In late February of 2008, it hadn’t been more than a couple of weeks since I first planted my feet in Alaska and called it home. I had driven up from Michigan with a loaded down car and had taken up residence in the Anchorage International Hostel while looking and waiting for permanent work. My time at the hostel was mostly spend sitting quietly, working, designing websites for clients back home as well as the hostel itself since I had quickly bartered an agreement with the management to design their new website in return for a few months rent. I was surrounded by travelers, seasonal workers, sojourners, and even some nearly homeless fellows aside of the fact that they could call the hostel their home during the winter months. I worked often, but I chatted with everyone often as well. There was always something interesting to learn about life in Alaska, or stories that unraveling with perhaps little basis in truth but fun to hear nonetheless.
Luckily, since I had become friends with the management, I was given a room with only one other occupant that was considered one of the higher caliber of residents at the time. Paul Hedtky was a seasonal employee, often working in the northern regions of the state during warmer months and traveling during the cold ones. He had called Alaska home for years, despite having no permanent home and being a bit of a wanderer. Still, he was full of useful information about backcountry travel, communities in Alaska, gold panning, edible plants, carpentry and tons of other random knowledge.
Eventually, having already driven around town together a time or two, Paul inquired as to if I would be willing to take a trip to Fairbanks. He needed to connect up with his employer there, and I had a car. He was willing to pay for gas, and I’d get a free trip out of the deal, so I accepted the offer with little consideration. Paul was also interested in inspecting some state land along the way in, the surveyed subdivision of Trapper Creek Glen on the Parks Highway. For years he had considered purchasing a small piece of land and setting up a cabin home for himself. He had plenty of money saved up for just about any lot he’d want, and the only thing stopping him was finding a good location that suited his needs.
I was interested in property too of course, but not at all financially able to buy just then. Still, before leaving I looked online at the potential properties, took a look at Google Earth and considered the idea. Most research was for Paul’s benefit. I was strictly learning for future use.
Along the way to Fairbanks, we did in fact stop at Trapper Creek Glen. We parked in a plowed parking lot at mile 118 of Parks Highway and began walking a wide trail into the subdivision which was nothing more than forest blanketed in deep, pure snow. And it wasn’t long before snowmachiners rode up and struck a conversation. They were each property owners in the area and expressed that they were happy with their purchase, thought the surveyors had done a good job and also that the mosquitoes weren’t too bad in the summer. Property taxes were low as well.
The snowmachiners were busy working and taking supplies to their cabins, so off they went eventually. Paul and I headed down the trail a ways further, but turned back once we decided we had seen enough of what the area looked like. There were only so many variables for the terrain out there, low marshland or higher ground covered with birch and spruce. At this point Paul was interested enough to get further information from the Alaska DNR office in Fairbanks since over-the-counter land sales were handled by staff there.
Once at the DNR office, we were both amazed at how potentially easy it was to purchase state land. The clerk provided a few different options as well as some paperwork on the process. We browsed maps on the wall, pulled up properties for sale on their visitor use computers and printed out satellite images of the lots at Trapper Creek Glen Paul was most interested in, those that were closer to the highway and looked to be higher ground with plenty of lumber waiting to be turned into a cabin. Once again, I was not in the market to buy, but I was still intrigued.
After a night in Fairbanks, and now on my way back to Anchorage, the solitude and quietness had my attention fixed keenly on the environment around me. To be exact, it was in Broad Pass, just south of Cantwell while driving through drifting, ghostly snow, that I was astonished at how unearthly the land and mountains seemed to me. Soon, Denali, the tallest peak in North America could be seen rising up from behind jagged ridges of the fore mountains, towering over everything and dwarfing even the closest, next tallest peaks. The sun highlighted snow that blew from its slopes, adding to the drama of the scene, and an elevated view, down into the valley, across the expanse and up to the base of the mountain showed every single spruce as they grew smaller and smaller until becoming undefined specks of forest green. A true perspective was established. Perhaps it was my solitude, my overactive imagination, but I felt as if that mountain was drawing me, that its immense size was great enough to afflict gravity on my person. Trapper Creek Glen was just south of Denali, and I couldn’t believe, now knowing the intricacies of ownership and payment and having put more thought toward the matter, that I could in fact purchase land within such close proximity to this mighty mountain. As a kid I had dreamt of backpacking in Denali National Park, had received information on working there during summers, but had yet to realize those dreams. Was I dreaming now, or could I truly own land with a permanent view of the Alaska Range and Denali?
While driving, I hurriedly called family and shared the news, explaining that perhaps we could purchase multiple lots so as to acquire a larger area of land together for use as recreation and investment. I developed ideas that would share the venture and experience with those I care about most, but also help me acquire a lot more easily by sharing the cost despite the fact that I’d be doing most of the labor to develop a cabin of any kind. This turned out not to be necessary.
By the next evening, back at the Anchorage International Hostel and having discussed the matter in more detail with family, we had all become excited at the prospect of purchasing two lots side by side. They might have been still living in Michigan, but at roughly $1000 an acre, and low payments, it seemed a reasonable venture and a location to vacation in the future. During the day I had been looking at potential lots that fit our needs, and only two possible pairs were left. Each was examined on Google Earth for tree coverage and elevation as well as possible views of Denali. However, within a short period, one lot out of the two pairs was purchased. This meant there was only one pair left. The remaining lots at Trapper Creek Glen were being bought up, left and right. The subdivision that had been for sale for twenty some years was now down to a few lots as a snowball of purchasing activity and limiting supply caused a quick buy-up of the remaining land. At that moment, I staked my claim, making a $300 down payment on one of the lots in the remaining, adjacent pair. Having made the crucial leap alone, by morning my family had bought the other. We awaited our paperwork from the state, and I began formulating my cabin plans.
As for Paul, who originally was interested in land at Trapper Creek Glen, he never did make a purchase. I was sure not to buy any of the lots he had been interested in. I didn’t feel it would have been right of me to snatch one out from under him. Besides, I was more interested in gaining distance from the highway, while he wanted easier access. In short time, every lot was purchased, and Paul would have to look elsewhere.
Had it not been for inspecting the land with him or tagging along to the DNR office, my realization of land ownership in Alaska would have perhaps taken years longer to witness. He’ll be forever welcome at my cabin, of course.