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Donald Paul Blasko

(1935 - 2009)

Blasko in the field

In the Field

Early Years

Donald Paul Blasko was born in Rock Springs on May 25, 1935, the son of Benedict and Elsie Blasko. He attended schools in Rock Springs and helped his parents with their cafe in his formative years. Don graduated from the University of Wyoming with a Bachelor's Degree in Petroleum Engineering with summers spent working for the federal government on the Big Sandy-Farson irrigation project in southeast Wyoming.

U.S. Bureau of Mines Career

During his college years, Don worked part time for the U.S. Bureau of Mines Petroleum Research Center in Laramie. Upon graduation he became a full-time employee of the Bureau and conducted petroleum resource studies throughout the Rocky Mountain States. In 1964, Don was given the assignment of establishing a petroleum resource office for the Bureau in Anchorage, Alaska.

During his early years in Alaska, Don conducted oil resource studies and compiled oil, gas and mineral resource information in cooperation with Tom Marshall, Phil Holdsworth, and Kevin Malone. One of Don's major legacies was his successful effort to identify, locate and describe oil and gas seeps in Alaska. The results of his field studies were published as Reports of Investigations, Open File Reports and the Bureau of Mines Minerals Yearbooks.

Don also became an acknowledged expert on coal fires and helped eliminate active coal fires on the Kenai Peninsula near Ninilchik. He maintained the readiness of the Bureau mine safety railroad car which was stationed in Palmer for potential use in the Sutton Coal Fields and Healy.

ANCSA and ANILCA Years

Don provided minerals information and made recommendations concerning the mineral potential of federal lands being considered for selection and later for lands being considered for inclusion in National Parks, Monuments Wildlife Refuges and wilderness areas under the auspices of the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) that was signed into law by President Carter on Decem

In part, due to Don's efforts, the Bureau was provided special funding to conduct mineral resource evaluation studies of federal lands being considered for withdrawal under ANILCA. These included studies in the southern National Petroleum Reserve — Alaska (NPRA) in 1977 and 1978 as well as a contract to WGM to evaluate resource potential in the Delong Mountains area. Don worked on the NPRA projects along with Jake Jansons, Marianne Parks, and Don Baggs and was responsible for contracting support services for those efforts.

The studies ultimately resulted in the discovery of significant new base metal mineralization in the Brooks Range at Drenchwater and Story Creeks and the substantiation of a significant zinc-lead-silver deposit at Red Dog Creek. As a result, the NANA Corporation selected the Red Dog area as a portion of their ANCSA entitlement — the rest of the Red Dog story is well known history.

RARE II and Mining District Assessments

The Anchorage office's next big project was the mineral resource evaluation of the Chugach National Forest under the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation II (RARE II) program. This work extended from 1979-1982. Don's role was Anchorage Office Branch Chief. One of his greatest contributions to the effort, and a great example of how Don was able to get things done, was his successful contracting of a World War II sub-chaser (the Grebe) as a support facility for a two-month reconnaissance of mineral resources in Prince William Sound. He arranged to have a helicopter platform constructed on the aft deck which proved to be very convenient.

Hwowever, at times watching the float equipped helicopter teetering on the platform in rough weather was a somewhat frightening experience. Don's creativity in the selection and preparation of the sub-chaser was in large part responsible for the success of the 1979 field season. The project supervisor, Jake Jansons, wrote:

"The selection of the sub-chaser by Blasko was brought about because for funding and bookkeeping purposes it would fall under the transportation category. This was important. Because of the oil shortages at that time, our travel budget was small and tightly controlled, but transportation was not.

on Red Dog Creek

Don Blasko (right) and Marianne Parks on Red Dog Creek, circa 1977

Operations Chief

In 1983, Don was promoted to Chief, of the Bureau's Intermountain Field Operations Center in Denver. However, he returned to Alaska in 1985 as Chief of the Alaska Field Operations Center following John Mulligan's retirement. He helped to develop the Strategic Mineral Initiative which was designed to assess Alaska's strategic mineral potential and the successful Mining District Mineral Assessment Program which began the same year. The program survived the closure of the Bureau in 1996 and was continued by Bureau of Land Management until 2007. This program completed assessments of 14 mining districts in the State. The wealth of minerals information generated by these assessments was a direct result of Don's efforts early in the program.

