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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Threat of Competence

 Who is Politicizing Alaska’s Health Care Crisis?

(2021©donnliston.com)


David Morgan’s career includes over 40 years professional senior level operational management and administration, focused on community health center operations, healthcare financial operations, budgets preparation, strategic planning and networking. His technical qualifications include a background in analytical program planning for hospitals, tribal health organizations and primary care clinics with community engagement.

As a former employee at Providence Alaska Medical Center, and chair of former Mayor Dan Sullivan’s Health Care Commission, David Morgan asks the hard questions and has demonstrated with his own actions how principles of economics can provide better care at cheaper rates, while assuring health care providers make enough money to stay in business. That’s the real reason why the Anchorage Assembly challenged his recent appointment by Mayor David Bronson to head the Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) Health Department.

 

The Assembly majority isn’t qualified to shine Morgan’s shoes and doesn’t want Mayor Bronson to be successful in bringing Anchorage out of the mess created by these misfits. When Morgan realized the caliber of people he was being judged by in the confirmation process, he withdrew his name from consideration.

 



The problems I ran into had to do with my past political affiliations, said Morgan in our recent interview. Republican Party conservatives want to reduce healthcare costs at the state and local levels. This is in contrast with the Alaska Hospital Association and the Alaska Medical Association—the industrial state of healthcare. They are not happy with me because anywhere I have worked costs go down, service goes up, and I produce more revenue, without increasing costs or restricting competition, but by providing better services through efficiencies of scale.

 

[1]

 

Morgan has an impish smile and talks Kentuckian, as does my wife Waneta. They determined it is possible they are cousins.

 

How could the majority of elected officials on the Municipal Assembly understand this approach as they strive for politically-charged government dependency over individual Alaskan autonomy?

 

The point is the entire system of health care for the state of Alaska is designed NOT to have competition, Morgan continued. Opponents to my appointment were upset because I pointed out the military option. Their biggest argument for making us wear masks and require lockdowns was a shortage of ICU beds. They don’t want anybody to know the JBER 673rd Medical Brigade can staff 55 ICU beds anytime and hasn’t. If all the local hospital beds are really full, in five days new ICU units could be set up in the parking lot of Providence Medical Center or Alaska Native Medical Center—we could have 30 or 40 beds with professional staff quickly available. For the mere price of $1 such an intervention would be called a “training exercise.”

 

These would be high quality care facilities, too.

 

[2]

 

My goal for the short time I was Health Director wasn’t a political goal, continued Morgan. My goal was to meet five-year budget projections by reducing costs by eight percent and increasing healthcare for Alaskans. While on the previous Muni health commission under Mayor Sullivan we found that the health department was doing stuff that had nothing to do with the mission of that department. It was doing stuff for politics.

 

Morgan also served on the State Health Commission for 5 years, representing Primary Care (CHCs) Programs and Clinics for the State of Alaska. That Commission was dissolved by the Legislature--as it started to get to the heart of the healthcare cost and access problems for the State. This was explained in MUST READ ALASKA story: Lawmakers Took Big Bucks From Hospital Group, And Vetoed Accordingly.[3]


This practice continues to today. A number of bills in the Alaska Legislature to reform healthcare were killed in the 3rd Special session.


Both political parties have members who are captive to the Healthcare Lobby, according to Morgan. Nothing the Alaska Legislature or the Anchorage Assembly majority have done is about providing a better quality of life for Alaskans or Anchorage property owners who pay for this circus.

 

Read Story Here: https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/01/destiny-happens.html

The argument they are using is “it’s a panic,” said Morgan. In reality, we only have a pandemic of the unvaccinated. There is no reason we cannot reduce cost and provide better health care for Alaskans overall. I have done it. I have a track record of doing it but they won’t do it because they don’t know what it would require.

 

Alaska’s Colony Status




 

Anybody who has lived in Alaska for any amount of time knows this state was a marriage of convenience with the United States of America. University of Alaska History Professor Steven Haycox wrote an entire book celebrating this reality, Alaska; An American Colony.[4] The result is that public policy is convoluted and skewed to benefit a few short-sighted special interests over the long-term good of Alaskans.

