Published on October 14, 2010 by John
Location and Climate
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Unalakleet is located on Norton Sound at the mouth of the Unalakleet River, 148 miles southeast of Nome and 395 miles northwest of Anchorage. The community lies at approximately 63.873060° North Latitude and -160.788060° West Longitude. (Sec. 03, T019S, R011W, Kateel River Meridian). Unalakleet is located in the Cape Nome Recording District. The area encompasses 2.9 sq. miles of land and 2.3 sq. miles of water. Unalakleet has a subarctic climate with considerable maritime influences when Norton Sound is ice-free, usually from May to October. Winters are cold and dry. Average summer temperatures range 47 to 62 °F; winter temperatures average -4 to 11 °F. Extremes have been measured from -50 to 87 °F. Precipitation averages 14 inches annually, with 41 inches of snow.
History, Culture and Demographics
Archaeologists have dated house remnants along the beach ridge from 200 B.C. to 300 A.D. The name Unalakleet means “from the southern side.” Unalakleet has long been a major trade center as the terminus for the Kaltag Portage, an important winter travel route connecting to the Yukon River. Indians on the upper river were considered “professional” traders with a monopoly on the Indian-Eskimo trade across the Kaltag Portage. The Russian-American Company built a post here in the 1830s. In 1898, reindeer herders from Lapland were brought to Unalakleet to establish sound herding practices. In 1901, the Army Signal Corps built over 605 miles of telegraph line from St. Michael to Unalakleet, over the portage to Kaltag and Fort Gibbon. The city was incorporated in 1974.
A federally-recognized tribe is located in the community — the Native Village of Unalakleet. The population of the community consists of 87.7% Alaska Native or part Native. Unalakleet has a history of diverse cultures and trade activity. The local economy is the most active in Norton Sound, along with a traditional Unaligmiut Eskimo subsistence lifestyle. Fish, seal, caribou, moose, and bear are utilized. The sale of alcohol is prohibited in the community, although importation and possession is allowed. During the 2000 U.S. Census, total housing units numbered 242, and vacant housing units numbered 18. Vacant housing units used only seasonally numbered 6. U.S. Census data for Year 2000 showed 258 residents as employed. The unemployment rate at that time was 14.57 percent, although 48.61 percent of all adults were not in the work force. The median household income was $42,083, per capita income was $15,845, and 11.04 percent of residents were living below the poverty level.
Facilities, Utilities, Schools and Health Care
Water is derived from an infiltration gallery on Powers Creek and is treated and stored in a million-gallon steel tank. The water source is not sufficient during extremely cold weather. One-hundred-ninety (190) households are connected to the piped water and sewer system and have complete plumbing. Only two households haul water and honeybuckets. Residents haul refuse to the baler facility for transportation to the landfill. Refuse collection is available for commercial customers. Matanuska Electric Association owns and operates the electrical system in Unalakleet, through the Unalakleet Valley Electric Cooperative. Electricity is provided by Unalakleet Valley Electric Cooperative. There is one school located in the community, attended by 157 students. Local hospitals or health clinics include Anikkan Inuit Illuaqutaat Sub-Regional Clinic (Unalakleet). The clinic is a qualified Emergency Care Center. Emergency Services have river and air access. Emergency service is provided by volunteers and a health aide.
Economy and Transportation
Both commercial fishing for herring and herring roe and subsistence activities are major components of Unalakleet’s economy. In 2009, 96 residents held commercial fishing permits. Norton Sound Econonomic Development Council operates a fish processing plant. Government and school positions are relatively numerous. Tourism is becoming increasingly important; there is world-class silver fishing in the area.
Unalakleet has a state-owned 5,900′ long by 150′ wide gravel runway and a gravel strip that is 1,900′ long and 75′ wide. There are regular flights to Anchorage. Cargo is lightered from Nome; there is a dock. Local overland travel is mainly by ATVs, snowmachines, and dogsleds in winter.