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Must like outdoors, dogs and red tape

November 15, 2009|Mcclatchy Newspapers

ANCHORAGE — In the world of dog mushing, there aren't many jobs with a steady paycheck. Professional mushers live off the bounty of their race earnings, dog-breeding skills and marketing savvy.

Within a federal government that employs 19.7 million people, there is one -- exactly one -- dog-mushing job.

And it's open.

The National Park Service is looking for a new kennels manager at Denali National Park and Preserve, a job that in addition to running Denali's 31-animal dog kennel includes mushing into one of America's great swaths of wilderness.

The pay range -- between $33,477 and $66,542 a year, plus a generous cost-of-living adjustment -- is more than many mushers earn in a race season.

As part of the federal bureaucracy, though, there's more to it than mushing and caring for dogs.

"Our candidate must be a strong leader with supervisory skills and will be relied upon to provide all manner of services as a park ranger -- from rescuing visitors and patrolling the park wilderness to presenting educational programs and community outreach," Philip Hooge, Denali's deputy superintendent, said in a news release.

Karen Fortier, a Connecticut native who held the post for nearly 10 years, calls it "a great job."

It changes markedly depending on the season. As much as 70% of the winter is spent mushing thousands of miles in the Denali backcountry -- ferrying supplies, taking researchers to various parts of the park, hauling firewood and patrolling. Those trips can last weeks.

"There's really nothing that quite compares to being out on the trail in the middle of winter," Fortier said. "It's beautiful, it's completely silent, and by March you have the long daylight too.

"But it's physically demanding. We're breaking our own trail, and we end up doing a lot of snowshoeing in front of the team at times."

Summer is tourist season, which means three daily hourlong interpretive programs for hundreds of visitors a day. This summer, more than 50,000 tourists stopped by.

But in every season, the kennel must be managed. Dogs must be fed, bred and trained; poop must be scooped; vaccinations must be administered.

"And just like with any federal or government job, there's that whole level of paperwork," Fortier said. "You think it's going to be this glory job, but so much is managing the operation behind the scenes."

Fortier had a second daughter a year ago, and the time away from her family became too great.

Despite the sacrifices, the successful applicant to replace her can rest assured that nobody else in the country has the same job.

"It's a lot more than a mushing job, for sure," Fortier said. "A real mixed bag."

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