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Bethel Search and Rescue urges caution for all Kuskokwim River travel

A drone shot shows the frozen Kuskokwim River in front of Bethel in December 2022.
Gabby Salgado
A drone shot shows the frozen Kuskokwim River in front of Bethel in December 2022.

Bethel Search and Rescue (BSAR) is warning people that travel with snowmachines and vehicles on the Kuskokwim River to be extra cautious in the area between Napaskiak and Oscarville, where a large hole observed shortly after freeze-up has only recently closed.

“We're seeing the ice only 8 to 9 inches thick,” BSAR member Mark Leary said on KYUK’s Talkline call-in show on Dec. 15. “We haven't gone on it ourselves with trucks. We're not going to until it's a little thicker. But for those that are traveling through that area, be aware. Don't stop in that area and do not stop and talk to another vehicle.”

Leary said that the Bethel area is in relatively good shape in terms of ice, and that a hole marked at the lower end of Church Slough had since frozen over. Nevertheless, Leary advised that those who travel stay on marked trails as much as possible and give a wide berth to holes that have been marked by search and rescue volunteers.

“When you see those sticks in a circle, or sticks with blue reflector, stay away,” Leary said.

As of the evening of Dec. 15, BSAR was also recommending that all heavy vehicles stay off of Church Slough due to reports of overflow.

Upriver travel

For those traveling by snowmachine upriver to Akiak, Leary recommended sticking to the heavily used trail from Akiachak due to five open holes recently observed near the upper end of Kuskokuak Slough.

Above Akiak there is no established snowmachine trail on the Kuskokwim River ice. Because of open water upriver from Akiak, the main trail to Tuluksak avoids the river via the back trail from Akiachak.

BSAR will conduct its second aerial survey of the Kuskokwim River on Monday, Dec. 18., which should provide a clearer picture of ice conditions and travel safety along the river.

Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
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