 

In the case of healthcare, that means Alaska has a lot of rich doctors.

 


 

Over more than a year Covid-19 has shed a light on the problems of our healthcare cartel. It has become a reason to suspend rights under the US and Alaska Constitutions, with a disproportionate reaction given our state’s many other serious health care needs.

 

Morgan explained: We are the only clinic other than the military hospital that treats people with TB in airtight rooms. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) also require special protocols by health professionals for their protection. Homeless people can get runny sores, polyps, and samples must be taken to be cultured. Sometimes when that is being done it can spray—from everywhere on the human body that sexual activity can happen. We don’t judge, we are simply trying to stop syphilis, gonorrhea, and other life-threatening communicable diseases. I required all health workers in the Anchorage health Center to wear N95 masks.

 

But the myopic political focus of the Assembly is on Covid:


 

Around twenty percent of Alaska hospital beds are being used for Covid patients.

 

A couple of times in the past we have been full, said Morgan. But the argument is never about increasing supply, it is about requiring everybody to get a vaccination, everybody to wear a mask, everybody to lockdown, and we aren’t going to have normal public school, either.


 

Read story here:  https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/08/what-would-don-and-roberta-sheldon-have.html


Previously I used my training to reduce costs, expand service and make money for the provider, continued Morgan. I might reduce the amount we billed, but money from the state and federal governments through Indian Health Services plus Medicaid Treaty Rights provisions expanded it overall. What we got was not based on billing, it was based on how many people we served. I started applying community health standards to see people who are not part of the tribal organizations. For people who were not Alaska Native but were living in Barrow, later in Sand Point, it is a $900 trip to go to the doctor for a typhoid shot. We got grants for the rest of the people living in those rural communities because we were seeing them anyway, with agreements with other providers like Providence Hospital, to provide tertiary care.

 

More recently, as director to yet be confirmed by the Assembly, Morgan had begun the process of gaining nurses-in-training for the MOA. Approved candidates could have their entire tuition paid for by working in Alaska hospitals designated as high need areas. This was a supply-side effort that has gone away now in favor of hysteria of overworked nurses driving healthcare decisions by misfit Assembly Majority members.

 

The Political Threat of Competence

 

Morgan came from a family of physicians. His grandfather was a doctor, his grandmother was a nurse, his father and two brothers are doctors, and 14 cousins are doctors. He was weaned on the medical profession but chose to train in healthcare service administration.

 

From 1983 t0 1986 I worked for a health co-op called Hunter Health at Bartholomew County Hospital, said Morgan. It had started back in the 1800s in Lexington, Kentucky. I was assistant manager for budget and cost. We had 28,000 members. That organization had started as an agriculture co-op, but at the turn of the century they couldn’t get a doctor. The way agriculture co-ops work is everybody pays a little money to buy a number of tractors, for instance, so the cost of a tractor for an individual farmer member is half. They also sold their crops as a collective. They had a small clinic with two doctors, three nurses and 4 or 5 beds. Back then the doctors actually went on rounds by horseback.

 

Read story here: https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/02/the-best-thing-about-being-in-anchorage.html

 

In 1987 Morgan went to Providence Hospital in Alaska, where he worked as manager of patient accounts until 1991. After that, until 1996, Morgan was Finance Director and Acting City Manager for the City of Whittier and Alakanuk. He was next elevated to Deputy Director for Operations and Finance for Eastern Aleutian Tribes, Inc. where he managed day-to-day administration and financial operations for five primary care clinics, supervising 24 employees, until 2001. From 2001 to 2003 Morgan was ANA Project Manager for the Chugach Region’s Chugachmiut Inc. as ANA Project Director. Next Southcentral Foundation employed Morgan as Reimbursement Director to direct revenue cycle operations, compliance and Medicare/Medicaid Medical and Home Health Costs. Since 2015 Morgan has been a consultant with Affordable Healthcare Consulting Services providing strategic financial and data analysis, auditing services, planning recommendations and other technical services.

