: I don’t think so. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: No. Yeah, ’cause I was -- KAREN BREWSTER: It was on the management plan? PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. I think so.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you didn’t -- did you have anything to do with the management plan and -- ? PAT POURCHOT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: No. That was after your -- PAT POURCHOT: Right. I was trying to think, I --
When I left Gravel’s office in ’80, I went back to school and got a master’s degree, but then I -- when I came back to Alaska, I worked then for the Alaska Federation of Natives. And I don’t think there was any direct relationship there with the Iditarod.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, you have any thoughts about how it’s been implemented, the management of it and that?
PAT POURCHOT: Yeah, I -- I think it’s been good. Um, I think -- when I was with DNR (Department of Natural Resources), I did check back into what the State was doing, and they were -- they had a process, and they had one or two people. Or one and a half people that were going through the maps and putting, you know --
On the state plats, you know, they were trying to put real live right-of-ways 'cause they had homesteads that they were patenting. They had these open-to-entry sites. They were inheriting land. They were transferring land to the -- like, Mat-Su Borough.
And I think in that process, they really wanted -- before you hand over, you know, title to somebody else, you want to make sure the state’s interests are protected through rights-of-way. You know, or easements or, you know, other things. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.
PAT POURCHOT: And so, that process I thought had been going on, but it was really slow. It was a slow, slow process. And I don’t know the mechanics of that, but I think it was frustrating a little bit that we, the State, had taken so long trying to identify --
'cause the land was being processed all the time. We were getting land. We’re getting title to the land. The municipalities had a percentage of state lands that they were able to select, so, you know, we had these open entry sites. There was land coming and going. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And, you know, the worry is that, you know, you’re not going to protect certain outstanding public values in the process, whether it’s historic or recreation or, you know -- ’cause we had rivers that we were trying to have setbacks on that were part of the state scenic river system.
Um, you know, there were -- you know, there's lots of public value. Access to fishing lakes and streams. So um, yeah. I think that’s been a very -- it’s still ongoing. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: For Iditarod, but for some, you know, other things, too. So that -- that’s kind of a slow process.
On the federal side, I had lost track. I don’t know -- when BLM was conveying land to the state, I don’t know whether they conveyed subject to certain, you know, rights and easements. I think it’s the same issue, the same problem, that such an immense issue, um, you know, whether you -- I know they --
You know, they would -- on the whole conveyance process, they put lines on the map, and they put notice, public notice, and some things get atten -- you know, commented on. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Some things don’t. Some of these places are so far out, nobody cares about. Um, you know, and, of course, they were conveying to Native corporations, too. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
AT POURCHOT: So it was the same concern, and when it came to access, I mean, there was a part of ANCSA that really called for provision of recreational access and stream bank, you know, ability for people to walk along quote “navigable waters.” And so the state’s been involved in a lot of navigability identification and issues, and that’s a whole other topic.
But, you know, so I guess that’d be a question for BLM is, how comfortable are they that they have identified and protected on a plat the historic route of the Iditarod Trail?
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it’s interesting to hear you say that you feel like the state has done that. You know, I’m sort of surprised that they find some trail designation worth putting on all those land conveyances. PAT POURCHOT: You’re surprised that they do, or did not? KAREN BREWSTER: That they did. PAT POURCHOT: They did, yeah. And when I was with BL -- with DNR, that process had been started. It was ongoing.
KAREN BREWSTER: I’m surprised that they bothered to put in the trail, I guess. PAT POURCHOT: Well, I was -- I was pleased, but it was short-staffed, like so many things. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: That was not unique, but, you know, it was just a big, big effort for one and a half staff people to keep track of all of this.
KAREN BREWSTER: That’s why I say, I’m surprised they included the trail. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: They had much bigger things to be worrying about.
PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. But they did, ’cause there was local -- you know, some of these things are interesting because it’s -- it’s not a single person or a single interest. Sometimes it can be a coalescing of different interests.
