from left to right: Jenny, Alvin, Tim, Jim, Debbie,
Hannah, Karen, & Donna

By Donna McParlan
This adventure was spectacular for so many reasons. Since this was my first trip to Alaska and first project with Wilderness Volunteers, I really did not know what to expect. After flying to Anchorage from Chicago, my husband Tim and I hopped aboard the Alaska Railroad to Denali National Park. The train’s huge windows allowed us to view mile after mile of gorgeous scenery and wildlife on the way to the park. Once there our job was to break new trail on the Savage River Alpine Trail.

Building the Savage Loop Trail

Using hand saws, pulaskis, shovels, cutters, loppers, and canvas bags, we sawed shrubs, cut bushes, pulled up tundra sod, moved rocks, and hauled dirt. We worked long, hard days, but the reward was the result of our work. Our home for the week was a large platform tent with a wood burning stove at the back of the Savage River Campground. Debbie Northcutt and Bill Sheppard, our leaders, are experienced and professional. Bill, our chef, planned and prepared a variety of wholesome meals, taking trail cuisine to perfection. Across from the platform tent was a shower house with flush toilets for use only by the Park Service trail crew and the volunteers. So although our environment was remote and wild, our accommodations were civilized!

Mt McKinley above the clouds from our worksite
The weather for the week was a mixed bag. Temperatures ranged from highs in the 50’s to below freezing at night. We had rain on and off and snow on more than one day but some sun almost every day. Our views were of wide open tundra with the expansive Alaska Range all around, huge braided rivers, and brilliant fall colors of red, orange, and yellow. We saw abundant wildlife while on the trails and from the buses–Dall sheep, moose, caribou, and bear. Our volunteer group was a friendly, hard- working, and interesting bunch, diverse in age and from all over the country, and we enjoyed working side by side with the Park Service Trail Crew, who appreciated our efforts.
With this adventure behind me here’s what I will expect on the next one: a week of hard work in the great out-doors, breath- taking scenery, a feeling of accomplishment, and considerate and interesting people with a sense of responsibility to give something back.