Published on October 14, 2010 by John
Location and Climate
Nulato is located on the west bank of the Yukon River, 35 miles west of Galena and 310 air miles west of Fairbanks. It lies in the Nulato Hills, across the river from the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge. The community lies at approximately 64.719440° North Latitude and -158.103060° West Longitude. (Sec. 08, T009S, R004E, Kateel River Meridian). Nulato is located in the Nulato Recording District. The area encompasses 42.7 sq. miles of land and 2.0 sq. miles of water. The area experiences a cold, continental climate with extreme temperature differences. The average daily maximum during July is in the lower 70s °F; the average daily minimum during January is well below 0 °F. Several consecutive days of -40 °F is common each winter. The highest temperature ever recorded is 90 °F; the lowest is -55 °F. Average annual precipitation is 16 inches, with 74 inches of snowfall. The Yukon River is ice-free from mid-May through mid-October.
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History, Culture and Demographics
The Koyukon Athabascans traditionally had spring, summer, fall, and winter camps and moved as the wild game migrated. There were 12 summer fish camps located on the Yukon River between the Koyukuk and Nowitna Rivers. Nulato was the trading site between Athabascans and Inupiat Eskimos from the Kobuk area. Western contact increased rapidly after the 1830s. The Russian explorer Malakov established a trading post at Nulato in 1839. A smallpox epidemic, the first of several major epidemics, struck the region in 1839. Disputes over local trade may have been partly responsible for the Nulato massacre of 1851, in which Koyukuk River Natives decimated a large portion of the Nulato Native population. The Western Union Telegraph Company explored the area around 1867. Nulato was a center of missionary activity, and many area Natives moved to the village after a Roman Catholic mission and school, Our Lady of Snows Mission, was completed in 1887. Epidemics took heavy tolls on Native lives after the onset of the Yukon and Koyukuk gold rush in 1884. For instance, food shortages and a measles epidemic combined to kill as much as one-third of the Nulato population during 1900. In 1900, steamboat traffic peaked, with 46 boats in operation. Through the turn of the century, two steamers a day would stop at Nulato to purchase firewood. A post office was opened in 1897. Gold seekers left the Yukon after 1906. Lead mining began in the Galena area in 1919. Nulato incorporated as a city in 1963. A clinic, water supply, new school, and telephone and television services were developed through the 1970s. In 1981, large-scale housing development began at a new townsite on the hills north of the city, about 2 miles from the old townsite.
A federally-recognized tribe is located in the community — the Nulato Village. The population of the community consists of 94% Alaska Native or part Native. Nulato residents are predominantly Koyukon Athabascans, with a trapping and subsistence lifestyle. Virtually all of the residents are Catholic. Sale of alcohol is restricted to the city-owned package store. During the 2000 U.S. Census, total housing units numbered 119, and vacant housing units numbered 28. Vacant housing units used only seasonally numbered 26. U.S. Census data for Year 2000 showed 74 residents as employed. The unemployment rate at that time was 41.94 percent, although 65.26 percent of all adults were not in the work force. The median household income was $25,114, per capita income was $8,966, and 18.07 percent of residents were living below the poverty level.
Facilities, Utilities, Schools and Health Care
Water is derived from wells and is treated. A piped water and sewer system provides services for 53 homes in the Nulato new (upper) townsite, with bathroom and kitchen plumbing. Thirty-four (34) unserved residences in the lower townsite haul water from the Blackberry Well or the church and use honeybuckets or outhouses. Electricity is provided by AVEC. There is one school located in the community, attended by 36 students. Local hospitals or health clinics include Nulato Clinic. Emergency Services have limited highway, river and air access. Emergency service is provided by volunteers and a health aide. Auxiliary health care is provided by Nulato Emergency Medical Services (907-898-2209).
Economy and Transportation
Most of the full-time employment in Nulato is with the city, tribe, school, clinic, and store. During the summer, BLM firefighting positions, construction work, and fish processing are important sources of cash. In 2009, eight residents held commercial fishing permits. Trapping provides an income source in winter. Subsistence foods are a major portion of the diet, and many families travel to fish camp each summer. Salmon, moose, bear, small game, and berries are utilized.
The state-owned 4,000′ long by 100′ wide, lighted airstrip provides year-round access. The river is the primary mode of local transportation — barges deliver cargo during summer months, and it becomes an ice road during winter for vehicles and snowmachines. Numerous trails are used for trapping and woodcutting. Cars, trucks, snowmachines, ATVs, and skiffs are used by residents.