Town of Nenana
The Athabascan word Nenana means "a good place to camp between the rivers." Jim Duke constructed a trading post/roadhouse there in 1903 to supply river travelers and promote trade with the Athabascans.
In 1905, St. Mark's Episcopal Mission was built upriver. It, as well as the Railroad Depot, are on the National Register of Historic Places. The log church has hand-carved pews and an altar covered with Native beadwork done on moosehide.
The Nenana Ice Classic--a popular competition to guess the date and time of the Tanana River ice breakup each spring--began in 1917 among Alaska Railroad workers.
The Railroad Depot (shown at the top of this page) was completed in 1923, when President Warren Harding drove the golden spike at Nenana. The depot, still in use, now housed the Alaska State Railroad Museum. Until the 1960's, when the highway and bridge were constructed, a ferry was used for river crossings.
Nearly 50% of the population of Nenana is Native. A federally recognized Native organization is located in the community. The majority of residents participate in subsistence activities. Fuel, barge services and retail positions complement a subsistence lifestyle. Yutana Barge Lines is the major employer in Nenana, serving and supplying villages along the Tanana and Yukon Rivers each summer. 27 residents hold commercial fishing permits. Over 50% of the jobs in Nenana are government-funded.
We seldom get their dates in time, but understand that the Nenana Ice Classic is March-April; the Nenana Tripod Weekend is in March; the Nenana River Daze comes in June; the Fourth of July Celebration as well as the Nenana Whitewater Festival come in July.
Just as a footnote, several Iditarod winners are residents of Nenana. A diptheria epidemic threatened the town of Nome in 1925. Much needed serum was raced from Nenana to Nome by dog team, using twenty teams in a 674 mile relay race. They delivered the medicine in only 27.5 hours. This historic event is commemorated with the world famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
[Information from Research & Analysis Section, Department of Community & Regional Affairs (907) 465-4750.]
Large grooves are cut into the frozen Tanana River ice about 300 feet from shore. Volunteers lends their muscles to pull on ropes to stand a wooden tripod upright. Holes are drilled in the ice, allowing water to seep upwards, filling in the grooves to freeze the tripod in place.
A watchtower erected next to the tripod holds the official clock of the most recent breakup, and provides a "photo opportunity" for visitors while they wait for the ice to move.
Once the ice has thawed to the point where walking on it is no longer safe, a wire is attached from the watchtower on shore to the top of the tripod, and rigged up to a clock mechanism so that the clock will be stopped when the tripod moves 100 feet. Watchmen monitor from the time the clock is activated until the ice has gone out. A siren will alert the townspeople to the tripod's first movement.
When the tripod trips the clock, spring has officially arrived, and Interior Alaska's rivers are once more navigable. And someone is a lot richer (or, as in most cases, a group of people are richer. Eleven individuals and pools shared $300,000 in 1998.)!
There is also an official site for the Nenana Ice Classic. Their main page has finally been updated for 2011.
Note: The Nenana Ice Classic is regulated by the State of Alaska as a legalized game of chance. It is audited annually by a CPA firm.
[Photos for this page courtesy of Julie Coghill.]