KTNA Studio – Dave Totten, artist

Photo by Deb Wessler

Photo by Dora Miller

KTNA Studio

KTNA On Air Studio, Jan 2013

Photo by Deb Wessler

Photo by James Trump

Winter Black-capped Chickadee

winter chickadee

Photo by Robin Song

Fish Lake morning

Fish Lake morning

photo: Robin Song


Susitna Writer’s Voice–“You Can’t Leave!” from Open to Entry, An Alaskan Adventure, by Kris Drumm

Kris Drumm, 1972 photo by Dennis Brown

Kris Drumm, 1972 photo by Dennis Brown


“You Can’t Leave” is an excerpt from Kris Drumm’s as-yet unpublished memoir “Open to Entry, An Alaskan Adventure”, her experiences as a woman homesteading north of Talkeetna in the 1970’s. The story is read by Sandra Loomis. Kris currently lives on Long Island with her son Judah Mahay and his wife Lorien in order to help raise their son Cedric.



First elasmosaur fossils in Alaska discovered in Talkeetna Mountains

This painting of life in a Cretaceous sea by Anchorage artist James Havens depicts elasmosaurs.   Photo:  Museum of the North

This painting of life in a Cretaceous sea by Anchorage artist James Havens depicts elasmosaurs. Photo: Museum of the North

Earlier this summer, paleontologists confirmed that fossilized vertebrae found in the Talkeetna Mountains belonged to an ancient sea creature, the elasmosaur. This is the first time that remains of the species have been found in the state. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:


The elasmosaur was a carnivorous reptile that prowled the oceans during the Cretaceous Period, which ended about sixty-five million years ago. Pat Druckenmiller is the earth sciences curator at the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North. As he explains, the most striking feature of the elasmosaur was its incredibly long neck.

“Imagine an animal, maybe thirty feet long, with half of that length being its neck, and this long neck sticking out supporting a relatively small head at the end.”

Based purely on description, the elasmosaur can be hard to picture in the imagination. Druckenmiller says there is one good visual comparison.

“Although I’m a little loathe to use the comparison, if you think of the Loch Ness Monster–which is definitely a mythical animal–that mythical animal was basically based on the body plan of an elasmosaur.”

With elasmosaur’s neck taking up as much as half of its total body length, it had to serve some evolutionary advantage. Pat Druckentmiller says scientists don’t agree on what exactly that purpose is nearly a hundred and fifty years after the animal’s remains were first discovered.

“That’s the million dollar question, and frankly that’s defied any widely-accepted answer.”

Druckenmiller says there are plenty of theories that try to explain the purpose of elasmosaur’s extreme anatomy. Many of them deal with feeding. Pat thinks that there are other possibilities as well, however.

“One idea I like, actually, is that sometimes animals have very strange anatomy because they use them for sexual selection, in other words showing off to potential mates, and species recognition. So that’s also a possibility.”

While scientists continue to work toward a consensus on elasmosaur’s neck, the other question I wanted the answer to was how an animal that lived in the ocean found itself, millions of years later, buried in a cliff at over 4,000 feet of elevation. Pat Druckenmiller says finding marine fossils at elevation is not uncommon.

“Alaska looked very different. In fact, these rocks, which were being laid down as sediment below sea level, were along the southern margin of what was Alaska, then. In the last seventy-million years, because of movements of the Pacific seafloor under Alaska, they’ve been crunched and brought up above sea level.”

Druckenmiller says that a great deal of credit should go to Curvin Metzler, the Anchorage resident who first noticed the bones eroding out of a cliff in the Talkeetna Mountains and called the Museum of the North.

“My hat’s off to somebody who does what I would say is the right thing in this situation and reports significant finds like that to the museum so we can study it and share it with the rest of the world.”

Pat Druckenmiller believes that a large portion of the elasmosaur’s skeleton is fossilized in the mountain, and he and his team will continue their work to extract it next summer.

Tips for Healthy Living

A  live conversation about health and health news from the Sunshine Community Health Center: It’s hosted by Holly Stinson, with today’s in-studio guests Kirsten Strolle, patient advocate at the Talkeetna clinic, and Shelis Jorgensen, Medical Director. They talk about how a patient advocate can help with applications for the sliding scale and, looking ahead to upcoming changes in Medicaid, those applications.

Mat-Su election slate comes into focus

Two candidates have officially entered the race to represent District 7 in the Mat-Su Borough Assembly.

Doyle Holmes and Randall Kowalke, both Willow residents, were added to the official candidate list on Thursday. Both men had already registered with the State of Alaska as candidates. District 7 begins in Meadow Lakes and continues to the northern edge of the borough. Currently, Vern Halter, who cannot run for his seat due to term limits, currently represents District 7.

Halter is still running for borough office, however. He is running against incumbent Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss of Palmer and fellow challenger Rosemary Vavrin of Wasilla.

There are also three school board seats up for election this year. As of Thursday, only one candidate had filed to run, Sarah Welton. Welton is a Wasilla resident and currently serves as the school board’s clerk.

The filing period for Mat-Su Borough candidates began on July 21st and will end Friday at 5:00 pm. The borough election is on October 6th.


Borough Assembly will return from meeting-free July to a full agenda

After not meeting in the month of July, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly will resume its regular meeting schedule next week. The agenda reflects the long period since the last meeting, with numerous items for consideration and introduction.

One item that has been months in coming is an ordinance to allow Talkeetna voters to decide whether or not to add East Talkeetna and the River Subdivision to the existing flood service area. According to Borough Emergency Manager Casey Cook, the area would need to be annexed in order for the borough to conduct flood mitigation work in the area. If the assembly votes in favor of the ordinance, the question will appear on the October 6 borough ballot for all voters living inside the current flood service area as well as the area to be annexed.