In addition to his professional career, Don was an avid outdoorsman, enjoying hunting and fishing in much of south-central Alaska. He also took part in winter sports and joined the Sourdough Ski Patrol at the Alyeska Ski Area in the late 1960s. During the ensuing years he put in many volunteer hours on the ski hill and was instrumental in the construction of the patrol aid room at Alyeska.

Retirement Years

Don retired in 1993 and returned to Wyoming where he pursued various part time employments including mineral resource consulting work, driving a crew bus for railroad employees and a school bus for Sweetwater County, WY, and transporting mail from Rock Springs to Jackson. He spent several summers as a campground host in Wyoming and Alaska. He enjoyed road trips to visit his children and grandchildren and teaching them how to fish.

Don passed away at age 73 in 2009. During a long Alaskan career spanning 30 years, he became major contributor to Alaska's mining and energy resource industries. His surviving family members include two children, two grandchildren, two cousins and several nieces and nephews.

A Remembrance—Joe Kurtak

In the late 1970s, I was a victim of layoffs after the crash of the uranium mining industry in Colorado. Seeing the end of my job coming, I had out of frustration hurriedly filled out a Federal Government employment application for job openings at the Bureau of Mines in Alaska.

at the katalla oil field

Don Blasko (left) with USBM crew (Steve Fechner (center), Nathan Rathbun (kneeling), and Lee Harper (right) at the Katalla Oil Field, circa 1981.

I had worked in the north country before and always wanted to go back. After I got the inevitable layoff notice I was feeling down in the dumps, when out of the blue I got a call from none other than Don Blasko in Anchorage. He wanted to know if I still wanted that job for the Bureau of Mines in Alaska. I had nearly forgotten about that job application and didn't know squat about the Bureau of Mines but wanted to get back north. So Don had barely got the words out of his mouth when I said yes. My first project would be to work on a mineral assessment of the Chugach National Forest RARE II project.

Don and I hit it off right from the start. Being a couple of country boys who had similar upbringings in the rural West, we had a lot in common. We were both skiers and even though he was 17 years my senior, he would always beat me down the slopes at Alyeska. In the workplace he was a great mentor to many of us just starting our professional careers in Alaska. He went out of his way to provide the support we needed to get field work done in the most remote of locations. He was great at navigating the Federal bureaucracy, having spent time in Washington, and knew who to contact to get what we needed to move our programs along.

He instilled in us a sense of professionalism and that what we were doing would benefit the future of mineral resources in Alaska. Also, that as public servants we were obligated to provide minerals information on a timely basis to the taxpayers. His ability to add some humor to even the most intense of situations was a godsend.

A Remembrance — Nathan Rathbun

Don was a great leader and led by example. He demonstrated to all of us that, no matter what your position and title, the job must get done. Don was seen many times manning the barrel pump to refuel the helicopter. He also taught us the value of networking.

His knowledge of people and his contacts around the state were invaluable to completing field projects. He always took care of the service providers, generously tipping or bringing a token of appreciation to those who helped.

Things are done differently in Alaska and Don frequently proved it to many Washington DC desk jockeys and similar types by taking them to the most remote, foul weathered, bug infested places in Alaska. Don was a great storyteller and could entertain for hours by sharing his adventures and those of others.

Written by Joe Kurtak

working on RARE II investigations

Don Blasko manning the helicopter fuel pump during RARE II field investigations, circa, 1979

Blasko and Martin Conyac in camp

Don Blasko (left) with Martin Conyac (right) in a field camp in the Brooks Range, undated



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