 


 

Most recently Morgan led a group of Alaska Roundtable community leaders in development of a comprehensive policy paper on healthcare. He provided a copy of the executive summary of that 28 page book with tables for this story. I provide it here in complete form:

 




 Personally, as a citizen journalist, I admit being intimidated by the challenge of providing an overview of the healthcare crisis we face as Alaskans. It’s a complex and specialized problem, but I am struck by the smallness of some elected officials who are so dogmatic that they cannot see the value in having a proven administrator like David Morgan put the Anchorage Department of Health on a solid administrative footing, ultimately for the good of all Alaskans.

 

Mayor Bronson knows we can do better but it may take an election of new Assembly members to reimagine local government competency.

 

Resources:

 

[1] Alaska Health Care Costs compared to other states


 

[2] JBER Medical Personnel Deemed Best

https://www.jber.jb.mil/News/News-Articles/NewsDisplay/Article/1515433/jber-medical-personnel-deemed-best-in-pacaf-air-force/

 

[3] Lawmakers Took Big Bucks From Hospital Group, And Vetoed Accordingly

https://mustreadalaska.com/alaska-lawmakers-took-big-bucks-from-a-hospital-trade-group-and-then-voted-accordingly/

 

[4] Dr. Stephen Haycox, Alaska; An American Colony, University of Washington Press, 2002.


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Saturday, September 4, 2021

Is this any way to run a Railroad?

 The Alaska Railroad Deception

(2021©donnliston.com)

 



 

Alaskans love the Alaska Railroad. I was reminded of what a delightful part of Alaska this historic railroad represents when Waneta and I won a free trip to Denali during the Willow Winter Carnival raffle in 2019. We enjoyed every minute of the trip in mostly empty cars during summer of 2020.

 



 

This is our train. Alaskans subsidize its operation.

 

The Alaska Railroad was turned over to the State of Alaska from the federal government in 1982 under US Code Title 45, Chapter 21, the Alaska Railroad Transfer Act “ARTA.”[1]

 

Read Story: https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/01/destiny-happens.html


 

ARR has been our baby for 30 years.

 

The Alaska Railroad Corporation 2020 Annual Report reveals the decline in revenues it has recently suffered. Waneta and I were two of the mere 32,000 passengers—down from an average ridership of half a million passengers—who rode the trains last year. We used free tickets.

 


 

Milepost 1- March 12, 1914

The US Congress agrees to fund construction and operation of a railroad from Seward to Fairbanks. Estimated construction cost - $35 million.

 


 

Tourism is only part of ARR’s function. Passenger travel is not enough to sustain the corporation that manages this system. The bread and butter of ARRC is 1) hauling freight, 2) grants from the government, and 3) real estate. Passenger revenues are typically 20 percent of revenues. 2020 saw another financial downturn in that respect: ridership declined and grants again increased.

 


 

This corporation is hungry.

 

From the corporation Press Release, April 1, 2021: ANCHORAGE, AlaskaThe Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC) released its 2020 annual report today. Audited financial statements show a net loss of $7.8 million, with total revenues of $150.7 million and total expenses of $158.5 million.[2]

 

Those are the big numbers.

 

In short, freight revenues for 2020 were down to $73,649,000 from 2019’s gross of $85,340,000—a loss of $11,691,000. Passenger revenues in 2020 were down to $3,348,000 from 2019’s $39,571,000. Covid-19 has taken its toll, but operation of trains is only one part of the equation.

 

Milepost 2- July 15, 1923

President Warren G. Harding travels to Alaska to mark the completion of the Alaska Railroad by driving the golden spike in ceremonies at Nenana, one of the state's largest cities at the time. President Harding died from an attack of food poisoning on his return trip to San Francisco on August 2, 1923.

 

Read story here:  https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/08/what-would-don-and-roberta-sheldon-have.html

For an overview of how our State Railroad has performed, I have gone through the financial report for every year since 2005 to consider how the leadership of the company describe results of their efforts. Since the primary mission is to operate a railroad, I gleaned from the annual reports basic operation costs/expenses and created an overview chart with those simple numbers. I am not an accountant and the complicated financials of this corporation are far beyond my training, but as Alaskans we can reach some general conclusions about the railroad gifted to us by the federal government, and perhaps explanations for current business practices.

