TALKEETNA RETAINS THE TRUE IMAGE OF ALASKA’S PAST

By Bill Vanderford


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Downtown Talkeetna - Photo by Bill Vanderford

A sign nailed to a tree in the middle of town reads: Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Talkeetna”, and often takes visitors by surprise. By urban standards, this tiny Alaskan village resembles nothing of urbanity. But the beauty of Talkeetna is not in its streets or buildings. It is in the majesty of being near North America’s tallest mountain, Mt. McKinley, and a history that dates to the gold rush of 1896 when hopeful prospectors came to the confluence of the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers. This is still very much a frontier town.

For those planning a visit to Alaska in summer, Talkeetna should be on your places to see. Not only is Mt. McKinley on your doorstep, but the surrounding country is equally breathtaking, and filled with abundant opportunities to hike, mountain bike, fish, horseback ride, ride and go on wildlife photo safaris.

Located just over 100 miles north of Anchorage, Talkeetna was originally the site of a Tanaina Indian village. Miners established the first trading post here in 1896 and by 1910 Talkeetna had become a riverboat steamer station. Five years later, the town was designated as the site for the Alaska Engineering Commission, which would build the Alaska Railroad.

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At Horseshoe Lake near Talkeetna - Photo by Bill Vanderford

World War I and the completion of the railroad in 1919 decreased the population dramatically and it never rallied. Today, it registers at less than 400 people and, with 15 of Talkeetna’s 24 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, it feels like it has been caught in a time-warp of yesteryear.

The Museum of Northern Adventure and the Historical Society Museum detail Talkeetna’s history. The former is housed in an old one-room schoolhouse and displays historical items, local art, a historical library and a display on Don Sheldon, a famous bush pilot.

A highlight of the summer season is the annual Moose Dropping Festival in July, staged by the Talkeetna Historical Society. The celebration starts with the Mountain Mother Contest where women participants split a quart of wood and run an obstacle course with snowshoes, all with the equivalent weight of a baby strapped on their back. The final event is the Moose Drop Contest, where contestants buy a moose dropping which is taken up in a helicopter and dropped onto a target. The person who bought the “moose missile” that lands closest to the target splits the winning money-pot with the Society.

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Mt.Mckinley Near Talkeetna - Photo by Bill Vanderford

Although the tiny village is known primarily for its proximity to Mt. McKinley and some of the best fishing in Alaska, it really is an extraordinary hamlet where the pioneer spirit of Alaska makes it a ‘must-see’ on every itinerary.

For more information, visit: www.talkeetnachamber.org/


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