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Trucks are traveling by river from Bethel to Napaskiak, but some dangers remain

Katie Basile
The frozen Kuskokwim River in 2016.

There are cars and small trucks traveling on the frozen Kuskokwim River around Bethel, but don’t call it an ice road yet.

“There is no ice road right now,” said Mark Leary, a Bethel Search and Rescue member and Director of Operations for the Village of Napaimute. “We don't call it an ice road until it's marked and plowed, if needed. And there's responsible entities for keeping it maintained. Right now it’s just a truck trail.”

The Village of Napaimute, which has maintained the ice road in recent years, will do so again this year. But the ice isn’t thick enough to support plowing equipment yet. Leary said that the precursor to the ice road, the truck trail, goes from Bethel downriver to Oscarville, Napakiak, and Napaskiak.

“And I think a handful of guys have travelled from the tundra villages by truck, just a few,” Leary said, “No truck trail above Bethel. There’s significantly more snow, and ice is significantly thinner under that snow.”

He added that there are risks involved in traveling on a truck trail that’s mostly unmarked.

“People are getting confused once in a while and driving over ice that hasn't been checked. You know, even despite the cold weather, there is thin ice out there if you go where the snow hasn't been disturbed,” Leary said.

Still, Leary is encouraged about how the river is freezing this year.

“I mean, we're way ahead of where we've been in recent years. It froze, you know, more like we used to consider normal: late October. The downside was it snowed too early, and that has slowed it down. You know, if we had no snow right now, after all this cold weather you could drive anything on the river,” Leary said.

Call-In Show: River Conditions
Sam Berlin hosted a call-in show with members of Bethel Search and Rescue Mark Leary, Fritz Charles, and Earl Samuelson to talk about river conditions. Listen below

Greg Kim was a news reporter for KYUK from 2019-2022.
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