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Fairbanks: Recreation


Fairbanks is rich in frontier history. One of the main attractions is Pioneer Park, a 44-acre historic theme park on the banks of the Chena River. The Park features a Gold Rush Town with authentic historic buildings, a Native Village with Indian and Eskimo architecture and artifacts, and the riverboat Nenana in drydock. The Kitty Hensley House, home of one of Fairbanks's early citizens, has been restored and is open to the public in Gold Rush Town. A narrow gauge railroad train meanders through the park, and a mini golf course, a mining operation, three museums, and an art gallery are also part of the fun. The Alaska Centennial Center for the Arts is located at Pioneer Park.

There are 20 National Historic Register buildings within the Fairbanks area, including Creamer's Dairy Wildlife Refuge; these sites are a living testament to the area's rich cultural history. Several churches and buildings in the city are of architectural interest. Muskoxen, caribou and reindeer can be seen at the Large Animal Research Station at the University of Alaska Fairbanks which offers tours of its facility from June through September.

Hot springs, gold dredges, gold camps, and engineering projects such as the first water system in permafrost ground and the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline are attractions in the outlying areas. The art of extracting gold from the frozen Alaskan ground is on display at Gold Dredge No. 8, which also has a dining hall and offers an opportunity to pan for gold. The Ester Gold Camp, a popular family attraction, features a 1900s gold camp site and town, a dining hall buffet dinner, a Saloon Show and a view of the Northern Lights set to music. The El Dorado Gold Mine offers two-hour guided tours through a permafrost tunnel, a walking tour of a mining camp, and a chance to pan for gold.

A recommended day trip is a visit to Denali National Park, 120 miles south of Fairbanks. Within its boundaries is North America's tallest mountain, Mt. McKinley (also known locally as Denali). Wildlife such as moose, grizzly bear, mountain sheep, and caribou can be seen in their natural habitat. During the summer months colorful carpets of wild-flowers add to the beauty of the park.

The Georgeson Botanical Garden, on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, offers tours in the summer months. The sternwheeler Riverboat Discovery paddles the Chena River for a three-and-a-half hour cruise and makes stops to visit Iditarod kennels, a traditional Athabascan fish camp and an Old Chena Indian Village.

Fairbanks visitors can take advantage of one or more tour packages to explore the area's beauty, wildlife, and opportunities for outdoor fun. Choices for guided tours are plentiful and varied and can include tours by horseback, canoe, raft, boat, plane, car, snowmobile, dogsled, jet boat, or even hot air balloon. Day-long and multi-day trips are available to a number of destinations for individuals and groups.

The Aurora Borealis is one natural wonder that visitors shouldn't miss when visiting the area. Recommended viewing is from September to April, with February, March, September, and October as the very best months (the midnight sun makes viewing difficult in the summer months). There are a variety of options for viewing the Northern Lights, with special guided tours of the Aurora Circle and lodges catering to Aurora viewers.

Arts and Culture

As the cultural center of the Interior, Fairbanks is home to the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra, the Arctic Chamber Orchestra, Fairbanks Art Association, Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, and the Fairbanks Drama Association & Fairbanks Children's Theatre. Musical comedy revues and light opera productions are staged by the Fairbanks Light Opera Theater, the Center Stage, and the Palace Saloon.

The city has several museums relating to the natural and cultural history of the area. The University of Alaska Museum of the North is one of the most frequently visited tourist attractions in the state and is the only natural and cultural museum in Alaska. Blue Babe, the Ice Age's only restored steppe bison mummy, Alaska's largest public display of gold and Alaskan native artifacts are on exhibit. Scheduled to open in September 2005 is an addition which will display the museum's art collection, and house office space and lab space for processing animals and performing DNA testing. Fairbanks Community Museum chronicles the history of Fairbanks from its founding in 1901 to the present with a focus on the Gold Rush era and mining. In the same building is the Dog Mushing Museum which exhibits sleds, clothing, harnesses, trophies, and cold weather expedition gear. Life-size ice sculptures are on view at the Fairbanks Ice Museum which preserves year-round some of the sculptures carved during the World Ice Art Championships held annually in March.

The Alaska Public Lands Information Center provides both exhibits and recreation information on state and federal land in Alaska for those planning a trip to the "back country." Information on camping grounds, hiking trails, scenic drives, and fishing spots is available. Several art galleries are also located in Fairbanks, including the Alaska House Art Gallery and Tundra Walker Studio.