And remember, in the Mat Valley, you had people who were taking their snowmachines out along these trails, and -- in the wintertime, and there were still dog mushers. And they did not want to be cut off along these historic routes and trails by land owners. And that became an issue.
And it -- you know, that kind of transcends historic values. They did that -- that was day-to-day values.
And they -- and so, there was -- and then fishermen didn’t want to be cut off from walking to a stream bank of a river for fishing, or a lake. And so, there were people that, you know, were concerned about access -- public access being cut off for a variety of uses. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: By private land owners who got conveyance typically in the Mat Valley from the state. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And the state realized if the Mat-Su Borough was going to take ten percent of the state land as part of their municipal entitlement, that they couldn’t rely on the municipality, no offense to them, but they wanted to retain some of this before, or in the process of, conveying, reconveying, to the Mat-Su Borough.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and you’re right, that for many Alaskans, all those local trails that we use, you know, and in the '70’s, those guys would have been using them for a long time, they still wanted to have that access. You don’t want your trail taken away. PAT POURCHOT: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: No matter how you’re using it. PAT POURCHOT: Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, uh, and also, I’m thinking the fact that the Iditarod had federal recognition and was in a congressional act, that it was federally recognized. PAT POURCHOT: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: The state sort of had a requirement to include it. It would’ve been harder to ignore it.
PAT POURCHOT: Right. It was flagged. Uh, it would’ve risen to one of the things that they would’ve first looked at if they were conveying to the Mat-Su over in the Knik area. Where did the Iditarod go? KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Where is the Iditarod through here? Let’s make sure that we put a line on the plat that, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Before we turn the title over to the Mat-Su Borough.
Mat-Su Borough, by the way, that’s -- I mean, I think they’re now doing the same thing. I mean, they’re looking at protecting their public access, you know, to streams and trails. I mean, but -- whether or not they were equipped for that 20 or 30 years ago was another question. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: It takes people power to do that.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Well, and, as you say, the coalescing of interests, you mentioned the Redingtons were clearly influential. Were there other constituents and people that you worked with? Well, I guess you did the study first and then the -- in the Gravel’s office.
PAT POURCHOT: Well, yeah. And I was -- I was trying to think about that. I think I, at one point, talked to Dorothy Page over in Knik, and, of course, she was a big race promoter and a keeper of, kind of, Iditarod memorabilia, and did all kinds of work with the race.
Um, I don’t recall the when and what the conversation consisted of. I may have just talked to her once or twice. Um, and she was a big race route supporter. Um, but I don’t think she -- I don’t know how much of the actual trail history that she conveyed, but she was certainly a booster of the race.
And I don’t -- you know, there was agency people that I, you know, worked with, primar -- particularly BLM. Um, and then maybe, you know, the Seward section, a lot of that was through Chugach National Forest, and I know we touched base and talked with the Forest Service. And ever since, I mean, they’ve been very cooperative and active in protecting and constructing, you know, real trail -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- along some of the route. And they continue to be involved in that.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now, when you worked on the original study, the gold rush trail study. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Did you go out to communities along the trail and talk to people to find out histories of those sections or -- ?
PAT POURCHOT: I can’t re -- not much. Not much. ’Cause the -- You know, a lot of the real history would be in Iditarod and Flat, and both those places were long abandoned. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Not much left.
And, of course, we looked at things like roadhouses and some of the structures at Iditarod and Flat, and whether or not, you know, they merited reconstruction or whether that should be -- You know, buildings should be part of the Iditarod. And by then, a lot of it was gone, or sunk. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: You know, these log cabins, they just sink into the surrounding land. I do think, though, that we did talk about and think about, if you had ever a winter route that people were interested in recreating on, that reconstruction or use of public use cabins along the route would -- that would enhance the route and be very compatible with the historic trail designation. So that was a, you know, a concept.
