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Anchorage Outdoor School is now Alaska Outdoor School: Education Through Adventure!

Here in the KMTA NHA, signs of fall are everywhere- yellow leaves, the return of the starry night sky, and a transportation corridor growing quiet as the peak tourist season draws to a close. 

Over the summer, KMTA’s Education Programs underwent exciting redesign and development. The success of our Anchorage-based day programs last spring showed us with clarity the positive impacts of outdoor education and solidified our commitment to providing high-quality and accessible programming for students. For the upcoming school year, students who participate in KMTA programs will adventure outside of their home communities and set out on the path of discovery at locations within the Heritage Area. Keep reading to learn more about Alaska Outdoor School, KMTA Pathfinders, and Fresh Air Fridays!

Pack your bags because Outdoor School is headed back to Portage!

KMTA’s Alaska Outdoor School (formerly Anchorage Outdoor School) will offer residential outdoor school programming at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center in Portage Valley, back for the first time since 2019! Here, students are immersed in a dynamic and exciting environment where they can study glaciers up close on the Trail of Blue Ice, see salmon traveling up Portage Creek to spawn, and marvel at the many textures, shapes, and colors of the Valley and its residents. Over the course of three days, students and teachers alike reap the physical, mental, social and emotional benefits of time in nature. Providing opportunities for students to adventure away from home and connect with the many amazing public lands in Alaska is central to our mission, and AOS in Portage Valley is an exciting first step. This year, Alaska Outdoor School will be offered to 5th grade classes in Spring 2023. 

Get students outside all year long with KMTA Pathfinders

Our parks-based day programs showed us that just one or two days spent outside provides major benefits, but that outdoor learning starts with how to be outside for a whole day and be comfortable enough to want to explore and learn. For many, the program was ending just as they were finally hitting their stride! KMTA Pathfinders begins with a pre-visit from our education staff, then takes students into the outdoor classroom over a series of 3 field trips that take place throughout the school year, allowing students to build on their outdoor skills and truly reap the benefits of outdoor learning. The curriculum can be tailored to align with and support classroom-based learning and a variety of student ages. Teachers interested in the Pathfinders program can reach out to Education Programs Manager Sarah Schuh at sarahschuh@kmtacorridor.org for more information. 

Fresh Air Fridays, coming soon to a KMTA community near you!

Looking for something for your kids to do on school in-service days? This year, KMTA will be piloting a new community-based program series that provides kids with a safe and exciting space to play games, learn new skills and activities, and spend the day OUTSIDE! This program will work with local community members, organizations, and businesses to provide unique outdoor learning opportunities to youth, and will rotate throughout the KMTA communities of Seward, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing, Hope, Girdwood, and Whittier over the course of the year. Stay tuned for a program schedule and more information.

Support Outdoor Learning in your National Heritage Area

Our education programs are supported by a diverse coalition of partner organizations and community volunteers. Organizations, businesses and individuals looking to get involved in the work we’re doing to expand place-based, experiential learning opportunities for youth can support us in two main ways:

Volunteer With Us We have opportunities to work directly with students, help out behind-the-scenes with operations and logistics, or capture the magic through photo/video support. We can work with you to match you with the role that works best for you and/or your organization.

Donate or become a KMTA Sponsor Your financial support can help us expand our programmatic reach and capacity. Together we can get kids from throughout Southcentral Alaska outdoors and exploring the Heritage Area all year long!

Photo courtesy of Goon Gallery
Photo courtesy of Goon Gallery

Gnarly Weather Didn’t Stop the Success of Last Month’s Mineshaft Grinder

KMTA hosted our third annual Mineshaft Grinder on Saturday, August 13th, and we are still riding high from all the fun. With a 63% increase in the number of athletes compared to last year and close to $400 raised for the Hope School, the event was a huge success. Despite some gnarly weather, 65 athletes ranging in age from 15-79 turned out in full force to race up the Palmer Creek Road in Hope. Athletes opted to compete in one of three races: the Gold Grinder Bike Race, Silver Grinder Half-Marathon, or Quartz Grinder 8.5 Mile Run. A big highlight this year was the addition of ParaSport Alaska athletes from Challenge Alaska who competed in a new paracycle division of the Gold Grinder. It was a joy working with Challenge Alaska to make the Mineshaft Grinder more accessible and inclusive, and we’re looking forward to doing the same for all of our events. 

