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PARKS & GLENN: Heroes of the ice road

Dale and Carolyn Haggard have put their hovercraft to lifesaving use on Big Lake

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WASILLA — Dale and Carolyn Haggard have been Alaskans for more than 30 years, relishing the kind of industrious hospitality the rest of us aspire to, trade in and rely upon. Their immaculate, rustic home on Flat Lake has served as both a retreat and social hub since the early 1980s. A crackling fireplace anchors their kitchen and dining room, which was the original cabin hand built by Dale. A second story and labyrinth of rooms were added as the years and prosperity chugged along. A self-taught craftsman from Oregon, Dale made his way to Alaska intending to do one hitch in the emerging oil trade. “Never left!” he chuckles from the head of the well-worn table. Angular windows frame an idyllic living room, containing a nook with a beer fridge, primed for thirsty palates.

Known for their willingness to look out for others, the Haggards sat down with Parks & Glenn to visit about life on the lake, of which they’ve been a fixture for their whole married life.

“I chased her down the West Coast,” says Dale of their courtship, an intersection of adventure and nurturing that continues into their fourth decade together. Finally lured by an opportunity to longline halibut out of Homer, Carolyn returned with him and settled in Alaska. In the early 1990s they acquired a Hovercraft, which was used to shuttle their young son to school throughout his childhood. Another Hovercraft was procured “to save our marriage”, Dale says wryly. He recalls with pride that their son’s daily attendance didn’t suffer for the remote lifestyle. That son, along with a business partner, is now at the helm of the family’s watercraft design trade in Big Lake, from which the Haggards recently retired. Dale explains that health troubles have brought their own limitations for him, necessitating true retirement.

A Pittsburgh native, Carolyn combines the comportment of Jackie Kennedy with the grit of a Bush pioneer. She demurs when asked about her rescues of lake traffic in the surrounding area, most recently a snowmachiner on thin ice whose fate may have been sealed without her intervention. She was hailed as a hero, lauded by a post on local bar Floaters’ Facebook page, reading in part, “She single handedly saved yet another life as she raced down the length of Big Lake — after attempting to run a sno-go the length of the lake when the ice was too thin.”

In this case, the rider was lying prone on the thin ice, after abandoning his sinking sled. Luckily for him, one of the few running hovercrafts on the lake was ready to rock with Carolyn at the helm. In her world, it was just another day on ‘Flat Lake time.’ In his world, he was just waiting for the hungry ravens to pick his bones clean. For those of us living on the West-End of Big Lake without roads to our homes, life and death is easily within reach on a daily commute to work, so rescues like this are commonplace and not really publicized…I can think of a number of lifesaving situations Carolyn has been summoned into and plucked somebody from the ice water, out of a sunken truck in the channel or some other stressful situation.”

True to their analytical natures, the Haggards are less sensational when recounting the drama  — but no less aware of the gravity of the elements. Dale points out that Carolyn had the foresight to mark where the machine had sunk, which ended up being retrieved from twenty-five feet deep the next day. “Snow was predicted”, says the trained biologist, a skillset she says she has never used but her husband points to her work amongst nature as “all around us, we all benefit.”

She voluntarily plows and maintains the ice roads along Flat Lake, as well as a side gig clearing frozen driveways for many lake residents in Big Lake and beyond. They maintain a boat storage business, numbering 118 clients and a constant waiting list.

“If you want to live here year-round, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades,” Carolyn says.

Both are quick to emphasize the strengths of their neighbors and one another, praising the generosity which is a shared among them. They recognize the allure of a Bush lifestyle but see their own comforts in contrast with the rugged reality of Alaska. “We have road access half the year. You want to consider places like Rainy Pass, that’s truly remote!”

The couple enjoys entertaining guests from the Lower 48 and are pleased that Dale’s eldest son also maintains a home on the lake.

Summarizing their philosophy, Carolyn cites the Golden Rule. “You treat people as you’d like to be treated; it certainly fosters a good life.”

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