Toksook Bay receives $12M to extend Nelson Island trail system to Mertarvik, but Newtok hasn't decided whether it wants the trail
The federal government announced a $12 million grant last week to Toksook Bay to finish building an extensive trail system on Nelson Island. The grant would pay to stretch the trail to Mertarvik, the new site for the village of Newtok. But Newtok hasn’t decided yet if it would want such a trail.
The Nelson Island trail system will span over 50 miles when all is said and done. It aims to connect all four villages on the island: Tununak, Toksook Bay, Nightmute, and the recently-added Mertarvik. It also connects those communities to Umkumiute, a traditional fishing location.
The trail is built with a plastic material called geocell, which will allow four-wheelers to travel while causing less damage to the tundra.
Toksook Bay has been taking the lead on the project. The tribe’s transportation manager, Harry Tulik, said that the trails will provide the residents of Nelson island better access to a variety of subsistence locations. It will also allow people in Tununak, Nightmute, and Mertarvik to more easily access the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s sub-regional clinic in Toksook Bay.
But the full trail system is not done yet. Tulik said that the tribe is still working on connecting Toksook Bay to Nightmute. He expects to finish that portion next summer.
And connecting Mertarvik to the trail system is still several years away. Tulik said that section of the trail needs to be designed and go through environmental regulation processes. He said that he expects construction to begin in 2023 and finish in 2025.
But the trail may never fully reach Mertarvik because the Newtok Village Council hasn’t signed off on the project. Newtok Tribal Administrator Phillip Carl said that the council hasn’t been able to meet in months due to COVID-19. If Newtok decides it doesn’t want the trail, Toksook Bay would still build most of the trail towards Mertarvik, stopping a mile or two short of the village where the Toksook Bay Corporation’s land borders the Newtok Corporation’s land. Carl said that the Newtok Village Council is planning to meet in December to vote on the project.