You know, others have tried for a long time to try to institute a hut-to-hut system in Alaska that was similar to what was there over a hundred years ago. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Um, and, oh my gosh. You know, like the -- there’s a group been trying to this down in the Kenai Peninsula area for a long time, and just one hurdle after another. That’s a whole other story, but um --
And my work on the Alaska Long Trail and others through Alaska Trails. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Uh, we’ve talked a lot about hut-to-hut, and both from a recreational standpoint, but also an economic standpoint, getting people -- You know, there are lots of examples around the world. Fewer in the United States. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: Of, you know, where, you know, like I’ve done hikes in the Dolomites in Northern Italy where you -- you don’t take a tent, you don’t -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: You know, you go to very nice huts and sleep and get stuff to eat, and it’s a huge draw. And you know, people pay, you know, 50, 70 bucks a night for the privilege of staying in a hut.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and as you say, you know, historically on the Iditarod Trail, there were roadhouses a day apart, and a place to put up your dogs and all those kinds of things. It was much more quote, unquote “civilized” or advanced than what’s out there now. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: It was a very populated area for a while.
PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. Yeah, we have a different kind of culture, both in Alaska -- particularly in Alaska, for, you know, our public use cabins. People want to have ’em for themselves or their family. They rent, $50 or $75-a-night cabin, and they don’t want to share it.
But that’s not true in so many other places of the world, and you can really up the game considerably with, you know, larger facilities, but public facilities, that are available to people that, you know, where you don’t have to take a tent, and you don’t have to cook your meals and pack all that. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And on scenic routes, I mean, we -- Alaska has huge potential. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah. PAT POURCHOT: For attracting international tourism and visitors if we had, you know, a system. And you don’t have to look very far. I mean, there are -- you know, New Zealand. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: And Switzerland. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it’s all over.
PAT POURCHOT: All over, and big -- lots of people. And it can be managed, and they’re still walking on, you know, little trails. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: Uh, it, you know, it -- so I think there are people now in Alaska, kind of, who are in recreation industry or recreational businesses that are seeing this possibility. And local chambers of commerce are -- like Mat-Su and Talkeetna and Healy, I mean, they’re kinda seeing how this could be something significant.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, as you say, on part of the historic Iditarod Trail, it could be hiking in the summertime, but other parts, it would have to be a winter, either ski, snowmachine access, dog mushing access. PAT POURCHOT: Yep. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when you were doing the research, and you said, yeah, you didn't -- you know, you researched the records and the old roadhouses and things, but as we mentioned, that Kaltag to Unalakleet has a very long Native tradition of use. PAT POURCHOT: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: Did you look into any of those historic uses?
PAT POURCHOT: A little bit. It usually came through the old government reports where say, in the early 1900’s, you know, you’d get a early USG -- what was then or now a USGS-type exploration report, and they would be retracing in places or a lot even, historic Native routes, and they would reference that.
And they would say, this -- we met people from Kaltag going across to Unalakleet. It seems to be this is a, you know, a very old historic route that’s been utilized between the coast and Interior Athabascan people for, you know, forever. Um, so there were refer -- you know, we saw references like that that were in the early literature.
And, you know, there was -- we should be thankful for some of these old government folks, that -- it wasn’t easy work, and they trooped all over. And they, of course, and there were people -- government people and enforce the, you know, law-type people who were following gold rush people. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Because there were problems, lots of -- there were, you know, you had to have law and order with any of the gold camps and the gold routes. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And, you know, so there were lots of people who were -- who were making reports and taking notes, and some were better than others, obviously. That’s always the problem with recorded history, but um, you know, we have quite a bit of literature.
And then, the Klondike had quite a bit of good history. I've tried to think of the author who wrote, you know, kind of the classic -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, Pierre Berton. PAT POURCHOT: Yes. And his book is just a treasure house of history of, not just the Klondike, but reaching the Klondike. And all the routes that people went to get to the Klondike.