Also up for consideration at next Tuesday’s meeting is a reduction in borough transfer site fees. The cost of bringing trash to the sites increased significantly at the beginning of this month. A resolution sponsored by Assembly Members Dan Mayfield and Vern Halter seeks to partially roll back the increases. If passed, the resolution would lower the per-bag rate from $3 to $2. The rates per cubic yard would also decrease. In the resolution’s language, the sponsors claim that the increased fees may be contributing to illegal trash dumping. Under the current rates, three cubic yards, roughly equivalent to a pickup truck’s bed, costs $45 to bring to the transfer site. The proposed resolution would reduce that to $22.

In addition, thirteen ordinances are scheduled for introduction at Tuesday’s meeting. Included in them are a proposal by Assembly Member Jim Sykes to include electronic cigarettes in the borough’s tobacco tax and an ordinance proposing the sale of a piece of borough-owned land to Petersville Search and Rescue to build a warm storage building. The proposed price tag for the land is $10.

The meeting will be held at the assembly’s chambers in Palmer on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. The meeting can be streamed live at radiofreepalmer.org.

Anchorage residents plead not guilty to Sockeye Fire charges

The two Anchorage residents accused of starting the Sockeye Fire last month pleaded not guilty, according to court documents. Greg Imig and Amy Dewitt are each charged with eight misdemeanors connected to the fire. The charges include burning without a permit, allowing the fire to escape, negligent burning, failing to clear the burn area, leaving the fire unattended, and three counts of reckless endangerment. The Sockeye Fire reached a size of approximately 7,220 acres and destroyed fifty-five homes before it was contained by firefighters.

In an affidavit filed earlier this month, fire investigator Thomas Greiling (GREE-ling) says the fire spread from an unattended pile of smoldering debris spread to nearby forested land. According to the affidavit, Imig, Dewitt, and Dewitt’s juvenile son left the property after the fire started. Greiling says Dewitt told him that she called 911 before leaving, but did not provide an exact location or cause for the fire.

An arraignment was scheduled for Tuesday, but both Dewitt and Imig filed waivers for the hearing, as well as paperwork allowing hearings in their absence.

Assistant District Attorney John Cagle says the DA’s office is currently attempting to contact victims of the Sockeye Fire to determine how much restitution to seek.

Attorneys for Greg Imig and Amy Dewitt did not respond to a request for comment.

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for August 21st.

Talkeetna recycling scheduled to begin in early August

After a very successful fundraising period, Talkeetna’s recycling program is days away from getting started. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is currently scheduled for 11:00 am on Monday, August 3rd at the Talkeetna transfer site for the first recycling container.

Recycling in Talkeetna has been attempted multiple times in the past. One major factor that played in favor of the current effort is the willingness of the Mat-Su Borough to transport the recycling containers once they are filled. Butch Shapiro, Solid Waste Division Manager for the borough, hopes that recycling will mean less trash in the landfill. Over time, that would mean less need for new landfill cells, each of which costs millions of dollars to build to federal specifications, and millions more to decommission once they are full.  In an effort to promote the program, the borough will not charge for recycling through the current fiscal year. That could change during next year’s borough budget process.


The recycling containers will be refurbished garbage containers, similar to the ones already at the transfer site. Each is split into three compartments, allowing three different types of recyclables. The plan for the first container is to recycle aluminum cans, steel cans, and number two plastic jugs. The second recycling container, which is also in the works, is planned for number one plastic bottles, number five plastics, and mixed paper. Recyclables do need to be separated.


The Talkeetna Recycling Committee is seeking volunteers to help during the periods that recycling will be available at the Talkeetna transfer site.

Susitna Writer’s Voice–Ermine Hill Hike, by Robin Song

Ermine Hill Trail summit

Talkeetna resident Robin Song describes a long-awaited hike

in Denali State Park.

All photos by Robin Song

Several years ago my dogs and I hiked the Little Coal Creek trail up to Kesugi Ridge. While a bit strenuous, I remembered the view was spectacular, and I learned the names of alpine wildflowers and songbirds not found in our Talkeetna area, that day. I had vowed to hike the Ermine Hill Trail someday, knowing the view would also be glorious from there, as well.

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Scientists hope to determine more precise height for Denali

Denali is the tallest mountain in North America. Officially, its height is listed at 20,320 feet. The survey establishing the mountain’s height was made in 1953. Two years ago, the U.S. Geological Survey used a method involving radar to map large portions of Alaska. The mapping resulted in an estimate for the height of Denali’s South Summit that is eighty-seven feet lower than the official survey at 20,237 feet. The USGS says that, while the radar method is useful for mapping areas that are difficult to reach, it lacks some precision with regard to elevations of specific points.   The best way to get accurate data to work from is still the old-fashioned way.


Recently, a team has traveled to the top of the continent’s highest mountain to gather that data. The team consisted of one UAF scientist and a team of three GPS experts. Scientists will now take that data and formulate a new estimate for Denali. In a press release issued on Thursday, the USGS announced that the new official height for Denali is anticipated late next month. The USGS will work with the North American Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Alaska Fairbanks to determine the mountain’s elevation.


The USGS says that the determination will likely be more accurate than the 1953 survey, owing to advances in surveying technology. No matter what the new elevation number is, it’s very unlikely that Denali will lose its position as North America’s highest mountain. It has the second highest, Mt. Logan, beat by more than 700 feet.