DOINews: BLM-Alaska: White Mountains Goes to the Dogs

Last edited 09/05/2019

When you think of recreation on public lands, dog mushing may not be the first sport that comes to mind. But things are different in the 1-million-acre White Mountains National Recreation Area, just north of Fairbanks, Alaska. The White Mountains, managed by the Bureau of Land Management Alaska, offers a stellar network of 250 miles of groomed winter trails and 12 public-use cabins in some of Interior Alaska's best scenery — only an hour's drive from the state's second-largest city. Given the popularity of dog-mushing in Alaska, it's no surprise that dog mushers are dedicated and enthusiastic fans of the White Mountains.

Dog sled team headed down a snowy path lined with trees.
Dog sled team

Sled dogs love to run — and run and run and run. Mushers visiting the White Mountains routinely set out on day trips 20 to 40 miles in length or overnight training trips of a hundred miles or more. Those mushers training for distance races such as the Iditarod or Yukon Quest, both more than 1,000 miles long, may go even farther to condition themselves and their dogs to the rigors of the trail. Mushers are out there in good weather and bad, on bright, sunny days, and on dark, frigid nights beneath the northern lights.

Dog sled team

Dog sled team

Dog sled team headed down a snowy hill.
Dog sled team

The handiwork of BLM's trail crew — from spacious, plowed trailheads for unloading dog teams to the packed trails and cozy cabins — all make the White Mountains a popular place to run dogs. Some features of the trail system specifically take mushing into account. For example, the cabin locations have broad, open spaces for bedding down dog teams for the night, and trail groomers periodically provide wide turn-around areas: the White Mountains is probably the only BLM recreation area where trail design takes into account the difficulties of reversing direction with a 30-foot-long string of hyped-up sled dogs!

Dog sled team near a cabin
Cabins provide rest for mushers and their dogs.

Mushers and their dog teams aren't the only ones on the trail, however. The White Mountains also attract skiers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, and even winter bicyclists. While the trails aren't exactly crowded, even in the warm, sunny days of March, the trail system has always supported its diverse users so well because courtesy and camaraderie prevail on the trails.

snowmobilers moving aside for a dog sled team
Snowmobilers move aside for mushers and their dogs.

It's common for snowmobilers encountering an approaching dog team to pull off the trail and turn off their machines, making it easier for the musher and his or her rambunctious dogs to pass. If someone gets stuck in a snowdrift, others stop by with shovels and rope. Certainly such cooperation is an Alaska tradition borne of living in a remote area with an often dangerous climate. Perhaps being in such a special place also brings out the best in people.

Sled dogs sitting in the snow.
Sled dogs

By: Craig McCaa, public affairs specialist, BLM Fairbanks District Office

Dec. 11, 2013

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