A Heavy Downpour Didn’t Ruin Anyone’s Spirits

Good spirits held despite the heavy downpour of rain. Many runners and cyclists sported faces and gear caked in mud as they crossed the finish line with big smiles. Some reveled in the grime, while others were thankful for a warm shower at the Hope School. The event celebrated the mining history of Hope, and to commemorate the work of those early miners, many racers leveraged their end-of-race adrenaline to participate in a bucket carry challenge. Participants carried two buckets (one in each hand), each weighing at least 40lbs up and down the length of a basketball court in exchange for extra raffle tickets for the after party prize drawing. Athletes celebrated their race victories with family and friends at the Creekbend Cafe’s backyard venue where  many enjoyed a well deserved libation and meal.

Overall Winners

The Gold Grinder’s male and female winners were only seconds apart, with Jorge Machado ultimately prevailing in a time of 58 minutes and 35 seconds over female winner Christina Grande who rode through the finish line at 58 minutes and 54 seconds. Michael Hanson claimed the first place male paracycling title (1:09:20), while 15-year old Anna Boltz triumphed as the first place female paracylist (1:23:26). Ari Gardner (1:39:36) and Kamie Miller (1:45:55) took first place for the respective male and female divisions of the Silver Ginder Half Marathon. Flip Foldager (1:17) and Jenna Wixon-Genack (1:18) earned the respective male and female first place titles for the Quartz Grinder 8.6 Mile Run. 

Without Volunteer and Sponsorship Support The Mineshaft Grinder Wouldn’t Be Possible

We’d be remiss if we didn’t express a BIG thank you to all of our sponsors and volunteers, without whom this race would not have been possible. Our business sponsors included Alaska Cycle Chic, Alaska Bike Adventures, Creekbend Cafe, Hope Sunrise EMS, Seward Bike Shop, Seaview Cafe, Trek Store of Anchorage, and Turnagain Kayak, who contributed financial support and donated tons of incredible prizes.A special shoutout goes to Hope Sunrise EMS who stayed at the bottom of Palmer Creek Road during the whole race, and the Trek Store of Anchorage who provided on-site bike support for Gold Grinder racers. Collectively our volunteers contributed over 150 hours of volunteer time to help bring this event to life. We are so grateful to be a part of such a strong community that shows up for one another. It is a true privilege to be a part of something so special.

All article photos courtesy of Goon Gallery

Photos and Results

Photos of the event can be found at David Story Photo and Goon Gallery

Race results are available here.


Mineshaft Grinder 2022 Needs Volunteers

The 3rd Annual Mineshaft Grinder Needs Volunteers!

VOLUNTEER

This race is made possible by volunteers! Please click here to sign up for volunteer opportunities. The first ten volunteers will receive a $20 gift certificate to the Trek Bicycle Store of Anchorage. All volunteers will receive a raffle ticket for giveaways at the Creekbend Cafe afterparty as well as a meal.

VOLUNTEER DESCRIPTIONS

Registration (7:45 AM-10:30 AM): 

  • Responsible for checking in racers, distributing race bags and signing up and collecting payment from same day race registrants.

Bike Timing/Finish (9 AM – 12:30 PM or End of Race):

  • Responsible for tracking bike participants times. Volunteers will be staged at the end of the bike race which is at the end of Palmer Creek Road.

  • Responsible for monitoring the refreshment table and replenishing as needed.

Run Timing/Finish and Bike Start (9 AM – 12:30 PM or End of Race):

  • Responsible for starting all the races which take place at Hope School

  • Responsible for tracking the running race times which all end at Hope School

  • They will also be responsible for monitoring the refreshment table and replenishing as needed.

Parking (7:45 AM- 10:30 AM):

  • Responsible for ensuring safety, courtesy, and common sense while assisting with parking of all volunteers, participants and spectators.

Aid Stations/Race Turnarounds (9 AM – 12:30 or End of the Race) 

  • Responsible for one of four different aid station areas – see below for descriptions.

  • Checkpoint volunteers will drive their own vehicle to have a safe place to stay and carry their own gear.

  • Two of the aid stations also function as the turn-around sites for the runners.

After Party Setup/Clean Up (12:30 – 3ish) Responsible for assisting with any after party setup at the Creekbend Cafe and clean up afterwards.

RACE LOCATION

The Mineshaft Grinder takes place in Hope, AK. All races start at the Hope School and follow parts or all of Palmer Creek Road.

COURSE

  • The Gold Grinder is an uphill-only bike race for riders to grind up 1900’ over 11 miles to the end of Palmer Creek Road.
  • The Silver Grinder is a 1/2 Marathon to the Nearhouse Mine Trail on Palmer Creek Road and back to Hope School.
  • The Quartz Grinder is an 8.5-mile round-trip run to the top of the switchbacks on Palmer Creek Road and back to the Hope School.

 The race turnarounds for the running races will be at Aid Station 1 for the Quartz Grinder (8.5 Mile Run) and at Aid Station 2 for the Silver Grinder (Half-Marathon).