And, you know, and so there was some -- there was stuff associated with Nome that way. Although Nome was a lot easier to get to. You could take -- KAREN BREWSTER: A ship. PAT POURCHOT: A ship all the way to Nome, or you could -- there were people who actually went down the Yukon River. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: From the Klondike. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And you could go all the way. Unfortunately, the -- for travel, the Yukon River spreads out into this giant delta, and the same steam wheelers that plied up and down the Yukon, they got -- they would get stuck at the mouth. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: So you had to park the steamship, the boats, paddle wheelers, and there used to be still a few parked over there. And then, you had to either go overland or go to the ocean and then catch a boat to go to Nome. You couldn’t -- KAREN BREWSTER: Couldn’t go all the way to Nome? PAT POURCHOT: Couldn’t make it the whole way. KAREN BREWSTER: See, I didn’t know that. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Um, well yeah, and I was wondering, you know, that -- whether for that study you traveled to the villages and talked to people about the trail in their area and if -- how they used it and was it was important to them. But it sounds like you didn’t do that. PAT POURCHOT: Some. I was trying to think.
KAREN BREWSTER: And I wondered why you might not have gone? PAT POURCHOT: Yeah, I don’t -- I don’t recall getting primary-type information from villages beyond what everybody knew, like the Unalakleet Pass. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: Uh, and their -- their experience would be modern use of historic routes. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And they certainly knew the race routes. Um, and, you know, there was nobody left around in Flat and Iditarod.
KAREN BREWSTER: No, I was just thinking that the -- PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- the Native, you know. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: In 1977, ’76, you know, an elder would’ve maybe known what happened in the 1920’s, you know. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe.
PAT POURCHOT: I did talk to -- when I was looking at the Wiseman Routes, I went to Fairbanks. I talked to an old guy, Estes. His name was Estes. E-S-T-E-S. He was in his late 80’s or 90’s, and he actually was around and utilized some of the routes out of Fairbanks to reach the central Yukon, central Brooks Range area.
And, unfortunately -- this is another good example of the -- be nice -- of oral history and trying to get it. He -- he was somewhat forgetful of things. I remember being a little bit frustrated. I didn’t get quite all the information I was hoping for.
And then, you know, he died somewhat -- you know, a year or so after that, um, but he had traveled some of these routes, and he knew in a broad way where he had traveled. Um, but even that, you know, would’ve been fifty years prior to that, which would’ve been in the '20’s. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: As opposed to the early 1900’s.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right, but yeah, as you say, you can’t get all the way back, but you could get some of that history. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. Right.
And then I think I have talked to folks in the Wiseman-Nolan. Nolan is a -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: -- related town. And I did look into that a little bit about --
And then, you know, it was interesting, uh, some of these benefitted from authors. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: Bob Marshall -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- traveled in the central Brooks Range early on in the '20’s, and he wrote some books about not just climbing, but he wrote a book about Wiseman and Nolan. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: And it was a soc -- kind of more a social history. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
PAT POURCHOT: But he commented on things. And so, you know, obviously those are the gems that, you know, you try to pick up.
And there were a few written about different things. Not -- don’t recall anything specific to the Iditarod. It was, you know, one of those, collection of -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- early on adventures and experiences.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and you’re correct in reminding me that that study was not just of the Iditarod. You had all these other trails. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And I assume you had a time frame and a budget? PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: To work within?
PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. And we -- I think we were trying to get ’em all done in a couple of years, would have been ’74 to '76.
And we, you know, the first task was zeroing in on, what are the highest potential trails here? And that’s, I think I said earlier how we narrowed down to primarily the Iditarod. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: That seemed to have the highest potential.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then how was that work all funded? What kind of funding did you have? PAT POURCHOT: Uh, we were utilizing the, just existing, uh, manpower. The allocation for the Alaska BOR, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation office. And you know, there were -- when we started the historic trails, there was two or thr -- I can’t -- we had some people leave out of the original five of us.
