State Briefs

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2003

2003 Iditarod has ceremonial start


ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Temperatures hovered above freezing and the trucked-in snow looked more like pulverized ice, but that didn't keep dogs from pawing the air and yipping their impatience to get started Saturday in the 31st Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Despite Alaska's wimpy weather, the ceremonial start of the race introduced cheering fans to 64 mushers taking part in the oddest Iditarod since the 1,100 mile race to Nome began in 1973. An unusually warm winter has turned this year's race into another event altogether, with organizers moving Monday's restart site more than 200 miles north, where there's more snow.

"Different is how I describe this year's race, and that's not all bad," three-time Iditarod champion Jeff King of Denali Park said before taking off on Fourth Avenue. "I haven't had to throw my back shoveling snow and I've still been able to find the training ground I've needed."

For Saturday's start, race organizers found enough snow for an abbreviated version of the noncompetitive musher's parade. The route was shortened from a 20-mile run to Eagle River to an 11-mile sprint through Anchorage streets and trails.

For the first time in Iditarod history, the real race will begin in Fairbanks, then continue along a revised course, prompting some to call it the "I-Did-A-Detour." One possible complication: Weather forecasters are predicting freezing rain in Fairbanks tonight that would create a slippery start.

The new route is 70 miles longer than the traditional trail and follows terrain that even veteran mushers aren't familiar with.

From Fairbanks, mushers will follow a trail to Nenana, Tanana and other stops before taking a loop along the frozen Yukon River from Grayling to Kaltag. From there, mushers will follow the usual trail to the Norton Sound coast and on to the finish line in Nome.

Mushers are vying for a $600,000 purse. The winner will take home $68,571 and a new truck.

State issues public health alert for hepatitis

KODIAK - State health officials have confirmed a case of Hepatitis "A" in Kodiak.

According to the state Division of Public Health, a person who makes doughnuts at the A-C Deli in Kodiak has been found to be infected with the virus. Health officials said those who ate doughnuts from the deli between Feb. 16 and Feb. 26 may be at risk of developing the disease if they've never been vaccinated for it or had it.

Hepatitis "A" is a liver disease. Symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fatigue, fever and stomach cramps.

Symptoms usually begin within two to six weeks of exposure.

The illness can be prevented with a shot of immune globulin. Free shots will be given this weekend at the Kodiak Public Health Center to anyone who may have been exposed.

Snowmachining opens up in Denali, Hatcher Pass

ANCHORAGE - Snowfall in Denali Park and at Hatcher Pass has opened up areas to snowmachine use.

According to National Park Service, there's now adequate snow cover for use of snowmobiles for traditional activities in two-thirds of the park. The wilderness core, which is traditionally closed to snowmobiles, remains closed to the machines.

Nevertheless, park officials said riding conditions are poor and potentially dangerous. There are many areas of thin ice and open water and avalanche hazards exist. Backcountry travelers are warned to avoid steep slopes, narrow valleys and ravines.

Meanwhile, the Mat-Su area office of Alaska State Parks said the east side of the Hatcher Pass Management area is open to snowmachines.

Park officials said the avalanche hazard in the Hatcher Pass area is considerable and those traveling in the backcountry are advised to take rescue equipment.

Resort road proposal picks up momentum

JUNEAU - A proposal to have a road link Chena and Arctic Circle Hot Spring resorts is gaining momentum in the form of additional road proposals.

Sen. Gary Wilken's resolution had already picked up three more road proposals on its way through the Senate committees. It picked up two more Thursday before passing through the Senate Finance Committee.

The nonbinding resolution can now be scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor.

Wilken, R-Fairbanks, introduced the resolution to express support for a road linking the resorts to spur tourism and economic development. But Wilken said he also wants the measure to become a sort of wish list for legislators to pass on road proposals to Alaska's congressional delegation and to Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Tacked-on proposals include a road up the Bradfield Canal near Wrangell, a bridge over Knik Arm north of Anchorage, a road linking Iliamna Bay and Pile Bay, a road providing access to the Donlin Creek gold prospect and a road to a proposed gold mine at Rock Creek outside of Nome.

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