Rough Winter Takes Toll On Dillingham Residents

Winter has been rough around the state this year. And the lack of snow and warm temperatures have not gone unnoticed by businesses and recreational enthusiast.

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My first stop is L&M hardware to speak with Parts Manager Mark Gleeson.

Mark says this is the worst winter he has seen in 22 years. But he says that life goes on and many people have just been using their 4 wheelers to get around, among other things.

“Funny enough, boats. There have been a lot of times this winter that the rivers and what not have been ice free,” he said. “So people have been using modes of transportation they don’t normally use in the winter.”

Snow machine sales have been way down at L&M this year, and Gleeson tells me that’s true around the state:

“It’s getting to the point that if there isn’t a true promise of snow, people are going to hold off a year,” Gleeson said. “And that has happened for the past two years. So we are going to be thick with unsold machinery.”

I cross 2nd Ave to visit Kyle Rolph at the L&M repair shop.

Kyle: “What’s up?”

Matt: “Kyle?”

Kyle: “That’s what my mom calls me.”

Matt: “Is that what I can call you?”

Kyle: “Depends, who are you?”

After a quick introduction, Kyle gets right to the point.

“This winter and last winter are just complete freaks of nature compared to what I know,” Kyle said. “If you went out riding for half a day, you’d probably have to stay in bed for a day, it’s so rough and nasty out there.”

He tells me that when there is good snow, he and his team can barely keep up with demand.

“I mean the mechanics are out moving lumber and stuff around, and normally we don’t have time to work on anything but mechanical things,” Kyle said.

Rolph says work is slow enough he’s actually moving to Hawaii at the end of the month. He’s leaving for a job to work on outboard motors.

Rolph: “There is never an off season over there so I’ll be busy all the time.”

Kyle: “So was the lack of snow a factor in your decision?”

Rolph: “Actually it was. You know, the days go by a lot faster when you actually have work to do.”

He tells me if Hawaii doesn’t work out, he can always come back home.

I headed over next to Delta Western. Ken Reiswig, owner of one of Dillingham’s three main fuel suppliers, says it’s not the lack of snow that is his concern.

“Warm weather and large heating fuel sells don’t go together,” Ken said. “You don’t sell lots of fuel.”

Grocery stores in Dillingham like the N&N Marketplace say business they normally see from the villages in the winter is down because the most of the trails haven’t opened yet.

I’m new here, but I can tell recreation has suffered too. Hunters are struggling to hunt, trappers to trap. Fish and Game says the numbers of reported harvests are down. Ptarmigan haven’t come down from the mountains, I’m told.  Skiers can ski, but apparently not much.

What about other festivities? Charlene Lopez says Dillingham’s Beaver Round-up may be forced to cancel the dog sled races again.

“We’re trying to do what we can to beef up the schedule but also still see what we can do the traditional ways,” Charlene said. “And it is kind of terrible if we have to cancel the dog races being the second year. But we need snow for those, for the mushers and for the dogs for their safety, that’s what we need.”

So, I got off the plane about a week ago, brand new to Dillingham and Alaska. It dawned on me pretty quick that a real winter, with some real snow, is pretty important to business, fun, and life in a lot of Bristol Bay.

Maybe it’s not too late?

Matt Martin is a reporter for KDLG in Dillingham.

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