Festivals and Holidays

The North American Championship Preliminary Sled Dog Races are held in December and January. In February the Yukon Quest International Dog Sled Race is a 1,000-mile run on gold rush trails. The Tesoro Iron Dog Gold Rush Classic, also in February, is the world's longest snowmobile race. In February or early March the Ice Alaska/Winter Carnival showcases the World Ice Art Championships, an 11-day international ice carving competition. Folk, celtic, bluegrass, orchestral, and gospel music are all on stage at the Fairbanks Folk Festivals held in February and June. March is the month for the Open North American Sled Dog Championships, which attracts top sprint mushers from the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan, as well as the Junior North American Sled Dog Championships. Native people from all over the state gather to share their dancing, singing, storytelling, and traditional arts and crafts at the Annual Festival of Native Arts.

June is a busy month, with the Midnight Sun Baseball Game during the summer solstice when the sun never sets and the Yukon 800, a marathon riverboat race. Music, theater, story telling, creative writing, visual arts, dance, and ice skating are on display at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks during the last two weeks in July. Also in July, Golden Days celebrates the rich gold-mining history of Fairbanks; a hairy chest, legs, and beard contest is one highlight of the five-day festival. In the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, another July event, Native people from all over the Arctic compete in games of strength and endurance; among other highlights are storytelling and Native dances.

The Tanana Valley State Fair is held in August, followed by Oktoberfest. The Athabascan Old-Time Fiddling Festival in November celebrates a musical format that is a composite of French Canadian and Scottish-Arcadian styles fused with Native tunes. Fairbanks celebrates the Winter Solstice each weekend in December with Santa, live music, and family activities downtown.

Sports for the Spectator

The Fairbanks area supports a baseball team, the Alaska Goldpanners, college players from the lower 48 who play their games at Growden Field. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks basketball and ice hockey teams host games on the University of Alaska campus and in the Carlson Center in town.

Dog mushing is the official sport of the state of Alaska, and Fairbanks is the site of mushing competitions throughout the winter. Mushing demonstrations can be seen in summer, but serious racing requires cool temperatures and snow. The Fairbanks Curling Club hosts competitions with teams from throughout Alaska, Canada, and the United States. The Greater Fairbanks Racing Association sponsors summer stock and sprint car racing nearly every weekend starting Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day at the Mitchell Raceway. The Sundawgs Rugby Football Club plays rugby during the Golden Days festival in July. Fairbank's junior ice hockey team is the Ice Dogs, a North American Hockey League team.

Sports for the Participant

Running is a popular activity in Fairbanks. The Equinox Marathon, said to be the second most challenging marathon in the U.S., is a 26-mile race to the top of Ester Dome. The Midnight Sun Run is held in conjunction with the celebration of the summer solstice, and the Chena River 5K Run is held in May.

Many city and area parks offer facilities for a variety of year-round indoor and outdoor recreational activities. Among the most popular pursuits are downhill and cross-country skiing, fishing, canoeing, goldpanning, hiking, hockey, hunting, ice skating, jogging, nature walks, tennis, swimming, volleyball, and racquetball. Smooth paved trails along the Chena River are ideal for biking and rollerblading. Fairbanks boasts three golf courses including the northernmost golf course, where during the mid-summer, golfers can play golf 24 hours a day. Winter is a favorite time for swimming in nearby hot springs. A skate board park and volleyball courts are located at Growden Park. Birch Hill Park, a few minutes north of Fairbanks, is a 460-acre park with hiking and running trails, mountain biking, and bird watching in the summer.

Shopping and Dining

Fairbanks has a number of shopping malls and neighborhood stores. Specialty shops feature Alaska native arts and crafts and jewelry fashioned from ivory, jade, and hematite, as well as handmade fur garments. Visitors can watch the manufacture of Alaskan birch bowls at the Great Alaskan Bowl Company where they are also for sale. Santa Claus House, located 13 miles from Fairbanks in the city of North Pole, has become a landmark, drawing visitors from throughout the world to shop for Alaskan gifts, jewelry, and clothing. Local farmers and craft makers display their wares at the Farmers' Market, open Wednesdays and Saturdays from May through the end of summer next to the Tanana Valley Fair Grounds. The city's main commercial district extends along Airport Way, between University Ave. and Cushman St. where most of the fast-food chains and malls can be found. Many bars, restaurants and businesses that cater to the university crowd are located along University Ave. and College Rd.

Dozens of restaurants in Fairbanks provide a wide range of cuisine in casual and elegant settings. Area restaurants specialize in fish from inland waters to more casual fare including miners's stew served in the dining halls of the local gold mines. Visitors can also enjoy Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, and Mexican specialties. Salmon, halibut and cod are the specialties at the Alaska Salmon Bake, one of the more popular venues with its Palace Theater and Saloon in Gold Rush Town. Located in Pioneer Park, it features evening entertainment in the summer with its "Golden Heart Revue."

Visitor Information: Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, 550 First Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99701-4790; telephone (907)456-5774; toll-free (800)327-5774; fax (907)452-4190