 



 

Milepost 3 January 14, 1983

President Ronald Reagan signs into law legislation authorizing transfer of the Alaska Railroad to the State of Alaska.

 

Read Story Here: https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/02/the-best-thing-about-being-in-anchorage.html

This railroad is considerably more than the train some of us we were gifted under the Christmas Tree as children; we like our railroad, and we want it to be successful. But some Alaskans have begun to express concern about business practices regarding easements on privately owned land. They have become an organized political force.

 

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1711686915617367

 


Blog: https://alaskansforpropertyrights.com/

 

WHO ARE WE AND HOW CAN YOU HELP STOP THE INJUSTICE?

ALASKANS FOR PROPERTY RIGHTS is a joint response public relations campaign to educate the public on the injustices caused by the Alaska Railroad. We are a group of Alaskan Citizens, Businesses, Municipalities, and Utility Companies fighting for the injustices being caused by our own Alaskan Company; The Alaska Railroad Corporation.

And their message has become shrill:

 


 

I first learned of these concerns as staff for Rep. Lora Reinbold in 2018 when an effort was made to address railroad easement property right concerns with House Joint Resolution No. 38. I recall extensive conversations with representatives of ARRC--including former Gov. Bill Sheffield who is now Director Emeritus on the ARRC Board of Directors. Sheffield is the only Alaska governor to be impeached but he has been a mainstay on the ARRC Board.

 

Milepost 4 April 1995

Former Governor Bill Sheffield is appointed to the Board of Directors and elected chairman.

 

See my previous story about Gov. Sheffield here:  https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2019/12/alaska-corruption-and-failed.html

 

Another bill in the 2017-18 Alaska House (HB 93) had a companion bill in the Senate (SB 68), sponsored by then-Sen. Michael Dunleavy clarifying state law to protect landowners with ARRC easements. [4] That resolution (HJR 38) went through two committees and was rolled into HB 119 which passed the legislature in the very last hour of the session despite a huge lobby effort against it by the ARRC. It established the intent of the Alaska Legislature and expressed concerns about ARRC business practices.[5]

 


 

Alaska Congressman Don Young was part of the deliberation that transferred ARR to the state in 1982 and in an April 16, 2018 letter to Alaska Rep. Chuck Kopp the intent was spelled out:

 

House Joint Resolution 38 outlines what can only be described as a failure by the agencies to understand clear direction from Congress and to dutifully recognize basic tenets of due process, needlessly resulting in a cloud on title for both the Alaska Railroad and its neighbors along the right­of-way. There is no way a bill quietly annexing private property rights, especially without any notice or compensation, would have passed Congress in 1982. You only have to read the plain language of ARTA to know that -the transfer of "rail properties of the Alaska Railroad" over privately owned land only included the "Federal interest" in those lands. If the federal government did not own it, it was not included in the transfer. There is no canon of statutory construction, or even common sense reading, that could argue an unconstitutional taking of private property rights was the intent of Congress.[7]

 

ARRC Doesn’t Care

 

Direction from the Alaska Legislature and our US Congressman didn’t solve the problem, which seems to be getting more elevated. The parties are likely to be in court before too long although Gov. Dunleavy has urged mediation of the issue. These Alaskans who own land with railroad easements are facing a corporation with tremendous resources. As recently as August 2, 2021 Gov. Dunleavy sent a letter to ARRC Vice-Chair Judy Petry urging the corporation to back off. In that letter Gov. Dunleavy conveys his view that the transfer of the railroad rights-of-way for train tracks and utilities does not mean exclusive use ownership. Because ARRC has sued a South Anchorage Homeowner’s association, Flying Crown HOA, and asked the court for summary judgment, other interests have stepped up to charge they have also been harmed by ARRC. [8]

 

In their legal brief ARRC in federal court asserts that there are two questions at issue:

 

 (1) the scope of the interest reserved by the federal government in the Federal Land Patent issued to defendant’s predecessor in interest; and (2) the scope of the interest conveyed by the federal government to the state of Alaska in its right-of-way over the same property.[8]

 

Defendants have alleged that the State cannot give to ARRC what the Federal Government never possessed. They have launched a public education campaign to explain this point.

