Fairbanks mapper retires, will focus on community work


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Martin Gutoski is a man with a heart for history and maps. For more than 30 years Gutoski has helped map Fairbanks and Alaska, whether it be with a surveyor chain or sophisticated software, unearthed the history contained in old maps of the Alaska Railroad or guide others through a map of the stars. In early July, he retired from the Fairbanks North Star Borough, bringing to an end a 30-year career as a platting officer.

AP Photo/Matt Buxton/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

FAIRBANKS (AP) — Martin Gutoski is a man with a heart for history and maps.

For more than 30 years Gutoski has helped map Fairbanks and Alaska, whether it be with a surveyor chain or sophisticated software, unearthed the history contained in old maps of the Alaska Railroad or guide others through a map of the stars.

In early July, he retired from the Fairbanks North Star Borough, bringing to an end a 30-year career as a platting officer.

Hired during the height of the pipeline-fueled land development boom, Gutoski was tasked with helping process more than 300 subdivision applications a year. Those applications were to split large parcels of land into smaller ones and he helped map out what would become people’s homes and the roads they would drive.

“I like to see roads and lots on paper that I have processed into subdivisions for three decades grow into homes and access corridors that are travel-ways for borough residents to enjoy more of Fairbanks,” he said.

And the 65-year-old Fairbanksan can’t help but get a little philosophic about what those maps and surveying marks represent.

“When I look at a map, there’s a lot of history there,” he said. “You can connect with that history by just looking at a map,” he said.

“For me, maps are my bread and butter. The more you understand how it’s made, the more you can understand what you’ll leave behind. Because when you’re gone, all that’s left behind is the map.”

Gutoski can’t help but see and carry history with him wherever he goes.

Whether it’s surveying chain through the uncut wilderness to mark property lines with a crew or hammering out a report on an old IBM or the ever-changing technology people use to make maps, Gutoski can tell you in detail how the tools have evolved.

His love for history and maps doesn’t end at the borough’s platting office. Gutoski is an active member of the Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad, active in archaeology, Friends of Creamer’s Field and the head of the Fairbanks Astronomical Unit.

Through the Fairbanks Astronomical Unit, Gutoski has led regular star-gazing trips at Creamer’s Field and is working to establish a local observatory. Gutoski can tell you the history of each dish, which were donated to his group through the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute. One, he thinks, might have been stationed in Antarctica.

“I just sort of fell in love with the community and nonprofits are a way to give back,” he said. “And all of these relate to history, surveying is related to most of these. At Creamer’s Field they have old maps and the railroad has its old surveying history.”

After retiring, Gutoski said he plans to devote time to giving back.

“The community has given a lot to me,” he said. “And my work is more for the community than just going ahead, it’s where we’ve been.”

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