Federal grant will connect all 4 Nelson Island communities

BETHEL — A federal grant will allow an extensive trail system to connect all four communities on Nelson Island, just off Alaska’s western coast.

The $12 million grant will pay to take the trail the last link, from Toksook Bay, which received the federal money, to the community of Mertarvik, the new site for the village of Newtok. The village is moving because of erosion.

However, Newtok has not yet agreed to accept the trail.

Newtok Tribal Administrator Phillip Carl tells KYUK the village council has not met in months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the council is scheduled to meet in December, and will vote on the trail project.

Even if they decide not to accept the project, Toksook Bay still intends to build most of the trail to Mertarvik. However, they would stop just short of the village, at the border between the two village corporations.

Work on the trail to Mertarvik still needs to be designed and go through environmental reviews. If approved, construction is expected to start in 2023 and take about two years to complete.

The island’s trail system will span 50 miles (80 kilometers), connecting the four communities: Toksook Bay, Tununak, Nightmute and Mertarvik. The trail connecting Toksook Bay to Nightmute is expected to be completed next summer.

The trail will also connect all four villages to Umkumiute, a traditional fishing location. A plastic material will be used to build the trail, which will allow four-wheel vehicles to cause less damage to the tundra.

Harry Tulik, Toksook Bay tribal transportation manager, said the trail system will provide residents better access to a variety of subsistence locations, and it will allow those living in outlying villages easier access to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp.’s sub-regional clinic in Toksook Bay.