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Moose Pass history book selected for Alaska Book Week

Riley Board

From a book about the town’s history to a historic walking tour, the community of Moose Pass is getting a detailed view into its own past.

And this year, readers from all over the state got a glimpse, too. The team behind the book — called People, Paths and Places: The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska — was invited to participate in the 2022 Alaska Book Week, a celebration of books written and published in the state and run by the nonprofit Alaska Center for the Book.

The book, published in 2021, started as a series of panels displayed in the Moose Pass Public Library. Each panel contained a few pictures and one paragraph of information.

“But we all know for sure that a place or a person deserves more than one paragraph. It’s one thing to come into the library and see those posters and think, “Oh, that’s cool, look at the community.” But what we wanted to do was provide a space for the full story to be told,” said Willow Hetrick, who grew up in Moose Pass and was the driving force behind the library panels.

Hetrick said she got the idea from the Portage Glacier Visitor’s Center in Whitter, which has a similar set of panels. Hetrick is on the board of the Kenai Mountains Turnagain Arm Heritage Area, which includes Moose Pass. She got a grant from the organization to put the project together and looped in students at the Moose Pass School for historical research.

But she said eventually, they had more information than they could fit on the panels. They compiled the information into a book, which they published last year through Palmer-based Ember Press.

Hetrick said like the panels, the book is organized into sections documenting the people, paths and places of Moose Pass.

“Those are the three main venues where history comes alive,” she said. “Either it was a person, it was a path that got the person to a place, or it was an actual place that got the person there.”

Hetrick said the book has done more than just document history — it could also influence the town’s future.

The community has been grappling with plans from the Alaska Department of Transportation to resurface a section of highway that cuts through the town, something that many residents fear will disrupt its historical look and feel.

Hetrick said opponents of that project sent the book to Sens. Dan Sullivan, Lisa Murkowski and to the Department of Transportation Commissioner Ryan Anderson to illustrate the historical value of the community and the impact the highway project could have.

“It’s been helpful for the community to use as an advocacy tool,” she said.

Hetrick said the next community-based history project in the works in Moose Pass is a guided walking tour through the center of town. Signs for that project will incorporate content from the original panels and book, with new research. The project is inspired by the Seward Historic Walking Tour.

Hetrick said they’ve started with signs at the library and community hall. She said the next targets are the Moose Pass Methodist Church, the Trail Lake Lodge and the Estes Brothers store, which started as a homestead in 1921.

“Some of the pictures that we have show the town how it was 60 years ago,” she said. “So we’re hoping to showcase those, and just give people a sense of how long the community has been there, and how important community is to Moose Pass."

For Alaska Book Week, Hetrick and several others who helped put the book together including editor Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan, Rodger Painter and book designer Nannette Stevenson, were on a Zoom panel about its creation. You can watch a full video of that panel on the Alaska Book Week YouTube channel.

Profits from the book’s sale go to the Moose Pass Community Library. You can purchase a copy from the publisher here.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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