Before leaving for her fourth Iditarod, musher Monica Zappa spoke to a group of well-wishers about her connection to Alaska fisheries and the Stand for Salmon campaign.
“We’re here for two reasons,” said Carly Wier of Cook Inletkeeper, one of the event’s sponsors. “To send Monica off and to get folks interested and educated about fish habitat laws.”
The send-off event on Tuesday night was held at Odie’s Deli in Soldotna and focused on both Zappa’s Iditarod Trail Sled dog Race journey and her work with the nonprofit organization Stand For Salmon, a group focused on ensuring the longevity and health of Alaska’s salmon industry.
“Monica is a commercial fisherwoman so she has a lot of passion and experience in sticking up for fish and fish resources,” Wier said. “It’s a great fit.”
Organizers detailed legislation being drafted by the House fisheries committee that would update Title 16, the law protecting fish habitat in Alaska.
“We expect to see (the legislation) soon, but in the meantime we’re doing everything we can to tell people about this and hoping to have the support we need once this bill is introduced,” said Eric Booton of Trout Unlimited.
Zappa moved from Wisconsin to Kasilof in the fall of 2010, where she met 23-time Iditarod racer Tim Osmar. She began working with Osmar, as both a mushing partner and commercial fisherwoman.
“I realized I had totally fallen in love with the lifestyle of fishing and mushing,” Zappa said. “But I also realized that I wanted to have a bigger focus (when racing).”
Since 2012, Zappa has been racing with a message — to protect Alaska’s salmon habitat. On her team’s rookie Iditarod run in 2014, they handed out informative packets to villages along the trail.
“It’s commemorative of taking the mail by dogsled,” Zappa said. “But I was going to take a message by dogsled through the Iditarod.”
Zappa explained that both her livelihood as a fisherwoman and her passion for mushing depend on the fish in Cook Inlet. She has worked in the salmon industry as a processer, on a drift boat and, for the past five years, has been a setnetter.
Over the course of a year, her dogs are fed at least two tons of salmon, Zappa said.
“We sent out at least 500 pounds of salmon on the Iditarod trail itself,” Zappa said. “We couldn’t do this without salmon.”
As she approaches the Iditarod trail, Zappa says her biggest concern is the health and safety of her dogs, especially three-year-old Dweezil.
“He’s my baby and I’m bringing him for the first time this year,” Zappa explained. “This is his first Iditarod. Last year he had an injury the week before and it was heartbreaking. This year I’m so excited to bring him, but I still have that apprehension that he could get hurt.”
Zappa explained that she’s most looking forward to the solitude and the finish line.
“Being out on the trail, out in the middle of Alaska and miles away from a road knowing that 99.9 percent of the population has never been to a place like this before is really cool,” she said.
During the send-off event, organizers sent Zappa’s boot around Odie’s Deli to collect donations and tips for winning the Iditarod.
“Of course I want to win the Iditarod,” Zappa said, “But for me doing this work (with Stand for Salmon) is more important.”
Reach Kat Sorenson at email@example.com.