 



 

Other interest’s Legal Briefs

The Municipality of Anchorage on August 8, 2021 filed a brief in opposition to ARRC’s request for summary judgement. (Case 3:20-cv-00232-JMK Document 86). It concludes the following:

As described above, the right of way reservation in patent under the 1914 Act reserved an easement limited for railroad purposes similar in kind to the types of easements created under the 1875 ROW Act and the 1898 AK ROW Act. Contemporary legislation and legal precedent support this conclusion in addition to broader legal precedent and public policy considerations. Further, no more than the easement limited for railroad purposes which was reserved under the 1914 Act was transferred to ARRC by ARTA. To find otherwise would go against the public policy supporting the determinant nature of deeds and create an impermissible, unconstitutional interpretation of ARTA resulting from a federal taking of property rights previously conveyed under patent.

 

Enstar Natural Gas Co. also submitted an amicus legal brief August 23, 2021 in support of Flying Crown’s Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment. (Alaska Railroad Corp. v. Flying Crown, Case No. 3:20-cv-00232-JMK)

 

The width of the 1914 Act railroad easement is “one hundred feet on either side of the center line of any such road.”  At Potter Marsh, the pipeline runs parallel to the tracks between railroad mileposts 100.33 and 103.12 along the Turnagain Arm.  The pipeline is buried approximately 80 to 97 feet to the southwest (ocean side) of the tracks. This is well outside of the railbed itself.  The majority of the pipeline at Potter Marsh is within the Turnagain Arm tidal area—an expanse of mudflat that floods at hightide and is scraped by ice in the winter. The fee interest to the relevant Potter Marsh land was conveyed to the State of Alaska in 1969 by Patent 50-69-0199, subject to a reservation for the 1914 Act right-of-way easement.  The Railroad currently charges $5,875/year for ENSTAR’s permit to this stretch of subsurface tideland. This is more than six times what ENSTAR would pay were it to simply acquire a right-of- way from the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the actual owner of the tideland.

 

ARRC has already initiated a payment scheme for recreational users, rock climbers and wind surfers on the ROW along Turnagain Arm and has expressed interest in expanding this practice.

 

Alaskans love our railroad. We are proud to take visitors on the trains through pristine wilderness to magical destinations. We respect our railroad’s need to be profitable and accept the reality of that challenge. Historically, intrepid Alaskans have settled Alaska homesteads and depended upon the Alaska Railroad, accepting its need for room to operate on lands it doesn’t own outright. But that is where our charity ends; we do not expect the Alaska Railroad to be a predator organization, usurping land, overcharging for use of land or dragging good Alaskans into federal court at great expense to bully landowners who must rally popular support for justice. That isn’t the Alaskan way; this bull-headed business practice tarnishes the brand when we all know the AARC future is bright for many reasons.

 

This spectacle needs to end and ARRC can end it NOW.

 

Resources:

 

[1] “ARTA” US Code Title 45 Chapter 21

https://www.alaskarailroad.com/sites/default/files/akrr_pdfs/Corp_ARTA_2005.pdf

 

[2] ARRC Press Release April 1, 2021

https://www.alaskarailroad.com/sites/default/files/Communications/04_01_2021_ARRC_2020_AnnualRpt_Release.pdf

 

[3] AARC Annual Reports (2011-Present)

https://www.alaskarailroad.com/corporate/leadership/reports

 

[4] 2017 Legislation RE ARRC Right-of-Ways

http://www.akleg.gov/PDF/30/Bills/SB0068A.PDF

http://www.akleg.gov/PDF/30/Bills/HB0093A.PDF

 

[5]House Joint Resolution No. 38

http://www.akleg.gov/PDF/30/Bills/HJR038A.PDF

 

HJR 38 Supporting Documents: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_documents.asp?session=30&docid=54490

  

[6]Letter to Rep. Chuck Kopp from Congressman Don Young

https://www.railroadedalaska.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Don-Young-letter-41618-re-HJR38.pdf

  

[7] Gov. Dunleavy recent response to ARRC Legal Action:



[8]Alaska Railroad Corporation vs Flying Crown HOA

https://www.railroadedalaska.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/ARRC-Complaint-v.-Flying-Crown-HOA-1.pdf



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Friday, August 20, 2021

What would Don and Roberta Sheldon have wanted?

