Extreme cold temps in Bethel region mean more ice road, but river hazards remain

Mark Leary, director of development and operations for the Village of Napaimute, and his ice road crew set out to plow the ice road on the morning of Jan. 6, 2020 and reached Kalskag at 7 p.m. Jan. 7, 2020. (Mark Leary)

The Kuskokwim River ice road has grown longer, thanks to Mark Leary, director of development and operations for the Village of Napaimute, and his ice road crew. The crew plowed the road all the way to Kalskag on Jan. 7.

Leary said his crew experienced no issues while they plowed the 50 miles from Tuluksak to Kalskag in a wind chill of negative 45 degrees Fahrenheit. However, he recommends that drivers not use the new section of the ice road yet because of three unmarked open holes.

Related: “Watch the Ice” — read our collected coverage of Alaskans and ice in the era of climate change.

He added that the entire stretch of road is completely unmarked, and some parts of the road are hard to follow because of glare ice.

Leary suspects the extremely cold weather over the past few weeks prevented people from getting out to mark it. He said that the ice road is poorly marked from Akiak to Tuluksak, but the marking from Bethel to Akiak meets his standards. Ideally, Leary says the road and all open holes would be marked with large willow trees and reflectors.

Mark Leary maintains the ice road as part of his job as the Director of Development and Operations for the village of Napaimute. He said Napaimute uses their tribal transportation funds to work on the ice road since they don’t have a village site they need to maintain year-round.

Leary wants to extend the ice road south as well, should he get more funding. It currently extends to Napakiak, but with the ice conditions improving through the recent cold snap, he thinks it could go all the way to Tuntutuliak.

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