We had two or three of us that were in the office, and it was funded. The personnel was funded and travel right from, you know, the regular Bureau of Outdoor Recreation budget. KAREN BREWSTER: And that was -- PAT POURCHOT: Through the Department of Interior. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. That was my question. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. And we didn’t have any extra. There was no specific money for that.
We -- I mean, I’m trying to think how to phrase it. We had time available to do things once the original studies were done on our wild and scenic rivers project. There was still ongoing work, and we were still -- in the summertime, we were still taking river inspections and finishing up EIS’s for the proposals, but the proposals for the rivers and the Alaska lands work had largely been transmitted to the Congress through the Department of Interior.
Uh, Secretary CB Morton introduced the -- kind of the first administration bill under the Reagan administration, uh, fairly early on. Must've been ’74, um, so -- and then there were a lot of modifications, subsequently.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So who was the director of the Bureau -- PAT POURCHOT: I don't mean -- Pardon me. KAREN BREWSTER: You said Reagan administration, and I know -- PAT POURCHOT: I meant Nixon. Nixon. KAREN BREWSTER: I was -- I wasn’t going to correct you. I was like, I don’t think that was the Reagan administration. PAT POURCHOT: No. Nixon. KAREN BREWSTER: Nixon.
Um, so for the Bureau of Recreation office here in Alaska that you were working for, who was the head of that, that would have made your sort of work assignment decisions?
PAT POURCHOT: The original guy was Jules Tileston, who’s still here. He and I were the lone survivors and still alive and still in Alaska. And uh, he took us all through the wild and scenic rivers studies.
And I can’t remember, I think we started the trails studies. He was still the -- I don’t know what we called him, the Alaska Field Director or -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: -- head of the Alaska office.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what was his first name? PAT POURCHOT: Jules, J-U-L-E-S. Tileston, T-I-L-E-S-T-O-N. And he went on, then, to become the Head of Resources for the BLM state office.
KAREN BREWSTER: Any relation to Peg Tileston? PAT POURCHOT: Husband. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: Yep. She was -- she’s been here -- KAREN BREWSTER: I know her name. PAT POURCHOT: -- and quite -- quite involved -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PAT POURCHOT: -- with a host of different things. KAREN BREWSTER: I know her name. Yeah, ok.
PAT POURCHOT: But Jules, I just -- I just did a, uh, article for the Park Service on Wild and Scenic Rivers and some of the early work, and uh, he -- Jules reviewed the -- he was one of the reviewers of the thing, so he’s still involved, still active.
And I assume, as head of resources, he was then probably charged and supervising the management plan for the Iditarod Trail. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh, yeah, that was BLM, I think. PAT POURCHOT: He -- that’s what. He was -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, he went over to BLM? PAT POURCHOT: Yep, as chief of resources. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: For the state office, Alaska state office of BLM.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. And then who else worked with you on -- in -- ? PAT POURCHOT: And then, after he left, which I can’t quite remember. It was before the trails work was completed, was Bill Thomas. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: And at one point, just he and I were left in the office.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. So you did most of that trail study, then, on your own? PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. Yep.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. And after -- so after Jules left as Bureau of Recreation, who was in charge? He was in charge the whole time you were there? PAT POURCHOT: No. Uh, he was there for two or three years, while we were doing the Wild and Scenic Rivers study, and then at some point, he went on to BLM. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And the office head then was transferred in was Bill Thomas. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: Who was the Alaska head.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. And you were the only staff person? PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.
And then eventually, the Office of Recreation went aw -- the Bureau of Recreation went away? PAT POURCHOT: After I left -- shortly after I left.
Then in early ’77 or the spring of ’77, sometime in ’77, it changed its name to become what was colloquially called hookers. (HCRS) Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, that’s right. PAT POURCHOT: You know, in keeping with, you know, Fish & Wildlife Service, National Park Service.
And I don’t know whether -- that was an administrative change. But then, not too long after that, the whole organization merged back into the National Park Service. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. PAT POURCHOT: Where they had originally come from. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.