 Alaska’s Denali Legacy

(2021©donnliston.com)

An enclave dining area features a model of the Piper Cub flown by legendary pilot Don Sheldon at the Coast Inn at Lake Hood. A large banquet room is being remodeled in honor of Sheldon and a grand opening is planned, themed with memorabilia provided by Sheldon’s daughter, Holly Sheldon Lee, who runs Sheldon Air Service in Talkeetna.

As a kid delivering and selling the Anchorage Daily News at old time bush pilot operations along Anchorage’s Merrill Field during the late 1960s, I witnessed a way of life that is rare today. Gritty pilots flew through all kinds of weather to deliver people to places they needed to be. My father often flew as a civilian contractor out of Merrill to the military Installations serving as “Top Cover for America.”

 



Graphic from Top Cover for America book.[1]

 

This was the time when our US military monitored the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) from Alaska. And, as the eldest of three kids, my parents had provided a letter saying I could fly excess baggage if any Merrill pilot was willing to take me along for the ride.

 

I had conned adults on both sides into this deal.

 

Sometimes the ride was naturally rough, and sometimes the pilots would do maneuvers to get my attention, but I reflect on this as a time of wonder for a boy from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

 

According to Top Cover for America by John Haile Cloe the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II did not end the need for a strong military presence in Alaska, the only place in the United States besides Hawaii that had actually been attacked by Japanese forces. The Soviet Union had quickly taken advantage of postwar confusions and uncertainties to assert its dominance in Eastern Europe and parts of the Far East. By the end of 1949 the Soviets had developed an atomic bomb with means for delivery. Alaska’s strategic location astride anticipated bomber routes required a strong military presence during what became The Cold War.

 

From Cloe’s book:

 

In early 1949, the Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded that all nations capable of waging war on the U.S. were located north of the 45th parallel. The shortest attack route lay across the polar regions, and the only means of countering the attacks was an air defense system stretching across Canada and Alaska.

 

I have written previously about the experience of having a father who worked as a communications technician on the White Alice System during The Cold War: https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2018/07/nike-site-reflections.html

 

Meet Holly Sheldon

 


Photo by Waneta Liston

 

About this same time another Alaskan was experiencing a different aspect of the bush flying life. Holly Sheldon was also the eldest of three children. Her father was the legendary Denali Mountain pilot Don Sheldon and her mother was Roberta Sheldon. Roberta was the oldest daughter of Bob and Tilly Reeve who established and operated Reeve Aleutian Airways. I talked recently to Holly about our varied Alaskan experiences during lunch at the Sheep Creek Lodge located on the Park’s Highway north of Willow and South of Talkeetna.

 

My memories as a child were of tagging along with my dad, who tied the seat belt to my ankle so I wouldn’t fall out of the airplane when we were air-dropping to the early climbers of Denali, explained Sheldon. Dad flew the pioneer climbers from all over the world and now we have the honor of transporting some of the grandchildren of the first climbers who ever climbed Denali!

 



 Don Sheldon was also instrumental in mapping Mt McKinley over a decade with Bradford Washborn.

 

Unassuming and precise, Holly Sheldon’s eyes sparkled as she shared her rich experience inspired by her father. She and her husband, David Lee have owned and operated Sheldon Air Service in Talkeetna since 2010. Previously Lee flew for all the air services at the Talkeetna Airport and owned Talkeetna Air Taxi during the 1990s.

 

In the beginning of our air service I had planned on being one of the pilots, adds Sheldon. But getting into and operating a successful air service in the 21st Century has required much more than when Dad was doing it. I have predominantly run the business, my husband has flown, and we have had other support pilots. I have had a great experience interacting and networking with all the climbers of the world and generations of flight-seers and folks who want to be transported into Alaska wilderness to homesteads, or just camping on the glacier.