Aid Stations:

There will be four aid stations available along Palmer Creek Road including:

  • Aid Station 1 – Top of switchbacks 
  • Aid Station 2 – ½ Marathon Turn Around (Nearhouse Mine)
  • Aid Station 3 – Coeur d’Alene Campground
  • Aid Station 4 – End of Palmer Creek Road

We ask that all participants bring their own reusable means of carrying water. There will be water jugs available at all the aid stations.

AFTERPARTY

The afterparty will take place at the Creekbend Cafe in Hope starting at 1 PM. Awards and raffle prizes will be announced starting at 1:30 PM. You must be present to win raffle prizes. As a volunteer you will receive a raffle ticket for prizes.

SAFETY

The race is being held in bear country so carrying bear spray is recommended!

PARKING

Parking will be available at the Hope School. There is limited parking so please carpool if able. If you are volunteering for an aid station you will be transporting yourself to the designated aid station.

Click here to sign up for volunteer opportunities.

All proceeds support the Hope School and KMTA’s Community Grant Program.

This race is under permit with the Chugach National Forest Service.

KMTA Hires A New Development Manager!

We are thrilled to announce our newest addition to the KMTA team! Jessa West has officially joined us as our new Development Manager. Jessa comes from a strong science and project management background and has extensive experience working with diverse communities across Alaska. Prior to joining KMTA, she worked as a project geologist and has over seven years of experience within various areas of geosciences in Alaska. She received a B.S. in Geology with a concentration in Environmental/Engineering Geology in spring of 2014 from Western Washington University. Growing up in Anchorage with access to all the natural beauty that surrounds it, including the KMTA corridor, inspired her love for the outdoors. To

this day, she enjoys camping, hiking, beachcombing, and recreating with her family throughout Alaska’s mountains, coastlines, and everywhere in between.

When asked what she is most excited about she said, “I am so excited to get to know our amazing grantees and can’t wait to see the final outcomes of their equally amazing projects.”

We are so happy to have Jessa on board and are deeply grateful for the strong foundation that our outgoing Grants Manager Amanda Sassi has left for her to build upon. If you have any questions related to KMTA grants and fundraising, you can reach Jessa at jessawest@kmtacorridor.org

Big Jim's gold nugget & Mercury head dime
Big Jim's gold nugget & Mercury head dime

More Fun in the Finding than in the Having – Part Three

By Clark Fair

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Last time, we learned how “Big Jim” O’Brien and “Little Jim” Dunmire came to the Alaska in 1935, made a home near Schooner Bend on the Kenai River, and began what would become a long history of placer mining on Surprise Creek.

Big Jim’s gold nugget & Mercury head dime

“This is not a gold country, and don’t let anybody kid you,” said Little Jim in a September 1969 interview, recorded three months before his death.

His words may sound bitter, but they’re not. The generally slim pickings from Kenai Peninsula mining never prevented the two Jims from trying for more than 30 years.

In 1973, four years after both Jims had been laid to rest in the Cooper Landing Cemetery, two officials from the Kenai National Moose Range traveled up to the Surprise Creek mine and inventoried what remained.

Surprise Creek cabin remains in June 1990

Among the many deteriorating, collapsing infrastructure they catalogued were: an old 10×20-foot barn; part of an old sawmill; two old cabins, including a 12×16 structure containing two calendars and several magazines from 1963; numerous five-gallon cans and 55-gallon barrels; an old generator on wheels; a 12×14 cabin, chewed up by porcupines and built originally from unpeeled spruce logs; an 8×8 screened-in meat-storage building; a 10×12 cabin with its roof falling in and its walls bowing out; an old air compressor mounted on hemlock runners; and a 12×12 machine shop, including parts of a vise and an old forge.

At various times there was even more up there, including a small slab-sided cabin above treeline, just below the Surprise Creek headwaters; a small bridge over a tiny stream the Jims called “Joe’s Creek”; and the remains of a moose-calf corral created and used by the mine’s first owner, Stephan Melchior.

“We did more gold work than anybody in the whole damn country,” Little Jim said. “We spent more money and had more equipment to work with and drove more tunnel than anybody I’ve ever heard of … even if you go clear back to when they first ever done any mining around here.

“We had an Ingersoll Rand J40, the best drill,” he added. “We had a #3 American Sawmill. We sawed thousands of feet of lumber, thousands of feet of planking, sluice boxes and everything else. Thousands of feet.”

Starting in 1939, the Jims began filing placer-mining claims. By 1953, they had 17 on or near Surprise Creek, plus others in the general area. Little Jim estimated that over the years they purchased “about $50,000” worth of equipment, which he doubted they ever made up for in gold. In fact, he said, the only real money they ever made came from trapping during the winters.

Surprise Creek mine sluice box in 1967.

