It was a 10-bus day Thursday at the Nenana Artisan Market and Nenana Cultural Center, and business was booming.
Six of those buses were unannounced stops, which had vendors smiling and happily greeting crowds of unexpected visitors.
There’s plenty for these folks to do during this brief stop. Nenana musher Jessie Holmes and his colleague, musher Dave Turner, offer a quick and exciting sled dog ride, looping around the two long buildings on the riverfront.
The Nenana Artisan Market is filled with local vendors selling everything from homemade lip balm made from beeswax to Chaga, beaded jewelry and other crafts. Homemade cinnamon rolls disappeared quickly off trays at Jessica Stephens’ booth, along with her cinnamon rhubarb, blueberry and mixed berry muffins.
Nearby, local trapper Jim Hautala invited visitors to feel his lynx, wolf, otter and beaver pelts. Yes, those are for sale.
This is an authentic Alaska experience, one that Nenana residents are building on every year. Last season, 40,000 visitors stopped here for a quick visit en route to either Fairbanks or Denali National Park.
A walking trail that starts near the artisan center is now being renovated, along with interpretive signs describing life along the river. A nearby pavilion is due to be repainted later this month as part of a Love Nenana Days project.
Last year, local entrepreneurs launched the Nenana Tourism Association, and regular meetings are now stoking enthusiasm. The group hopes to take better advantage of the river with a potential boat tour. Soon, some guided walking tours and other activities may be added, as well.
Meanwhile, Susan Yates will continue popping popcorn for visitors. She spearheads the Nenana Artisan Market and last year was the top buyer of popcorn in the state. She popped 1,200 pounds of popcorn.
This is Alaska, so you never know what to expect. Visitors stepping off buses are greeted by Nenana resident Kelton Shields performing a very slick Michael Jackson dance. This is his passion and he loves to share it with visitors.
Welcome to Nenana.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.