 

Courtesy of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman

An old time Alaskan business run by Alaskan values.

 

When climbers come from international locations or the lower 48 to climb Denali they are flown to the Kahiltna Base Camp, which is at the 7,200-ft level, of the Kahiltna Glacier. They start their assent of the west buttress, or other peaks of the area, from the Kahiltna side. Earlier in the season, say in April, Sheldon Air Service flies rock climbers up the west fork of the Ruth Glacier, into the amphitheater, or into the gorge or what is known as the Root Canal. Husband David Lee is one of the few pilots who land there regularly because it is very challenging—with a fantastic landing area—and only one way out.

 



 Modern technology has done wonders for our ability to know the status of climbers on the mountain, continued Sheldon. Normally we put up a base camp tent at the landing area with radio communications so when climbers come back into the area they alert us and we fly up as soon as practicable—according to weather and conditions—to bring them back. This year we used devices that are satellite driven to communicate with climbers at the landing area. We were not sure as to how far the Covid concerns would go so we didn’t put in the base camp radio but the alternative communication techniques this year have worked out really good.

 


 

Beginning at the end of April what are known as the “Long Liners” arrive to climb Denali until the glacier “melts out” or rots at the beginning of July. The world renowned climbing season ends soon after that, but the business continues to fly people to various locations in the Alaska Range. David Lee and Sheldon Air Service flew generations of customers to the Sheldon “Mountain House,” located on a 4.9 acre rock outcropping on Ruth Glacier, staked and built by Don Sheldon. This occurred over 30 years while Roberta was still living. This Mountain House was a treasured part of Holly’s childhood. As an inholding of Denali National Park, Holly says to her knowledge neither of her siblings has ever visited this special tourist destination in their adulthoods--until they took it over upon Roberta’s death.

 

Dad and I had a quartz vein up there and he would have me put pieces of bright white sparkly quartz under my arm while I played so the quartz would heat up, reflected Sheldon.  Then I held those warmed pieces of quartz in my hand on the walk back down to the glacier landing strip to the airplane. The quartz comforted me as a child as it continued to keep my hands warm on the flight home in our Cessna 180 or the Super Cub. 

 

Sheldon Air Service is based on traditional Alaskan values, flying traditional glacier aircraft; a Cessna 185--300 hp with on-wheel skis--and a DeHaveland Beaver with an Alaskan Door. It is a great aircraft to bring climbers and their gear including the kitchen sink up onto the glacier or other points around the country, added Sheldon.

 

David Lee is the longest-time, highest-time pilot in southcentral Alaska flying to the Mountain. He is going into his 42nd year of flying, with over 16,000 mountain hours and approximately 20,000 glacier landings, all with an excellent safety record. Don Sheldon would have been proud of his son-in-law.


 

Dad started with a Piper Cub, and purchased a Super Cub in 1964, which I still fly--23Zulu—the plane shown on the cover of the book about him, Wager With the Wind, said Sheldon. He also flew a Cessna 180. Those were predominantly his aircraft until the fall of 1974. He passed in January, 1975.[2]

 


Don Sheldon at Ruth Glacier

 

From the Forward of that book:

 

Don is a rare combination of warmth and efficiency, mirth and seriousness, conservativeness, and just sheer guts. Few professional pilots are blessed with his refreshingly youthful joy at drinking in the wonders of the country over which they ply their daily trade—and few pilots anywhere on earth have such a suberb spot in which to ply it.

Bradford Washburn

Cambridge Massachusetts

February 18, 1974

 

 

Two other flight businesses serve passengers from Talkeetna and another one flies out of Healy using de Havilland Twin Otters with turbine engines capable of carrying 10 passengers.

 

They leave a different mark in the terrain, they sound different and they smell different with the turbine engines, said Sheldon. So, Talkeetna over 10 years has seen up to 30 busses a day of tourists from the big industrial tour companies. They have changed the nature of the little town I grew up in and the mountain experience.




