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NenanaHistoric Nenana Depot

Nenana is 65 miles southwest of Fairbanks on the George Parks Highway.

Nenana is at mile 412 of the Alaska Railroad, on the south bank of the Tanana River (just east of the mouth of the Nenana River), and at mile 305 of the Parks Highway.

It is an  historic community - an Athabascan Native
Village 56 miles (as the raven flies) from Fairbanks and 75 miles north of Denali National Park.
Nenana has air access, with a 5,000 ft. paved runway for float and ski planes.

Sorry, need to update this again!

2006 Ice Classic Update

2006: The Tanana River officially went out on May 2, 2006 at 5:29 pm Alaska Standard Time. There were 8 winning tickets. Each had the exact month, day, hour and minute that the ice moved out.

Recent History:

2005: The Tanana River officially went out on April 28, 2005 at 12:01 pm Alaska Standard Time. There were 46 winning tickets. Each had the exact month, day, hour and minute that the ice moved out. The total purse was $285,000.00

2004: The Tanana River officially went out on April 24th, 2004 at 2:16 p.m. Alaska Standard Time. There were 6 winning tickets. Each had the exact month, day, hour and minute that the ice moved out. The total purse was $301,000.00.

2003: The Tanana River officially went out on April 29th, 2003 at 6:22 p.m. Alaska Standard Time.

2002: May 7, 2002, at 9:27 p.m.

2001: The Tanana River ice went out officially on a Tuesday, 5/8/01 at 1:00 Alaska Standard Time (2 p.m. Daylight time). Eight ticket-holders won the 85th annual Nenana Ice Classic by guessing the exact minute of the breakup. They split a jackpot of $308,000, the third highest in the history of the event. The eight winners each received $27,720 after taxes. 

The breakup was the latest since 1992, when the ice tripped the wire on May 14. It is the eighth time the ice has gone out on May 8, but was the ninth time that the winning time was between 1 and 1:59 p.m., which is a record in itself.

2000: This year set a record for the highest jackpot, $335,000, with each of 18 winners receiving $18,611).

Town of Nenana
Nenana is in the westernmost portion of Tanana Athabascan Indian territory. It was first known as Tortella, an interpretation of the Indian word "Toghotthele."

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. 

The People
Nenana Railroad Bridge Nenana's population doubled in 1915 with the construction of the Alaska Railroad. The single-span railroad bridge (701 feet long) is the only bridge of its kind in the world, and is still in daily use. Their Chamber of Commerce hosts a Nenana community web site.

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.

Tourist Attractions
The city is gradually developing a tourist economy. Things to see include the Alaska Railroad Museum, the Golden Railroad Spike Historic Park and Interpretive Center, the historical Episcopal Church, Iditarod dog kennels, a replica of the sternwheeler Nenana and a heritage center.

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.]

The Nenana Ice Classic
The Nenana Ice Classic administration provides yearly short-term employment for nearly 100 locals. Alaskans wager thousands of dollars yearly on the day and time of the break up of the Tanana River. The prize is worth it - $300,000 in 1998, and that is only the main contest - minute pools abound, too.

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.Watchtower for Ice Classic

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.)!

Nenana Alaska HomepageThe community of Nenana now has a homepage, which we are pleased to link to.  Click on the picture.

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.]


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