Toksook Bay receives federal grant to connect all 4 Nelson Island communities

A strip of river next to green land and neatly-arranged houses.
Mertarvik is a newly constructed village on Nelson Island that the village of Newtok is relocating to. July 16, 2020 in Mertarvik, Alaska. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

The federal government announced a $12 million grant last week to Toksook Bay to finish building an extensive trail system on Nelson Island, just off Alaska’s southwest coast.

The grant would pay to stretch the trail to Mertarvik, the new site for the village of Newtok. But Newtok hasn’t decided yet if it wants the trail.

Newtok Tribal Administrator Phillip Carl said that the council hasn’t been able to meet about the project in months due to COVID-19.

If Newtok decides it doesn’t want the trail, Toksook Bay will still build most of the trail toward Mertarvik, stopping just a mile or two outside of the village. Carl said that the Newtok Village Council is planning to meet in December to vote on the trail.

The idea is that the Nelson Island trail system will span over 50 miles, linking all four villages on the island: Tununak, Toksook Bay, Nightmute and the newly-constructed Mertarvik. It will also connects those communities to Umkumiute, a traditional fishing location.

The trail will be built with a plastic material called geocell, which will allow four-wheelers to travel while causing less damage to the tundra.

Toksook Bay has been taking the lead on the project. The tribe’s transportation manager, Harry Tulik, said that the trails will provide the residents of Nelson Island better access to a variety of subsistence locations. It will also allow people in Tununak, Nightmute and Mertarvik to more easily access the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s sub-regional clinic in Toksook Bay.

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Tulik said that the tribe is still working on connecting Toksook Bay to Nightmute. He expects to finish that portion next summer.

And connecting Mertarvik to the trail system is still several years away, if the council approves the link. Tulik said that section of the trail needs to be designed and go through environmental regulation processes. He said that he expects construction to begin in 2023 and finish in 2025.

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