Estimates vary concerning the tunneling done by the Jims in their attempts to reach bedrock and, they hoped, a mother lode, but the lengths range from at least 900 feet (according to a 1947 Alaska Life magazine article) to about 2,600 feet, according to Little Jim himself.

They also installed a cable crossing between Jim’s Landing and the Surprise Creek trailhead. Then, after the Sterling and Seward highways provided greater access to the general public, the Jims tried to prevent people from messing with their equipment.

They were in the wrong this time, however. Their mining claims gave them mineral rights, not property ownership. The land was then and is now in the public domain. So in 1953 when they blocked their route to the landing with a steel cable and posted it “Private Road,” they raised the ire of federal officials.

Fish & Wildlife director Clarence Rhode called the Jims’ action “trespass” and encouraged immediate legal action. Territorial mining engineer James Williams took a more tempered approach: “It is hoped,” he wrote to Rhode, “that the matter can be taken care of in a manner so as to raise as little ill-feeling as possible. The men involved … are old-time miners in the district, and as (with) most old-time Alaskans, deserve respect so long as they are intentionally law-abiding. … We hope a satisfactory and peaceful understanding with them can be reached.”

Will Troyer at Surprise Creek Cabin in 1968.

While peaceful, the resolution was hardly satisfying to the Jims. It left such a sour taste in their mouths that, upon retiring from active mining in about 1967, they decided not to surrender their claims to the government, as they had once planned.

Instead, they deeded everything over to heavy-equipment operator Morris Coursen, who soon afterward drove a bulldozer into the mountains, widening and clearing the original Surprise Creek trail.

“The dirty bastards (the feds) had crowded us and had given us a bad time so much,” Little Jim said. “If they would have been decent with us when we couldn’t make it anymore, we’d never have turned it over to Morris.”

In 1973, 49-year-old Morris Coursen also passed away. Over succeeding years, all mining ceased in the drainage, which currently contains no active claims.

“We got the beautifullest, coarsest gold we ever heard of in the whole country around here,” said Little Jim, noting that, while they sold most of what they discovered, they also gave some away to friends.

At 74 and in ill health during his final months, he recalled that he once asked Big Jim, “How would you feel if you got in there where you found a thousand dollars a day? … What would you do?” And faced with the prospect of truly finding a fortune, Big Jim replied, “I’d be damned if I’d know. Just would be the fun of finding it, that’s all.”

“Well, he was right,” said Little Jim. “As old as I am and the shape I’m in, if I had a chance, I’d go again. You never get over it.”

This article series originally appeared in the Peninsula Clarion in Spring of 2021

Read part one here: Coming in for the Landing: An Origin Story – Part One.

Read part two here:  Coming Home & Battling a Bully – Part Two

Enjoy these articles? Sign up for our monthly newsletter to be sure to see them or follow us on Facebook or Instagram. Sign up below!

Clark FairClark Fair, a lifetime Alaskan now living in Homer, grew up on a homestead in the Soldotna area. He is a former high school English teacher and journalist who now does freelance writing and photography and works part time for Kenai Peninsula College.

Little Jim & Big Jim with furs.
Little Jim & Big Jim with furs.

Coming Home & Battling a Bully – Part Two

By Clark Fair

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Last time, we explored the story behind the name of Jim’s Landing, on the Kenai River just outside of Cooper Landing, and we met James (“Big Jim”) O’Brien and James (“Little Jim”) Dunmire, two close friends and mining partners who first arrived on the Kenai Peninsula in 1935.

Big Jim at home.

In June 1935, when Big Jim (a silver miner) and Little Jim (a coal miner) first made their way from Idaho, via Seward, to Cooper Landing, they were determined to go placer mining, and they quickly decided to try their luck up on Surprise Creek.

They had heard of the placer work done up there earlier in the century by Stephan Melchior, a German immigrant who had died two years earlier in Seward and whose trail to his Surprise Creek mine began across the Kenai River from a location known locally as Melchior’s Landing. So they ventured up the old miner’s trail and set to work.

They would mine in that drainage for more than 30 years.

But in their early days in the Cooper Landing area, the Jims also needed a place to live. In that, too, they benefited from the past.

In the late 1890s, around the same time that Joseph Cooper—the namesake of Cooper Landing—was organizing the local Lake Mining District, another fortune-seeking gold miner, George Washington Towle, entered the territory. Towle and his sons trekked to Cooper Landing from the gold rush over at Hope and Sunrise, and on Cooper and Stetson creeks they found good prospects and staked several claims.

