By Heidi Zemach for SCN
It could not have been a finer day for a historic dedication ceremony Thursday, May 3rd. The sun was out in the brisk afternoon, flocks of seagulls flew overhead squawking, and from within the Alaska SeaLife Center nearby could be heard the barks of sealions. Seward’s very own superstar, Iditarod musher, trailblazer and former history teacher Dan Seavey, 74, having recently completed the Iditarod Dog-Sled Race he helped found, stood looking over the crowd of well wishers that included local politicos, seniors, historic trail supporters and the entire student body of Seward Elementary School. Behind him stood the new monument marking the start of the Iditarod Historic Trail, a 1,200 pound bronze statue of a hardy prospector and his pack-dog walking with his stick, mounted atop a giant rock weighing 33 thousand pounds.
The bronze statute is the final touch in a four-year-long Centennial celebration of the historic trail, by the Seward Iditarod Trailblazers. It was created by Patrick Garley of Arctic Fires Bronze in Anchorage with co-artist Justin Spurlin, the largest he created in Alaska. Steve Shafer of Afognak Construction donated and trucked the perfect rock to the site where it was unloaded with a crane from Seward Ship’s Drydock.
After the expected pomp and circumstance, with Boy Scout Troup #568 members presenting the (flag) colors, and two hearty renditions of the Alaska Flag song and Iditarod Trail song by Seward-el students, and thank yous to to all people that made the statue possible, the president of the Seward Iditarod Trailblazers Dan Seavey began to speak:
“Welcome and thank you for your presence here today to share in what for our trail organization is a momentous occasion. Because Seward has played such a vital, leading role in the development of the trail, indeed in the great end itself, it is fitting for the last major public gathering of what has been nearly four years of centennial celebration should be here in Seward. It was likewise in February of 2008 that the centennial received the kickoff here in Seward with the re-enactment of the Goodwin party’s departure from this community. This, to conduct a preliminary survey for a northern route that was to end, in of all places, Nome. Coordination for that event fell to the Historic Trail Alliance and its numerous partners. For certain, the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance has had a pretty busy and productive four years. Centennial projects as varied as clearing trail rights-of-way, construction of safety cabins, production of a Centennial film, and even sponsoring of all things a Centennial musher in the 2012 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
(At this, Seavey received a large applause, since he was the musher) “Well what can you say, when you get old you get soft-headed,” he joked.
“Going back a bit Seward of course was yet an infant, really less than five years when on that fateful Christmas day in the year 1908, gold, an astonishing amount of gold was discovered in the Iditarod District. There followed then a two-year trail building frenzy out of Seward, and from the Nome end as well, by the Alaska Road Commission. All of this to accommodate what would prove to be Alaska’s final gold rush. There ensured some 15 years, roughly between the years 1910-1925 ,a very heavy winter traffic over what would commonly become referred to as the “Iditarod Trail.” Unless, as Mr. Poleske points out to me, you were in the boom town of Iditarod, then it was the “Seward Trail,” so figure that one out.”
“There was from that district fabulous amounts of gold. We can’t hardly imagine that gold measured not in ounces but in tons, not in a few bucks but in millions of dollars. This was all freighted by dog teams over the trail to our town through our ice-free port, and poured into the channels of world commerce. Going the other way, going north, were tons of supplies, tons of dog team mail, hundreds of gold rush prospectors mostly on foot as depicted in our monument here. The era was glorious to be sure but that era was short lived as well. Ten riotous, rambunctious years only, followed by a rather rapid demise. Mother nature immediately set about reclaiming that which was hers, as roadhouses and boomtowns alike began their slow, but inevitable journey back to earth. And where once they dare not trod, sturdy saplings began their march down the once busy trail, unafraid. Rails had advanced to a new kicking-off place called Wasilla. Miners and mines played out. The faithful husky had been replaced by this thing called a flying machine. And the trail, well that was filed away in a history book.”
“There it remained for nearly half a century when in 1970 members of a small dog mushing club began a dream. A big dream of a big race so spectacular, so successful as to ensure continuance for all generations of both the noble sled dog and the storied Iditarod trail. Dreams do have a way of coming true. Four decades of successful internationally famous sled dog races have been tallied with the completion of that of 2012. Forty years of racing over trail which, mainly through the efforts of those indomitable dog mushers became the Iditarod National Historic Trail in 1978, a 2200-mile trail system really belonging to you, belonging to me.
The management plan for that trail called for the creation of local citizen management groups. Taking advantage of that enablement, the Seward Itidarod Trailblazers were organized in 1982, that’s 30 years ago. Over its 30 year existence members have labored under one overpowering purpose: bring the Iditarod trail to Seward both in fact and in concept. Trail blazer members are justified in the pride they take in their many varied undertakings for the betterment of this community, be it the bike path along the beach, mile after mile of trail laid out to the north, or participation in the present ‘Seward to Girdwood’ trail project. Or how about the annual Mayor’s Cup race, about 17 of those, just for fun.”
To be unveiled in a few minutes is another of the Seward Trailblazer projects. Simply put you’ll see 33,000 pounds of rock and 1200 pounds of bronze. But a commemorative monument must serve something more than the sum total of its material list. Is it not an enduring token of an warm-hearted, open-handed community spirit so pervasive in the place we are? The same spirit of generosity that builds tot-lots, ballparks, and paints murals on the sides of buildings? Further, once unveiled, even the most casual observer will behold a remarkable object of art, rock and metal crafted in an extraordinary manner by in my opinion an extraordinary artist.
“Then, there is symbolism to it all, intangible but real. Most will view the monument as a symbol of the past, a reminder of a bygone era when Seward connected the vast interior of Alaska with the world at large via the Iditarod Trail, one and inseparable. Then, on the other hand, others will view this superb rendering of stone and metal as a symbol of the future, see in itself themselves, or perhaps Seward itself strong, resolute, hopeful, confident of the future, eager to strike out on the path of life wherever it leads, secure in the knowledge that all obstacles will be overcome, secure in the belief that somewhere down the trail, life will be good. I thank you.”