FAIRBANKS - No matter the length of your stay in Fairbanks, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a one-stop, must-see destination for information about Interior Alaska. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the center offers a variety of educational exhibits and cultural programs and is a favorite of visitors and locals alike.
Five local entities — Explore Fairbanks, Tanana Chiefs Conference Cultural Programs, Alaska Public Lands Information Center, Alaska Geographic and Denakkanaaga Inc. — share the airy and sunlit building nestled in a tranquil setting on the banks of the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks. Last year more than 145,000 people passed through the doors to view interpretive exhibits, watch free films about our history and culture in the 100-seat theater and get information from helpful and experienced staff members.
Three life-size dioramas featuring realistically rendered landscapes allow visitors to experience the seasons as they walk through the 9,000-square-foot exhibit hall. A wolf, eagle and ermine eye pieces of salmon curing at a summer fish camp, while a beaver, Arctic ground squirrel and grizzly bear prepare for winter near the site of a fall hunting camp. A replica of a public-use cabin boasts a large window through which visitors can see a dog sled and a moose as a dazzling projection of the northern lights shimmers above a winter scene. Spring is portrayed with explanations of the various signs of the season, which include geese returning to Creamer’s Field, the beginning of road construction and the first mosquitos coming out of hiding. The exhibit ends with a visit to the Elders Hall and displays of historic and modern tools, clothing and artwork common to the Interior.
Outside, nearby bike paths and walkways wend through the center’s grounds and neighboring Griffin Park, allowing visitors a peaceful space to contemplate nature and the spectacular beauty of a Fairbanks summer. Many use the center as a jumping off point for exploring town, while others prefer to wave hello to the world at the popular moose antler arch webcam, view the Athabascan beadwork-inspired sidewalk mosaics or visit the restored 1905 pioneer cabin on the center’s grounds.
The center offers Wi-Fi, ample parking, restrooms and storage lockers for those who want to temporarily store their gear. It is open daily year-round, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter.
Explore Fairbanks staffers will happily answer visitor questions, help plan itineraries and share their wealth of knowledge about Fairbanks and the Interior. Public computers, free courtesy phones and hundreds of brochures for local attractions and services are offered, and a daily listing of available accommodations can be found at www.explorefairbanks.com. For more information, call 456-5774 or visit the website.
TCC Cultural Programs director Dixie Alexander has created three summer programs that highlight the traditions, crafts and culture of Interior Alaska’s Athabascan people with the help of local Alaska Native high school and college students. For times and prices, contact the Cultural Programs staff at 459-3741 or stop by their workshop at the center.
Alaska Public Lands Information Center offers visitors resource education; public lands information; interpretive services; fee collection; hiking, fishing and camping resources; and an extensive collection of maps to aid in backcountry trip planning. APLIC also sponsors the daily natural history and cultural films shown in the theater.
The nonprofit Alaska Geographic bookstore offers books about Alaska culture, history and wilderness adventure, as well as children’s books, Alaska Native arts and crafts, DVDs, photography collections and maps. The bookstore is open daily during the summer season. For more information, call 459-3710 or visit akgeo.org.
Denakkanaaga Inc. is a nonprofit organization that serves as the voice for Alaska Native elders in the Interior. The organization oversees the Fairbanks-based portion of the Road Scholar program, which offers seniors all-inclusive experiential learning adventures. To learn more about the program, call 451-3900 or visit www.denakkanaaga.org.