In about 1910, one of Towle’s boys, Tom, enlisted the help of brothers Frank and Ben to build a cabin for himself just below Schooner Bend. He was still living there in 1922, as a pair of hunters discovered when they hiked there seeking shelter and found a note that said, “This cabin is owned by Tom Towle. You are welcome to use it if you leave it in as good condition as you find it. Put out the fires and shut the doors.”

But by 1935, Tom Towle was gone and the cabin had been abandoned. A man named Mike Glynn was now the owner, and in a verbal agreement he gave the cabin and adjacent land to the two Jims, who promptly moved in. They spent considerable time up on Surprise Creek and split their winters between Schooner Bend and Seward, running a successful trap line and prospering from a robust fur market.

Little Jim & Big Jim with furs.

Just before that first winter set in, however, they found themselves with company.

Beverly Christensen and her first husband, Joe Sabrowski, had moved to Cooper Landing in August, were desperately short of funds, were staying in a wall tent, and, by December, were badly in need of a warm place to live. The cabin at Schooner Bend, according to Christensen, was built like a duplex, with a hallway separating two main rooms. The Jims were occupying only one of the rooms; they offered the other to the Sabrowskis.

Little Jim Dunmire, L, Bev Sabrowski, Big Jim O’Brien

Generally speaking, things went smoothly after this, until a man named Charlie Hubbard complicated matters.

In July 1935, Hubbard had filed several mining claims, including the ETA gold placer claim that included the old Tom Towle cabin and the property on which it sat. In 1937, Hubbard visited the cabin and told the two Jims to move out.

“He had a big .45 strapped on him,” Little Jim recalled in a 1969 interview. “When we didn’t say nothing (at first), he kept getting tougher and tougher. I just kept on until he said all he was going to say. Then I told him, I said, ‘Now, you all through?’ … I stood up, stood right by him. I was in hopes he’d reach for that gun. I suppose I would have killed the bastard right there if he had of.

“He knew it, too. … I told him what kind of guy I thought he was, and I told him, ‘Mister, you better just stay away from here and never come near here. You ever break into this place, and I’ll put a twist in your neck, and you will be watching your back trail the rest of your life.’ … Oh man, I was mad! I couldn’t hardly keep my hands off him, and he knew it. … You betcha he never come near us again.”

Little Jim relaxing at home.

From that point on, it was generally acknowledged that the old Towle place was the Jims’ home, as long as they continued to live there.

Still, Hubbard did eventually get a measure of revenge. In October 1956, he sold his claims, including the ETA, to a man named C.W. Mitchell, who waited until 1969 to make his move. Big Jim had died and Little Jim had moved into town, so he was able to prevent the Jims’ friends, Harold and Bernice Davis, from occupying the home or harvesting from the Jims’ fertile garden plot, despite the fact that the Davises had been sharing the place with the Jims for years.

But back in the 1930s, the Jims returned to work. And they worked hard, making their mark on Cooper Landing in the process.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Next time, we will examine the extent of the efforts Big Jim and Little Jim put into their Surprise Creek operation, including some troubles with the feds.

This article series originally appeared in the Peninsula Clarion in Spring of 2021

Read part one here: Coming in for the Landing: An Origin Story – Part One.

Read part three here:  More Fun in the Finding than in the Having – Part Three

Enjoy these articles? Sign up for our monthly newsletter to be sure to see them or follow us on Facebook or Instagram. Sign up below!

Clark FairClark Fair, a lifetime Alaskan now living in Homer, grew up on a homestead in the Soldotna area. He is a former high school English teacher and journalist who now does freelance writing and photography and works part time for Kenai Peninsula College.

A friend approaching the Jims' home near Schooner Bend.
A friend approaching the Jims' home near Schooner Bend.

Coming in for the Landing: An Origin Story – Part One

By Clark Fair

A friend approaching the Jims’ home near Schooner Bend.

The name itself receives little attention, but the “Jim’s” in Jim’s Landing is misleading. The apostrophe implies that the landing was named for a single man named Jim, when actually it honors two close friends with that name: James (“Big Jim”) O’Brien and James (“Little Jim”) Dunmire.

Little Jim & Big Jim

Still, the misplaced apostrophe is, however, no big deal compared to the difficulties associated with the place itself. Jim’s Landing, just off the eastern end of Skilak Lake Road, has often been a point of concern.

To begin with, when the upper Kenai River periodically floods, the road into the landing, and many of the attached parking spaces, flood along with it.

When the smoldering Swan Lake Fire flared back to life and surged across the Sterling Highway, it scorched Jim’s Landing and jumped across the river to incinerate the forest-covered hills on the other side.

And since the landing, located just above the turbulent waters of Kenai Canyon, is in a non-motorized zone, hikers wishing to reach the Surprise Creek trailhead can find it a difficult place from which to launch small boats and paddle across the river.

The landing exists because of the trailhead.

