Bus 142 sits in front of the University of Alaska Museum of the North on Sept. 24, 2020, in this photo provided by the museum. (Photo by Roger Topp/UA Museum of the North)
The National Park Service and the Institute of Museum and Library Services has donated $500,000 to the University of Alaska Museum of the North to help preserve the former Fairbanks transit bus that served as the setting for the book and film “Into the Wild.”
Formerly located near Denali National Park and Preserve, its current and future home will be in Fairbanks.
The grant was among the largest distributed by the program in September. The only other Alaska recipient at that time was the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which received just over $107,000 to help maintain its collections.
Jeff Richardson, a spokesperson for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the new grant is not expected to cover the entire cost of preserving the bus, which was removed from the wild by an Army National Guard helicopter in 2020.
The bus, which dates from the 1940s, had been located about 25 miles from the Parks Highway, on the far side of the Teklanika River, since 1962.
In 1992, 24-year-old Christopher McCandless lived for 114 days at the bus before dying. His experience was made into a best-selling 1996 book and a 2007 feature film, each called “Into the Wild.”
After the book’s publication, the bus became a tourist attraction, but the route to its site was treacherous, and two people died while attempting to reach it between 2009 and 2017.
After the Denali Borough declined to bridge the Teklanika, local officials requested that the state assist in removing the bus.
Museum of the North staff are at work preserving the bus, with the project expected to finish by 2024. According to the museum’s agreement with the state, the bus must be on display for free.
Richardson said there is no firm estimate for the cost of preservation and that officials are expected to seek another $400,000 grant in January.
“It’s safe to say the $500,000 is only a portion of what’s needed to get to the finish line on this,” he said.
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