Outdoor Adventurers And Athletes Head To Capitol Hill

Alaska Wilderness League joined Protect our Winters and the American Packrafting Association to advocate on behalf of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, bringing outdoor adventurers and athletes to Washington, D.C., to educate members of Congress. [Above: Arctic Refuge supporters take to the Potomac River. (Forest Woodward / Protect Our Winters)]

They did so to highlight the importance of protecting our public lands and waters and the need to restore protections to the Arctic Refuge coastal plain. Participants included Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, an Alaska Native and a former Olympic Snowboarder from Bristol Bay, plus a variety of social media influencers, Alaskan adventurers and other professional athletes.

The League’s Andy Moderow (far left) and Emily Sullivan (third from left) in the Capitol Building with fly-in participants. (Alaska Wilderness League)

Alaskans Roman Dial, Brad Meiklejohn and Luc Mehl have covered tens of thousands of miles of Alaska’s wild lands under human power and all felt compelled to travel to D.C. because of the Arctic Refuge’s unique qualities as an iconic public land.

“I’ve been going to the Arctic Refuge since 1981 and have visited every year since. I’ve traveled all over the world and there is no other place like this. It belongs to all Americans and is part of our greatest legacy,” said Brad Meiklejohn, a Senior Representative (Alaska) for The Conservation Fund.

After a day of training and preparation for Hill meetings, participants took to the Potomac in a solidarity float. The American Packrafting Association created two custom packrafts to send on trips across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The two rafts—christened Olaus and Ms. Mardy—have traveled across the Arctic Refuge six times, collecting stories and signatures from those passionate about conserving this invaluable landscape.These functional activist art pieces carry the wishes of those who hope to protect the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain from oil and gas development. On Tuesday afternoon, the APA, Protect Our Winters and Alaska Wilderness League in solidarity floated the Potomac before delivering the boats and their messages to Congress.

“I have spent a lifetime exploring Alaska’s wilderness, national parks and wildlife refuges,” said Roman Dial, world-renown Alaskan mountaineer, paddler and backcountry racer. “Now, I feel it is time, with the Arctic Refuge under threat, for me to come to Washington, D.C., and advocate for its protection.”

On Wednesday, participants engaged in more than 20 meetings with Hill staff, two constituent coffees, and attended a House subcommittee hearing on the effects of climate change on outdoor recreation. Callan Chythlook-Sifsof and Hilary Hutcheson of Protect Our Winters testified to their first-hand experiences with climate change, and Callan elevated the need to stop fossil fuel extractions from priceless public lands like the Arctic Refuge.

“I came to DC to help convey how valuable the Arctic Refuge is as a continuous track of wilderness,” said Luc Mehl, an Alaskan adventurer with more than 10,000 miles traveled on foot, ski, boat or ice. “I was frustrated when the Refuge was opened for development by sneaking a rider into the 2017 tax bill. H.R. 1146 offers an opportunity to vote on the Arctic Refuge as its own issue.”

Fly-in participants meet with Arctic champion and Arctic Refuge legislation lead, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) (center-left). (Alaska Wilderness League)
Fly-in participants also met with vocal Democrat Arctic Refuge supporters from Colorado, Rep. Joe Neguse (c-l) and Rep. Diana DeGette (c-r). (Alaska Wilderness League)

The recreational, cultural and intrinsic value of the Arctic Refuge and its coastal plain deserves no less than full wilderness protection to ensure wild exploration that benefits current and future generations. It is imperative for our quality of life and for our shared American heritage to protect places with high recreation value, from our backyards to the backcountry. Those lucky enough to visit the Arctic Refuge remember it as the trip of a lifetime. Few places in the world offer the rare opportunity to encounter a vast array of wildlife while hiking, fishing or paddling through a pristine, wild landscape.

“My experiences in the Arctic Refuge have shown me that even among all the other places I have traveled in the Arctic, there is nowhere that compares to the thriving biocultural diversity found here,” said educator, writer, ski guide and athlete Brennan Lagasse. “Your voice matters. If you care about having access to enjoy the outdoors in your home community, you can care about protecting the Arctic Refuge. You can help by supporting efforts to protect the Arctic Refuge, efforts that on a macro scale can be funneled on more local scales to protecting the public lands and outdoors in your local own local community.”

The packrafts—Olaus and Ms. Mardy—on one of their treks through the Arctic Refuge. (Dan Ransom Photography)