The trailhead exists because gold lies in the Surprise Creek drainage up in those forested hills.

The history of the landing begins decades before the arrival of O’Brien and Dunmire.

Melchior with a dog team in Seward, circa 1930

Before it was known for two gold miners named Jim, the landing was named for a different miner, a German immigrant named Stephan Melchior, who came north to Alaska in 1896. According to Mary J. Barry’s history of mining of the Kenai Peninsula, Melchior began mining on Surprise Creek “shortly after” he arrived in the Territory.

Surprise Creek flows northwest from its alpine headwaters between Bear and Russian mountains, just beyond the eastern end of Skilak Lake, and dumps into the center of Kenai Canyon.

Melchior, who was nearly 50 at the time and a mechanic and millwright by trade, filed for water rights and mining claims on the creek, where he built at least one cabin, a water-powered sawmill, and a system of sluice boxes. He also carved out at least three miles of roads and trails, all on the creek below treeline. By March 1918, he held four placer claims on Surprise Creek and an additional claim on one of its tributaries, Basin Creek.

Barry never states how much gold Melchior discovered in Surprise Creek or how he first found traces of the metal, although it seems likely that he followed traces of “color” upstream from the creek mouth.

After determining that the lower creek was not the main source of gold, and that repeatedly scaling the creek from the canyon could be problematic or even dangerous, he must have sought an alternative route. Ultimately, he discovered the route from his main placer site down to the landing that came to bear his name.

Surprise Creek Drainage

Regardless, Melchior died in Seward in 1933, so he was gone when the two Jims arrived in June 1935.

In a 1986 interview, Beverly Christensen, who first came to Cooper Landing just two months after the Jims arrived, said that O’Brien and Dunmire learned of Melchior’s placer work and took advantage of the infrastructure Melchior had left behind.

Despite the advantages, however, gold mining involved intensive labor. Over the years, the Jims would file numerous placer claims and greatly expand their operation. The Jims were in Alaska for the long haul—more than 30 years, usually living together in Cooper Landing.

After their deaths in the late 1960s, their grave markers lay side by side on a wooded slope of the Cooper Landing Cemetery. For nearly 85 years now, they have been attached to the area, in person or in spirit.

Although O’Brien and Dunmire shared a first name, a love for the outdoors and an obvious affection for each other’s company, they were also, in appearance and personality, quite distinct.

In 1942, on his World War II draft registration card, 54-year-old Big Jim reported that he stood 5-foot-11 and weighed 190 pounds. On his own registration card that same year, the nearly 46-yearold Little Jim said he stood 5-foot-4 and weighed 140 pounds. Since they were often near each other, the physical disparities were stark.

According to Cooper Landing historian Mona Painter, who knew them both, Big Jim was quiet and usually reserved, whereas Little Jim was loquacious—“a chatterbox,” she said.

Big Jim was born on April 15, 1888, in Craig, Missouri. Prior to venturing north, he had worked at the Sunshine silver mine in Idaho. It was in Idaho, says Barry, that he met Little Jim.

Little Jim was born on June 10, 1895, in Sandy, Oregon. The 1930 U.S. Census indicates that he was a coal miner in Clarks Fork, Idaho, and had a wife named Katherine, and a young son and daughter. But just five years later, on June 14, 1935, Little Jim signed in formally (and without his family) at the Eastport-Kingsgate Border Crossing between Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and Yahk, British Columbia, on his way to Alaska.

In the 1940 Census, he was residing in Seward and claimed he was still married, but he was living with his mining partner, James O’Brien. Since June 1935, however, the two Jims had been spending much, if not most, of their time near Cooper Landing, having moved into an abandoned cabin near Schooner Bend.

Things went well there until they encountered Charlie Hubbard two years later.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Next time, we will follow Big Jim and Little Jim through their early labors and trials, including their run-in with Charlie Hubbard, as they integrated into the Cooper Landing community.

Read part two here: Coming Home & Battling a Bully – Part Two

Read part three here: More Fun in the Finding than in the Having – Part Three

This article series originally appeared in the Peninsula Clarion in Spring of 2021

Enjoy these articles? Sign up for our monthly newsletter to be sure to see them or follow us on Facebook or Instagram. Sign up below!

Clark FairClark Fair, a lifetime Alaskan now living in Homer, grew up on a homestead in the Soldotna area. He is a former high school English teacher and journalist who now does freelance writing and photography and works part time for Kenai Peninsula College.

Tina Pierce and Tamyko White celebrate their race!
Tina Pierce and Tamyko White celebrate their Spencer Glacier 5M Dash race!

A Dashing Success

Tina Pierce and Tamyko White celebrate their race!

Tina Pierce and Tamyko White celebrate their Spencer Glacier 5M Dash race!

