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Beloved Iditarod figure William ‘Middy’ Johnson dies in Unalakleet
was written by Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media , 2019-12-21 02:27:40
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The Iditarod lost an important member of the race community this week. William “Middy” Johnson, 53, died in Unalakleet on Wednesday, according to a Facebook post from the Iditarod Trail Committee.
Johnson was born in Unalakleet, and in recent years had taken over running the town’s race checkpoint, renowned up and down the trail for its hospitality. For days each March, the smell of Johnson’s sourdough pancakes inside the town’s community hall were a welcomed comfort at one of the most grueling stages of the thousand-mile race, as mushers head toward the punishing Norton Sound coast.
He came from a family of important Alaska dog mushers, and started running a team as a middle-schooler, according to his official race bio. Johnson’s grandfather, Henry Ivanoff, carried medicine during a leg of the famous 1925 serum run that the Iditarod race commemorates. Two of his brothers ran the race, which inspired Johnson to sign up and complete the 2010 Iditarod in just under 11 days, arriving in 33rd place as a rookie.
Hundreds of people commented on the Iditarod’s Facebook post about Johnson’s passing. Many of them were veteran mushers, recalling his kindness and generosity during the event each year. Community members noted his years of service to rural Alaska through coaching and work for regional businesses.
A celebration of life and potluck is planned for Monday at Unalakleet’s school.
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Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is the biggest national forest within the United States. It received its name from the Tongass Clan of the Tlingit native people and goes back to 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt created the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve. In 1908 the forest had been renamed and expanded and today the 16.9 million-acre Tongass National Forest runs from the Pacific ocean to the vast inland ice fields that border British Columbia and from the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island to Malaspina Glacier five hundred miles to the north. More than 80 percent of Southeast Alaska is in Tongass and with its thousands of islands, fjords and bays the national forest offers 11,000 miles of coastline. Tongass’ huge coastal rain forest includes towering hemlock, spruce and red and yellow cedar. The undergrowth underneath thegiant conifers is made up of young evergreens and shrubs such as devil’s club, blueberry and huckleberry. Moss and ferns cover the ground, and lichens adorn numerous trees and rocks.
Wildlife is abundant throughout Tongass. Sitka blacktail deer and it’s 2 main predators, wolf and brown bear, are observed here. Black bear are common as well as mountain goats and some moose. Marine mammals discovered along the shores include Dall and harbor porpoises, seals and humpback, minke and orca whales and a thriving population of sea otters. The seas teem with fish such as halibut and all five species of Pacific salmon. More bald eagles live in this area than in any other spot in the world. Though the place to find the world’s biggest temperate rain forest, nearly fifty percent of Tongass is covered by ice, water, wetlands and rock. It’s most well-known ice floe is the Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska’s “Drive-in glacier” since it is only thirteen miles from downtown Juneau along a paved road. A boat ride through Petersburg or Wrangell can bring people near the face of LeConte Glacier, the southernmost tidewater glacier on the continent. Just thirty miles north of Yakutat is Hubbard Glacier, the longest tidewater glacier in the world and easily Alaska’s most active. The 76-mile-long glacier has crossed Russell Fjord several times, lately in 2008. The rip tides and currents that flow in front of the 8-mile-wide glacier are so powerful they cause Hubbard to calve almost constantly. The Tongass features nineteen wilderness areas, including the 545-sq-mile Russell Fjord Wilderness, in addition to Admiralty Island National Monument and Misty Fiords National Monument. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and the general area surrounding Haines and Skagway aren’t part of the national forest.