FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The village of Nenana is an hour’s drive outside of Fairbanks on the Parks Highway, but it is far more than just another gas station along the road.
Nenana is an Athabascan community, with deep roots in history. Many Athabascan generations have used the area for fishing and hunting. Toghotthele Hill towers over the town as a landmark.
The name Nenana means “a good place to camp between the rivers.” It is located at the confluence of the Tanana and Nenana rivers, making it a hub for river traffic, including trips to fishing camps and barges to other villages along the river.
The Alaska Railroad has run through Nenana since 1916, connecting the Interior river system with the Railbelt. In 1923, President Warren J. Harding drove the golden spike at the north end of the Nenana rail bridge. The bridge is the second largest single-span railroad bridge in the U.S., covering the entire 700 feet across the Tanana River.
Nenana has a number of remarkable claims to fame.
It is famous for the annual Nenana Ice Classic, in which thousands of people bet on the time a 20-foot tripod on the Tanana River will fall in spring as the ice breaks up.
In late February, the five-legged tripod is planted into the river ice, with a three-day celebration surrounding it.
Nenana was the original starting point for the 1925 diphtheria serum run to Nome. The serum was rushed by rail to Nenana and, from there, a series of dog mushers relayed the serum all the way to the west coast of the state.
Today, Nenana’s summers are renowned for long days and special events.
if you go
• River Daze is held the first weekend in June, and celebrates the beginning of summer. There is a parade along with music, food, contests and a bazaar.
• The Yukon 800 Race is an intense river boat race in June. The boats run from Fairbanks to Galena, passing through Nenana along the way. The fastest time the race was completed was about 14 hours. This year, it will be on June 18, 2011.
• The July 4 celebration in Nenana features pie-eating contests, music, crafts, food and an evening street dance.