It’s been almost two weeks since KMTA hosted our 2nd Annual Spencer Dash, and we are still riding high from the event’s success. Hosted in partnership with Chugach Adventures, the race followed the Spencer Glacier Overlook Trail and the path of the glacier’s recession over the last 100 years. With the weather in our favor, the glacier’s beauty was on full display throughout the event, leaving a lasting impression on everyone there.

The race weekend started with a team of KMTA volunteers and a few racers heading out to Spencer Glacier from the Portage Train Depot on Saturday afternoon to camp and set up the race course. This crew of overnight campers enjoyed pristine camping conditions with bluebird skies and ample time to explore the glacier and its surroundings. Some campers even found tent spots with a full frontal glacier view, while others brought pack rafts and took advantage of the opportunity to paddle around the massive icebergs in the glow of the sunset. 

Pack Rafts on Spencer Lake

 

When the rest of the racers pulled in on the train the next day, the excitement in the atmosphere was palpable. We had a crowd of 70+ participants as diverse as the heritage area itself– from seasoned runners, to families with little kids, groups of friends, and everything in between. After a quick check in, welcome, and safety briefing, we drew a start line in the dirt and began the race with a very official, “ready, set, go!” The five mile course started at the Spencer Whistle Stop, continued past Spencer Lake to the end of the trail, and looped back to finish at the boat launch near Chugach Adventures Base Camp. 

When the rest of the racers pulled in on the train the next day, the excitement in the atmosphere was palpable. We had a crowd of 75+ participants as diverse as the heritage area itself– from seasoned runners, to families with little kids, groups of friends, and everything in between. After a quick check in, welcome, and safety briefing, we drew a start line in the dirt and began the race with a very official, “ready, set, go!” The five mile course started at the Spencer Whistle Stop, continued past Spencer Lake to the end of the trail, and looped back to finish at the boat launch near Chugach Adventures Base Camp.

Racers line up at the start of the Spencer Glacier 5M Dash

Racers line up at the start of the 2022 Spencer Glacier 5M Dash

 

Not long after setting up the snack and SWAG table, our first finishers came in hot. David Huie, the top male finisher, completed the race with a time of 34:30, while Meredyth Richards, the top female finisher, completed in 36:25. Each received a gift card to the Bake Shop in addition to this year’s Spencer Dash tin camping mug. By far their best prizes though were their winners’ trophies– large chunks of glacial ice pulled from the lake and ceremoniously handed to them dripping wet and cold as…well ice. With big smiles and laughs, each held their trophies high over their heads and posed for some epic champion photos in front of the glacier. 

Racers took some post race dips in Spencer Lake after completing the Spencer Glacier 5M Dash

Racers took some post race dips in Spencer Lake after completing the Spencer Glacier 5M Dash

The photo ops only became more fantastic as racers continued to cross the finish line. One brave soul ran into the freezing lake and sat down down in the water to cool off. Shortly after, another took it a step further, jumping into the lake and fully submerging herself as the whole crowd cheered. The fun times kept rolling as happy, tired racers made their way back to the Whistle Stop by foot or by hitching a ride on the Chugach Adventures bus. The air was buzzing with chattiness and laughter, and in that moment we all probably would’ve stayed a bit longer if we could have. But the train kept its schedule, and the whole crew boarded at the end of the day with full hearts and tired feet. The Spencer Dash was truly a dashing success, and we can’t wait for next year. 

We’d like to give a special thanks to our volunteers, Chugach Adventures, and the Alaska Railroad for their incredible support and tireless efforts that went into making this race possible. We are so grateful for your partnership and to have you as a part of our heritage area community.

Mineshaft Grinder 2022 Is A Go!

The 3rd Annual Mineshaft Grinder Is A Go – Join Us on Saturday, August 13th!

Come celebrate the mining history of Hope, Alaska by racing up Palmer Creek Road in the Mineshaft Grinder. You may choose between biking or running in the Gold, Silver, or Quartz Grinders. All proceeds support the Hope School and KMTA’s Community Grant Program.

LOCATION

The Mineshaft Grinder takes place in Hope, AK. All races start at the Hope School and follow parts or all of Palmer Creek Road.

COURSE

  • The Gold Grinder is an uphill-only bike race for riders to grind up 1900’ over 11 miles to the end of Palmer Creek Road.
  • The Silver Grinder is a 1/2 Marathon to the Nearhouse Mine Trail on Palmer Creek Road and back to Hope School.
  • The Quartz Grinder is an 8.5-mile round-trip run to the top of the switchbacks on Palmer Creek Road and back to the Hope School.

 The race turnarounds for the running races will be at Aid Station 1 for the Quartz Grinder (8.5 Mile Run) and at Aid Station 2 for the Silver Grinder (Half-Marathon).