PAT POURCHOT: Back in the '60’s when the -- When the Land and Water Conservation Fund was established in the '60’s, BOR, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, was established to administer the fund and to do some of these other -- they were charged with Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Trails studies. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.
PAT POURCHOT: They had a state -- there was a state planning function. You needed a SCORP, or a State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, to qualify for the Land and Water Conservation funds, so that was their bread and butter.
Um, but -- and they peeled people out of the Park Service originally to form the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. In the end, they folded back in.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Well that’s what, yeah, Bob Spude was involved, I think, when it was the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service as a historian. So I’ve heard that word before.
Well, this has been very informative. Um, have we -- you have all these wonderful notes in front of you to refresh your memory. Have we covered all of that? PAT POURCHOT: Yes, we have. Done. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Good. I want to make sure we get all of your -- PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Memories and experiences and -- PAT POURCHOT: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to say, I think it was helpful that as a researcher you liked to do outdoor recreation and could go scout parts of the trail personally.
PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. Well, that -- that was one of the benefits of the entire job. It -- I help do an ANILCA training class every year, a couple times a year, and my part has one conclusion that that work and the Wild and Scenic Rivers program was the best job I ever had, where the government paid me to go float rivers all over the state. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
PAT POURCHOT: It was fabulous. And trails. I tried to take that same model and go out and go look at some of these trails, and in this case, in the wintertime.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, well I would think, you know, do you think that that experience of doing the studies and going out on the Iditarod Trail influenced what you did in Gravel’s office and -- and pushing for it to get included?
PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. Yeah. I was very much a convert and an advocate for trail -- Iditarod Trail designation as a historic trail. I thought that made a lot of sense.
And I had, of course, a lot invested by then by putting a couple of years’ effort into the gold rush trail study. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Or, report. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: That we did and submitted to Congress. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So any other thoughts on the -- maybe the challenges or the obstacles you faced through this process? I mean -- PAT POURCHOT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: -- other than the 32 below? PAT POURCHOT: No, I will say --
KAREN BREWSTER: You make it sound like it all just went so smoothly and was perfect. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. Well, it largely -- largely did.
Um, I think that, you know, this kind of project, getting oral history is great, and as you so well know, it’s still limited and limited by old people’s memory, like me. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: And, you know, different versions of the same thing. There was a great article in this morning’s paper, or yesterday’s paper, about -- by Reaon (sp?), the historian (Pat mis-speaks here, the historian is David Reamer), about a little scuffle between Senator Gruening and Senator Bartlett, early senators from Alaska. (The article is "For Alaska's first senators, an epic battle of ego came down to a coin flip." Anchorage Daily News newspaper, October 31, 2021.) KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: And the conclusion was interesting. That Gruening wrote a book, which I have on my bookshelf. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: Signed by him.
Uh, that Bartlett very much disagreed with a lot of Gruening’s narrative of historical events, saying that it was overblown or not accurate. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. PAT POURCHOT: And you know, history is full of that. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
PAT POURCHOT: But, the guy that writes the book, and -- you know, Audie Murphy, won all kinds of awards for valor in World War II, and my dad, who was in World War II, always said, "Yeah, and he always had a reporter next to him, reporting on his, uh -- " KAREN BREWSTER: Right. PAT POURCHOT: -- good deeds and valor."
So, you know, it’s -- it’s obviously gets slanted, but I think when you do a wide variety of people from a wide variety of standpoints, you know, you get some things that kind of coalesce.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. And, you know, we have these written documents. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: We have the gold rush studies you did. We have these comprehensive plans. It’s nice to hear the experiences of the people behind those and as you say, you know -- PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- it all builds on it. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And helps tell the story. PAT POURCHOT: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, appreciate your time today. Thank you very much.
PAT POURCHOT: Well, thanks for the opportunity. I -- it’s always fun to go back and re-live and remember some of these things. KAREN BREWSTER: All right. Thanks.