By Christina Whiting
Dave Brann’s sense of adventure and love of the natural world began during his youth, growing up in Maine. Today, at 67, he shows no signs of slowing down.
During his junior year at Farmington State Teachers College in Maine, Brann hitchhiked from Montreal to Fairbanks, and from Fairbanks to Homer and Seward. To make money, he worked fighting forest fires in British Columbia and digging ditches in Fairbanks.
“In Homer, I slept in a driftwood shelter that someone had built on the beach,” he said. “In Seward, I camped out in a railroad car that had been damaged in the 1964 earthquake.”
After exploring Alaska for two months, Brann hitchhiked back to Maine with a goal of returning to Alaska one day to live.
“The vastness, the mountains, the beauty, the place was like a huge magnet pulling me back,” he said.
Brann received a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in geography and history. To celebrate, he hitchhiked to Mexico City.
“The Mexican people were very friendly,” he said. “Even the poorest ones often fed me and gave me a place to sleep.”
He got his first teaching job in California, first in the classroom and then outdoors.
“I was one of three Trail Teachers utilizing the outdoors as our classroom,” he said.
In 1969, Brann was drafted. The day before the physical exam, he was stung by yellow jackets and suffered an allergic reaction. These stings kept him from passing the exam and from going to Vietnam. Again, he took to the road, this time hitchhiking to the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
“Besides the great scenery, I enjoyed learning about the history and cultures of the area,” he said.
Returning again to Maine, Brann explored freelance writing and photography, and was published in several outdoor newspapers in New England.
“This provided a good excuse to spend a lot of time outdoors, paddling my canoe, hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail and just hanging out in the woods.”
Brann secured a teaching job in Oregon, teaching fifth grade and outdoor education. In Oregon, he met Molly and the couple married after two years. In 1975, eight years after Brann’s first visit to Alaska, he and Molly moved to Cordova, in the Prince William Sound area. While there, he taught as well as hiked, skied, hunted, fished, built ski trails and was an assistant scout master.
When the couple moved to Ninilchik, Brann taught grades five and six. He also started a ski team made up of junior high and high school students from Ninilchik School. Brann’s Ninilchik ski team competed against the Homer team on Ohlson Mountain a few times each year. He also created ski trails in Ninilchik and put on ski races.
When Brann’s job transferred him to Homer, the family moved. In Homer, he helped establish an Outdoor School program for sixth graders and taught social studies, woodshop and home economics at the junior high school.
“One of my first home economics classes helped me cut up a moose hind quarter,” Brann said. “Homework assignments included things like catching a salmon at the fishing hole and picking berries to use in class.”
When Al Poindexter introduced Project Adventure to the high school, an outdoor class to work on self-esteem, cooperative learning, personal challenge and outdoor skills, Brann jumped on board to help.
“Homer High School was the first school in the state to have this program and our program was the longest running one.”
Brann retired from teaching in 1997, after teaching in Alaska for 20 years. This year, after nearly 30 years on the Board of the Nordic Ski Club, he’s resigning from the Board, but will stay active in the club; however, his passion for the outdoors and outdoor education continues to thrive. Brann helped to develop the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project, a project that documents all the skis areas of Alaska that used to exist, but that are no longer are in use.
“There are about 135 lost ski areas,” he said. “ASLAP is a great source of Alaska ski history with great photos, maps and personal stories.”
While researching skiing history for the 1996 Homer Centennial, Brann discovered that the first skiers in North America were not the Scandinavians, but the Russian hunters and trappers that lived near Lake Illiamna in the 1790’s.
“I presented a paper to the Ski History Congress in Park City, Utah prior to the winter Olympics,” he shared. “This was a bit of an upset for the ski history world because they have always considered the Scandinavians to be the first to ski in North America.”
Brann is actively involved in helping to develop the Kachemak Bay Water Trail, a proposed boat route that provides scenic, fun, educational and challenging experiences along the shores of Kachemak Bay. He also serves as a Commissioner on the local Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and is a member of the Homer Kachemak Bay Rotary Club.
“I’ve traveled to Siberian Russia 7 times since 2004 to work on a Rotary-sponsored portion of the Great Baikal Trail,” he said. “When complete, this trail will be 1200 miles long and circle Lake Baikal.”
The Brann’s just celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary.
“None of what I do or have done in the last forty years would have been possible without the support of my wife and best friend Molly,” Brann said. “Together we’ve raised two sons and now our family has extended to include a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter.”
When people ask Dave Brann why he stays so busy, he quotes Dick Griffith of Alaska Wilderness Classic fame: ‘Life is like riding a bicycle, if you slow down too much you tip over.’
“I don’t plan to tip over for a while,” Brann said.
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