Easter Travelers, Take Caution On Kuskokwim Ice Road

Mar 30, 2018

Napaimute's Oscar Samuelson and Mark Leary with dog Honey pretend to ride in the Lund skiff painted onto the legs of the Kuskokwim Ice Classic tripod on March 30, 2018. Also in the picture is Napaimute's ice road grader and the Kuskokwim ice road itself.
Credit Courtesy of Mark Leary / Native Village of Napaimute

The Kuskokwim ice road from Bethel upriver to Chuathbaluk is ready for Easter travelers. Tribal road crews just hope that it will last through the weekend.

Mary Leary, Development and Operations Director for the Native Village of Napaimute, called into KYUK’s Talk Line on Friday morning to share a river update.

“I know the manuqers are wanting to know about the road,” he said, laughing.

Leary reports that the Napaimute crew plowed a new road from Bethel to the Kwethluk/Akiachak Y on Thursday. That replaces the old route that had become wet and slushy. Also on Thursday, the crew continued plowing from there upstream to Kalskag. Kalskag to Aniak hasn’t been plowed since Saturday, but is still passable, and Aniak to Chuathbaluk was recently plowed as well.

Leary calls the 135 miles of ice road upriver from Bethel “hard and dry,” but warns that conditions can change quickly. The afternoon sun is growing warmer, and the ice is much thinner than in past years. The ice used to freeze a good 4 feet deep, but this year even the thickest parts did not reach that depth. In most areas the ice is 3 feet, and in some areas it’s less.

“When it does start melting hard, it might not hold up long,” Leary said.

That’s especially true for Coffee’s Bend, where the road winds between an open hole and a cut bank. The Napaimute road crew will close that section of the road early next week.

“We want to do it as a precaution," Leary said. "Close it before it gets dangerous. That current is aiming right for the road.”

Leary is also worried about the bend above Akiak. Sand is starting to show through, making the ice darker and easier to melt in the sun. Potholes are already forming.

The road isn't expected to last long. The season for plowing and maintaining the ice road has wrapped up for Napaimute. The crew retired its equipment in Bethel on Friday.