The infamous “Into The Wild” Bus is gone from Stampede Trail, but controversy continues over where it should go next.
The Alaska Army National Guard airlifted the bus from its longtime resting spot where it had been abandoned decades ago. The state Department of Natural Resources then put the bus on a trailer and drove it to a secure location. The bus and the property it was on are both owned by the state of Alaska.
The big question now is: What will become of the bus? Plenty of people have plenty of suggestions.
Over the years, the bus became a destination for travelers enthralled by the book and subsequent movie “Into the Wild.” Some of those travelers died during the journey. Many more had to be rescued. The enthusiasm to reach the site never seemed to diminish.
More than 700 supporters have already signed an online petition asking Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy to return the bus to its remote resting spot 25 miles out the Stampede Trail.
The petition says the Alaska National Guard “swooped in and took a piece of Alaskan history” without any chance for the public to weigh in on this historic decision.
“The bus had sentimental and cultural value, which has been lost,” according to the petition at change.org. “This petition requests that the National Guard put the bus back where they took it from. If it will make park services feel better they may build a more accessible trail with markings for those who don’t want to face the challenges of the current path.”
A dedicated group of more than 7,000 fans belong to a Facebook page called Magic Bus 142. Some in that group think the bus should be deemed a National Historic Site or that the prestigious Smithsonian should take ownership of it. A seasonal business operator in Healy has even offered use of his private property — 5 acres off Stampede Trail — as a new site for the bus.
“We can certainly carve out a corner of our 5-acre parcel for it if people like the idea,” said Brad Benson, owner of Stampede Excursions. “However, I’m not opposed to a museum or such either.”
“There has also been talk of a permanent memorial being designed and built over the winter with an installation scheduled for next summer for the original bus site,” he said. “I know many people are upset.”
The Antique Car Museum in Fairbanks expressed interest in acquiring the bus and owner Tim Cerny said the transportation museum would be a natural fit.
“We display artifacts, we stabilize them, we cover them in the winter,” he said.
The museum is adjacent to the Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary and he envisions the bus being at the end of a trail, in a secluded area, with staff to make sure it stays protected.
“It would be connected to the Alaska transportation story,” he said. “The bus lived in Fairbanks originally. We tell those transportation stories.”
The state has not yet announced how it will determine the fate of the bus, but will consider a variety of options, according to Dan Saddler of the Department of Natural Resources.
Meanwhile, reaction to the bus being moved continues to pour in from all over the world.
Denali Borough Mayor became the target for many unhappy fans. He said Monday he has responded personally to every email he received.
“Mainly, I just share information. I just hope it helps them better understand what we’ve been wrestling with here,” he said.
Volunteers from the Denali Borough are usually the ones who are called upon to rescue travelers in trouble.
Tri-Valley Fire Chief Brad Randall thinks volunteers may still be called out for rescues in that area.
“I think having the bus removed is a benefit to us,” he said. “Overall there will be fewer people, but it’s not going to stop people from going out there.”
He expects an initial surge of visitors wanting to visit the site.
Although some critics say the mayor is the one responsible for moving the bus, it was actually a project spearheaded by the state.
“In general, the borough was informed that the state was developing a plan to remove the bus,” he said. “When the time came, the borough was informed the day before the removal.”
Walker said he supports displaying the bus “in a manner where the public can learn about its significant history.” And he really likes the idea of that being on the north side of the Alaska Range.
“Returning the bus to Fairbanks, from where it came, may be the best solution,” he said in an email. “The state has said they will work through the next steps in making that determination.”