Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, June 14, 2004

Alyeska to open mountain biking trail

A portion of Alyeska Resort will be open to downhill mountain bikers for the first time this summer.

It's an effort that has for years been on the minds of managers at Alyeska, who entertained the idea of free-riding opportunities when it was first presented to them by mountain bikers but were wary of potential conflicts.

Warren Rowe, a Girdwood resident and owner of Downhill Division, which is part of Alaska Mountain and Glacier Guides and will operate the trail, says he hopes it will be ready by June 27.

Dave Wilson, mountain manager at Alyeska, said this year will be considered a test run to see how popular the mountain biking venture will be. The beginner trail, which will feature a few switchbacks and consistent decline but nothing technical like rock and log hopping or jumps, will likely draw the most clients.

"For the time being, (Rowe's company is) constructing one downhill bike trail, and after that goes we'll see about building a second one for more advanced riders," Wilson said. "They will be operating it. All we'll do is allow them to operate a trail on our property and to use the lift."

Bike attachments are being added to a chairlift, and for a $29 per day fee, riders can go up and down the mountain as many times as they like during the Friday through Sunday operating period.

Replacement planes fill firefighting gap

Three replacement airplanes so far have been effective in fighting fires in the state's wildlands since the federal government canceled the contracts of the four tankers normally used, fire officials say.

Two CL-215s, nicknamed "Super Scoopers" because of their ability to scoop up water from lakes, and a small-engine air tanker capable of flying 200 miles per hour and dumping up to 800 gallons of retardant, were sent to help deal with the loss.

While the planes have been effective in limited action so far, officials said, they don't make up for the capabilities of the large tankers.

"So there is a difference, but it's a good supplement to not having anything at all," said Joe Ribar, a staffing officer with the Bureau of Land Management's Alaska Fire Service.

The state Division of Forestry still has two large tankers on contract from Canada. But the D-6s cannot be used to help extinguish fires on wildlands within federal protection areas, which cover most of northern Alaska.

The three new planes are stationed at the Alaska Fire Service base at the Fort Wainwright Army Post. They have seen light duty so far during an inactive fire season. They were used to fight fires near Bettles and Minto last weekend.

Musk oxen stranded on island, fate uncertain

Eleven musk oxen that wandered onto Triangle Island in the Etolin Strait have been trapped there since the April breakup, and the state and an Alaska Native tribe that hunts them are trying to figure out a way to keep them alive.

The oxen went to the island while it was still locked in by ice. Incapable of swimming the mile of water that now separates Triangle Island from Nunivak, the herd of three bulls, three cows and five calves face dehydration and starvation, the Tundra Drums newspaper of Bethel reported.

The plight of the wooly beasts have raised concern among residents of the traditional Cupiq Eskimo village of Mekoryuk on Nunivak, where the animals play a large role in the local culture.

While commercial fishing for herring and halibut, along with reindeer farming, provide limited sources of cash, most of the village's 200 residents still depend on subsistence hunting and fishing for their survival. Musk oxen are a big part of the diet, said Marvin Kiokun, natural resources manager for the Mekoryuk Tribal Council.

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