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Thin Ice Stretches Across Kuskokwim River

Jan 16, 2019

The Native Village of Napaimute ice road crew towing the ice radar to assess ice conditions on the Kuskokwim River.Credit Mark LearyEdit | Remove

In most places, the Kuskokwim River measures 18 to 24 inches of ice. Some areas of the main channel have just over a foot of ice.

Mark Leary with the Native Village of Napaimute leads the effort to plow the river’s ice highway and says everyone is getting by with less.

“We never used to go on anything less than 24 inches for plowing," Leary said. "We’ve really cut down that envelope this year, just like everyone else has with snowmachine travel and truck travel.”

The ice road currently runs from Bethel up the Johnson River to the tundra villages of Kasigluk and Nunapitchuk. It also runs from Bethel upriver to 5 miles below Tuluksak, where Leary’s crew ran into something he calls “unusual.”

“The ice is thick, but it has no strength to it," Leary explained. "We can’t safely go across it with heavy equipment to plow.”

Leary has seen tribes and school districts along the ice highway contribute money and fuel to make the road possible. This weekend in Kasigluk, the local search and rescue group passed a hat around the community to collect donations.

“People just pitched in whatever they could: $20, $40, whatever. That gave me a lump in my throat that people would do that. That it’s that important to them,” Leary said.

While the ice is thin, there are far fewer open holes this winter than last winter and most of those are marked. However, the open holes from Tuluksak to 10 miles below Kalskag remain unmarked, and there is also an unmarked open hole above Akiak below Caunaq.