“The Golden Heart City”
Fairbanks is the largest city in Alaska’s Interior and one of the three largest cities in the state. Located about 110 miles south of the Arctic Circle near the geographic center of the state, it is the terminus of the Alaska Railroad and the Richardson and Steese highways. The city also sits midway on the pipeline route between the port of Valdez to the south and Prudhoe Bay to the north. Oil refining is an important part of the Fairbanks economy.
Also known as the “Golden Heart City,” Fairbanks has progressed from an isolated, turn-of-the-century prospecting town into a commercial and recreational hub. With a population of more than 32,000, Fairbanks citizenry swells to more than 99,000 when including the surrounding Fairbanks North Star Borough. You’ll find most of the public services and community facilities you would expect to see in a similarly sized town in the Lower 48, including theaters, restaurants and nightspots.
And although there are no large shopping malls, there is an adequate selection of large department stores and national retail stores. Fairbanks also provides an array of seasonal and year-round activities. Summer visitors can hike, camp, pan for gold or browse through a re-created gold rush town and the amusement areas of Pioneer Park, or enjoy a leisurely cruise on the Tanana River on a stern-wheeler. There is fishing and hunting in nearby areas, the annual Tanana Valley State Fair, and Golden Days, a celebration of the discovery of gold in Fairbanks. The city hosts the minor league Goldpanners baseball team, and numerous outdoor events and activities that include the world-famous Midnight Sun Baseball Game.
Fairbanks is home to the farthest-north university, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (www.uaf.edu). Research, academic studies, a museum and natural exhibits attract both students and sightseers. UAF also supports NCAA sports programs such as basketball, hockey and volleyball. The university, the oldest college in the state, was incorporated in 1917 as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. Since then UAF has grown from six students and faculty members to more than 11,000 students and 165 degree programs.
North Pole is a small community located about eight miles northwest of Eielson along the Richardson Highway. The Santa Claus-themed town serves as a hub for more than 2,150 residents. The community offers basic shopping conveniences and a selection of fast-food chains and restaurants. North Pole is also home to the Santa Claus House and other tourist shops. The town was originally established to attract toy manufacturers wanting to make products labeled “Made at the North Pole.” This endeavor failed to blossom, but North Pole continued to grow and was incorporated as a city in 1953.
Instead of a toy kingdom, the city became a bedroom community for military residents. In 1975, the North Pole Refinery became the major industry in the area. Since then a second refinery has been constructed. The refineries gave North Pole a large tax base and the area underwent a period of rapid growth, unprecedented even in Alaska. The city has one of the highest assessed valuations per capita in Alaska. The city maintains full-time fire, police, utility and public works departments. Just outside North Pole, the Chena Lakes recreation area offers camping, boating, swimming and excellent fishing. Visitors may also catch a glimpse of local wildlife, including resident moose known to wander through homeowners’ yards and campsites. There is also an abundant variety of beautiful wildflowers in the summer months.