 I once witnessed this myself in Juneau during the tourism buildup of the 1980s-90s. Every year more tourists were disgorged from the giant tour ships to walk around town or take advantage of featured activities including flight-seeing. I have always favored independent travel myself.

 

From Wager With the Wind:

 

For millions of years, the upper reaches of the mountain have been held in the almost-constant grip of severe coastal storms, which travel inland from the Pacific Ocean and crest along McKinley’s South and West Buttresses. These storms consistently produce winds well in excess of 100 miles per hour, with accompanying chill factors that commonly exceed 125 degrees below zero during the summertime. When the ubiquitous coastal storms are not pummeling the mountain above 17,000 feet, McKinley, which seems to thrive on malicious perversity, is making its own weather. Due to its tremendous vertical dimension and the accompanying cloud stratification and temperature variation, McKinley is, within itself, a veritable weather factory.

 

Prior to the year 1930, venturing on foot into this world of freight-train winds and temperatures that make rubber snap like glass was considered pure folly, even by the eternally optimistic Alaskans. In the adolescence of aviation, to fly over the area was known to be highly perilous, and to land upon the flanks of the giant mountain was considered madness. But there were some bush pilots who believed there was a method to flying in the cold, thin air at high altitudes, a method waiting, like the proverbial plum, for the right man.[3]

 

 

Author James Greiner tells of the various pioneer expeditions and their successes and failures through the eyes and voice of Don Sheldon. Holly and her siblings have grown up in the shadow of their famous father, but she alone has had to deal with the challenges of the business she and David built from his inspiration.

 

We are very conscious of our responsibility to provide the safest possible transportation and support while considering the environment, she states with pride. Having grown up here we are familiar with the conditions, landmarks going in and coming out, and we are very sensitive to the weather. We ask that our clients provide as much of a window as possible to design their trip during the time they will be here. We really offer a personalized traditional service. We provide a flight of a lifetime not available anywhere else.

 

Being raised in Talkeetna by my Dad and my Mom I always knew I could be anything I wanted to be if I put in the work, said Sheldon. I have put in 20 years preparing a future for Sheldon Air Service. I attended the University of Alaska at Merrill Field to learn the technical aspects in the 21st Century for such an endeavor, in addition to earning my private pilot certificate, my instrument rating, and my commercial certificate. My goal has always been to fly our clientele to the Mountain House that my dad built. I have now passed through the traumatic experience of not having things go as planned.

 

Roberta Sheldon died June 4, 2014 and brother Robert Sheldon is exectutor of the estate. He has taken steps to block Sheldon Air Service from utilizing the Mountain House destination in its business, or even visit it personally. In fact he has arranged for a competitor air taxi company to fly turbo otters aand helicopters full of tourists to the family heirloom and blocked Sheldon Air Service. Of course everything is now tied up in the courts.

 

https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/01/destiny-happens.html

I have had challenges that have taught me a lot, concluded Sheldon. I am very grateful to my siblings for all that I have been through because I wouldn’t be where I am at today without those experiences. They have been painful and have actually forced business from our clientele who we flew to our Mountain House for 30 years. But, as an Alaskan  we’ve got to keep the sunny side up so I just keep on truckin’.

 

This is the spirit successful climbers must embrace to be successful ascending Denali.[4]

 

It is hard to imagine Alaska courts will determine this is what Don and Roberta Sheldon would have wanted to happen to their legacy, but we have all been disappointed by multiple Alaska court decisions before. The new Don Sheldon Banquet Room at Coast International Inn will keep the sunny side up, regardless,

 

References:

 

[1] Top Cover for Alaska, John Haile Cloe and Michael Monagan, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 713 South Third St. West, Missoula, MT 59801, June 1984

 

[2] Wager With the Wind; the Don Sheldon Story, James Greiner, Rand McNally & Company, 1974.

 

[3] Ibid, Page 73.


[4] One Man’s Guide to Climbing Mt. McKinley (Denali)

https://climber.org/reports/images/1500/1519-McKinleyClimbingGuide.pdf

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