By Stephen Greenlaw, FNSB Noel Wien Library 2020-2021
I am not going to tell you the unlimited touristy things to do or explain the seasons or describe when to see the Northern Lights. There’s plenty of information on stuff like that out there. When I first came to Fairbanks, I did a lot of those things myself. Instead, I am here to share my story and give you a little personal wisdom that will get you out and about in Fairbanks.
First off, you won’t find a place like this anywhere else! Originally, from San Diego, California, I moved to Fairbanks in the fall of 2013 to pursue my degree in Fisheries at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. My first two years were tough, transitioning from sunny San Diego to Alaska, as I had never experienced snow before. Luckily, I lived on campus at UAF which connected me to everything I needed to live comfortably.
When I first arrived in town, I didn’t know many people and I didn’t have a car. Although Fairbanks seems pretty spread out, not having a car isn’t the end of the world and you can still get around. If you want to travel around by bike, pick up a fairbanks bike map from UAF Green Bikes. If you don’t have a car, it will be best to live near a bus line and familiarize yourself with the bus routes. And don’t be shy about asking friends or fellow VISTAs for a ride, especially if you are walking to get groceries at -45F. Your frozen face will thank me later!
Speaking of winters, I recommend getting a happy light and taking vitamin D. Winters can be dark and mental health is important. Take care of yourselves. According to Explore Fairbanks, “with the shortest day of the year – December 21st this year – Fairbanks will have about 3hrs 41mins when the sun is up.”
Obviously, dress for the weather. Frostbite is no joke. Wear layers and have a winter hat to keep your head covered and gloves on whenever you’re outside, even if it’s only for a few minutes. And don’t forget these wise words, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.
My next piece of advice is to find a hobby! Learn to ski or go ice skating in the winter. Check out the UAF trails and go hiking in and around town. And if you plan to do a long hike, let a buddy know. If you are wanting to go hiking outside of town, check out one of my favorite hiking spots: Wickersham Dome.
In the summer, do some wild blueberry picking or look for fishing spots around Fairbanks.There are lots of ponds filled with a dinner that’s ready to be caught. I’d recommend getting a fishing pole and buying a fishing license at Fred Myers. Keep in mind, non-residents pay a higher price compared to residents for a fishing license. Enjoy what each season in Alaska has to offer. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
Speaking of seasons- Did you know that in May of 2020 Fairbanks hit a world-record birch pollen count?! According to the article by Alaska Public Media, “the typical symptoms are itchy, watery eyes and nose, sneezing, and, for some people, it worsens their asthma.” If you have allergies, you may want to get allergy medication for the summer.
It is important that you learn about Alaska Native cultures and histories. A good place to start is at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center.Check out this resource: Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska. And lastly, here are two videos I recommend watching: What People Get Wrong About Alaska Natives and Alaska Native Cultures Overview.
Overall, my advice to folks moving to Fairbanks is really put yourselves out there. Immerse yourselves in the community. Fairbanks has a lot to offer and folks will appreciate you for being someone who wants to help and be part of the community!
Of the many things to do in Fairbanks, here are some of my favorites!
I recognize that my time living and working in Fairbanks took place on the traditional and unceded lands of the Lower Tanana Dene Peoples.