Veteran musher Ramey Smyth to rebuild Iditarod’s collapsed Burled Arch in Nome

a musher and his dogs
Iditarod musher Ramey Smyth at the 2020 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start in Anchorage Saturday, March 7, 2020. (Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

The Iditarod Trail Committee announced that veteran musher Ramey Smyth will build the new Burled Arch for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The selection comes after the previous arch, a fixture of the race’s finish line in Nome, collapsed unexpectedly on April 28. 

Smyth has a long history with the Iditarod, entering the race 27 times dating all the way back to 1994. Smyth is also the owner of Smyth Logwork and Construction, a log home builder based in Willow. The Smyth family has been building log homes since the late 1950s, according to their website. Iditarod Race Director Mark Nordman said he believes this makes Smyth a good fit for the new arch. 

“When we first started discussing a new build for the Nome Arch a couple years ago, of course my first choice was Ramey Smyth. The current arch will be dearly missed by tourists and locals alike this summer, but we are so excited to see what Ramey builds for the next phase of Iditarod history,” Nordman said.

The replacement built by Smyth will be the third iteration of the burled wood arch. In 1974 Red Olson began crafting the first arch that served the Iditarod for 25 years. The original arch is preserved in the Nome Recreation Center. Bob Kuiper was commissioned to quickly create the second version in 1999 when the original arch broke into pieces while being moved by a forklift. The second version of the arch served from 2000 to 2024.

a broken arch
The Iditarod Trail’s famous Burled Arch rests in pieces scattered across the ground with Old St. Joe’s Church in the background. One of the pillars of the arch lies on the ground. (Ben Townsend/KNOM)

In keeping with tradition, Smyth hopes to use a cultivar of spruce for the new arch. He shared with Mushing Magazine that the replacement will weigh around 1,000 pounds. Selection and construction may take several months. Smyth noted that spruce beetles will complicate the search process and invited property owners to reach out if they’re aware of healthy trees on their properties. 

Smyth has been immersed in sled dog racing since he was young, his father Bud Smyth raced in the first-ever Iditarod back in 1973. His mother Lolly Medley competed in the second Iditarod in 1974. As Smyth reflected on a lifetime of involvement with the Iditarod, he said he understands the weight such an assignment holds for the arch that means so much to so many. 

“I was honored to be contacted regarding the rebuilding of the Historic Iditarod Arch that is emblematic of teamwork between supporters, mushers, dogs, villages, and all Alaskans,” he told Mushing Magazine. “The arch symbolizes teamwork, dreams, sacrifices, challenges on a trail of hardships, storms, sweat, and tears.”

The new arch is expected to be ready in time for the 2025 Iditarod.

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