For father-daughter duo, trail marking is now in the family

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UNALAKLEET, Alaska (KTUU) - When it comes to the biggest sporting event of the year in Alaska, a full team of volunteers is required to help make it go on without a hitch. Part of that team is the trail marking crew that departs villages along the famed Iditarod trail in order to connect each one with the next by pushing brightly-colored stakes into the ground. They help guide mushers to their next stops.

JR Melin helps his daughter Ellie, 4, hammer a stake into snowy ground along the Iditarod Trail on March 9, 2019.

"Unalakleet is a really fun checkpoint," said JR Melin, who's gone to Nome the past dozen or so years but chose to stay back this year so that he could spend more time with his expecting wife and young daughter, Ellie.
The trail between Unalakleet and Kaltag is around 70 miles.

"Obviously, she's not going to go the whole way," JR said of Ellie, "but she's helping us here around Unalakleet, staking up the river."

Melin said his dad started breaking trail for the race back in the 1990s. Since then, some things have stayed the same, but many have changed. These days, about 15,000 stakes are put in for the race.

"We'll probably do about a thousand this year," Melin said of his crew. "Just get our snow machines gassed up, fill up our sleds with bundles of lats, and then make sure we've got a couple of batteries."

Melin and Unalakleet local Donald headed out to knock out some of the work over the past couple of days.

"Two guys - one's got a chainsaw," Melin said. "Every couple hundred feet, he'll poke a hole in the ice, then I'll come by and hammer in a stake."

Melin said he's excited to be making the event a family tradition.

"It's a fun race to be involved with, just helping the guys out from here to Kaltag," he said. "The race pushes on from here. This is where it gets interesting."

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