Friday, August 3, 2012

Exploring Boundary and Top of the World Highway

Boundary Roadhouse in 2000

When the military road from Fort Liscum in Valdez to Fort Egbert in Eagle was “completed” in 1900 it was little more than a rough trail suitable only for saddle and pack horses. The U.S. government, primarily through the Alaska Road Commission (ARC), would struggle for the next decade to construct a bona fide road across the rough mountains south of Eagle to the Fortymile River area. Constantly short on funds, the ARC (which received a mixture of Territorial funding and appropriations directly from Congress) made limited progress, but by 1910 had established a rudimentary road as far south as Wade Creek.

At what is now called Jack Wade Junction, 46 miles south of Eagle, a trail took off to the east towards the Walker Fork and Canyon Creek drainages. Located about 10 miles southeast of the junction, the small hamlet of Boundary (so-called because it was only three miles from the Canadian border) served miners in the Walker Fork drainage. The community was also referred to as Walker Fork and there may have been a Boundary “North” (on the ridge above the creek, where the roadhouse is) and “South” (one mile south on the bank of Walker Fork, where several dredges operated).

I can find scant information about the camp except that it had a roadhouse, and that a post office was established there in 1940 (lasting until 1956). The publication, “Taylor Highway, Fortymile Gold Country,” published by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, states that Boundary was established sometime in the 1890s and the roadhouse (shown in the drawing) dates from about 1926. However, Jenny King, whose father mined in the Boundary area from about 1935 to 1948, told me the roadhouse was not constructed until the mid 1930s. She said there used to be an older roadhouse at Canyon Creek to the north which may have caused the confusion. In any case, the Boundary Roadhouse is the only surviving building from the community’s early days.

After Alaska’s purchase from Russia in 1867, the United States government pretty much ignored most of Alaska. Canada, to the contrary, took an active interest in developing the Yukon Territory. According to the book, “Blazing Alaska's Trails,” by the time the Klondike Gold Rush started, the Canadian government had already conducted exploratory surveys and preliminary investigations of the Yukon’s mineral potential, and the Northwest Mounted Police had established a government and were actively maintaining law and order.

The Canadian government also readily aided the miners by building trails and roads, paid for by license fees and taxes on the miners and other local residents. Rather than build the government freight roads along the winding creek bottoms, with their muskeg, often impenetrable thickets and hordes of mosquitoes, the Canadians built their main roads and trails along the ridge lines, where the ground was firm, and vegetation was easier to deal with.

Boundary is now accessed via the “Top of The World Highway” (Yukon Highway 9). This 79-mile road, running from Jack Wade Junction on the Taylor Highway to Dawson City, is typical of the roads and trails built by the Canadian government to support the Klondike gold rush.

The highway began in the early 1900s as a government ridge-top pack trail to serve Canadian miners in the Sixty Mile River area and neighboring creeks. The trail was gradually improved and became known as Ridge Road. In the 1920s the ARC in Alaska decided to complete an overland connection to Dawson City by extending its Eagle-Fortymile trail eastwards, and the Canadians obliged by extending their Ridge Road westward.

Winding along the ridge tops, the highway offers beautiful vistas of the Fortymile River drainage to the north. (The Fortymile begins in the U.S. and crosses into Canada before emptying into the Yukon River.) To the south are equally compelling views of the Walker Creek drainage in the U.S., and the Sixty Mile River drainage in Canada.

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