COURSE MAPS

RACE START TIMES

  • The Gold Grinder starts at 10 AM
  • The Silver Grinder starts at 9:30 AM
  • The Quartz Grinder starts at 10:30 AM

NOTE: These start times may be adjusted slightly but no race will start before 9:30 AM.

REGISTRATION/BIB PICK UP

Bib Pick-Up will take place outside the Hope School on race day. You may check in for your race anytime after 8:30 AM.

Race Day Registration is allowed. Please bring cash or check as we cannot guarantee credit card payment.

COST

EARLY BIRD PRICING (Ends July 31st):

  • Gold Grinder 11.5 Mile Bike Race – $50
  • Silver Grinder Half Marathon Run – $60
  • Quartz Grinder 8.5 Mile Run – $50

PRICE AFTER AUGUST 1ST:

  • Gold Grinder 11.5 Mile Bike Race – $60
  • Silver Grinder Half Marathon Run – $70
  • Quartz Grinder 8.5 Mile Run – $60

No refunds will be given. Bib transfers are allowed.

BATHROOM FACILITIES

The Hope School bathrooms will be available for use and there are outhouses located at Aid Station 3 – the Coeur d’Alene Campground.

AGE LIMITS

The Mineshaft Grinder is open to all participants over the age of 16. If you have a youth that would also like to participate, please contact us.

PARKING

Parking will be available at the Hope School. There is limited parking so please carpool if able.  If you are a bicyclist staying somewhere in the Hope area please bike to the start of the race if you are able.

 SAFETY

The race is being held in bear country so carrying bear spray is recommended!

Aid Stations:

There will be three aid stations available along Palmer Creek Road including:

  • Aid Station 1 – Top of switchbacks 
  • Aid Station 2 – ½ Marathon Turn Around (Nearhouse Mine)
  • Aid Station 3 – End of Palmer Creek Road

We ask that all participants bring their own reusable means of carrying water. There will be water jugs available at all the aid stations.

Emergency Services:

The Hope Sunrise EMT will be present and available for any emergency situation that could arise.

AFTERPARTY

The afterparty will take place at the Creekbend Cafe in Hope starting at 1 PM. Awards and raffle prizes will be announced starting at 1:30 PM. You must be present to win raffle prizes. All participants receive one raffle ticket for registering for the race. There is an opportunity to earn more raffle tickets by completing the Bucket Carry.

BUCKET CARRY

Participants will have the opportunity to “work their claim” in honor of John Hirshey’s “Lucky Strike” mine, the most consistent lode gold (mined gold) producer of the Kenai Peninsula. For a chance to earn extra raffle tickets, participants will carry a bucket full of rocks at the end of their races.

GET A T-SHIRT!

MIneshaft Grinder T-shirts are available here.

VOLUNTEER

This race is made possible by volunteers! If you are able please click here to sign up for volunteer opportunities. The first ten volunteers will receive a $20 gift certificate to the Trek Bicycle Store of Anchorage.

Photo by Sarah Conlin
Photo by Sarah Conlin

Call for KMTA Board Members

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA NHA) is accepting applications for new board members. We are seeking applicants from diverse backgrounds who care deeply about the region, support our mission, and are interested in leveraging their networks and skills to enhance our impact. There are a lot of factors that qualify someone for Board membership, but prior Board experience is not a requisite. What is required is an ability to look strategically at organization growth and direction, thoughtfully question and evaluate, and hold us accountable to our mission, goals, and fiduciary duties. Board members need not live within the KMTA region, though should have a strong connection to one or more of the communities within it. If you have a passion for KMTA’s work (learn more below), about 4 hours per month to dedicate to volunteer service, and an education or life experience you think brings a relevant perspective, we can’t wait to hear from you. 

About KMTA

KMTA is Alaska’s only National Heritage Area, designated by Congress as an integral part of our nation’s diverse heritage, and originally created to celebrate the historic transportation corridor the Seward Highway now occupies. Our heritage area is truly a lived-in landscape, encompassing breathtaking wilderness and vibrant communities throughout Southcentral Alaska. Our mission is to preserve the history, culture, and natural resources of the region, and to facilitate public enjoyment of all it has to offer. We do this by supporting local grant projects and forming public-private partnerships that foster learning, economic development, and pride for this distinct area. The work we do would not be possible without the support of dedicated volunteers and community leaders who serve on our Board. We hope you consider joining us. 

Apply Here

If you’re interested in serving on our Board, please follow this link to complete an application. Application is ongoing. If you have any questions about what Board service is like at our organization, please contact Jeff Samuels, KMTA Board President at jeffdsamuels@yahoo.com