Alaska’s history can be defined in large part by the network of trails and roads which criss-cross the state, threading through the seemingly endless forests and across the wide tundra lands; winding over great mountain ranges and bridging tumultuous rivers. From the Valdez-to-Eagle Trail to the Iditarod Trail to the trails which became the Glenn Highway, the Seward Highway and others, there have always been pathways through the wilderness, whether made by animals on the move, natives seeking better hunting and fishing, or pioneers prospecting for gold.
The roads and trails, some long abandoned and others still in use, have played a large role in Alaska’s history, providing not only access and a means for the delivery of freight, mail and passengers, but also providing jobs for untold thousands of men and women. Surveying, mapping, building and maintaining the roads and trails of our state have given many a reason for being here, and for many others a reason to stay.
The 352-mile Richardson Highway, which links the coastal town of Valdez with the Interior towns of Delta Junction and Fairbanks, began as the aptly-named Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, and before that much of it was the Valdez-Eagle Trail, one of the first inroads to the Klondike gold fields in Canada, built by the U.S. Army in 1898.
The southernmost part of the Glenn Highway, which runs 328 miles from Anchorage to Tok, near the Canadian border, was originally part of the Iditarod Trail, which linked the seacoast town of Seward, on the Kenai Peninsula, with the seacoast town of Nome, on the Seward Peninsula (still with me?). The longest stretch of freeway in Alaska, and the only road access to Anchorage for most of the state, runs primarily along the Glenn Highway, beginning in north Anchorage, continuing onto the Parks Highway just south of Palmer, and ending in Wasilla, for a total of approximately 38 miles.
This history of the roads and trails of Alaska is a fascinating study, full of colorful characters and epic events. Follow a few links and spend some time learning more about the roads and highways we all use, and those who built and used them before us. It’s an important part of our history – and our future.
For more information: