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For A-67, The Way North

June 2, 1967

Canada's Expo 67 may be the foremost fair of the years, but it is not the northernmost. Some 200 miles below the Arctic circle, along a swift-flowing river where the cannonade of breaking ice lately echoed, Alaska last week opened its own centennial exposition and applied to it what sounded like a highway designation: "A-67" As Republican Governor Walter Hickel inaugurated the frosty fiesta on a 42-acre site in Fairbanks (pop. 19,000), the nation's 49th and biggest state was already well into a yearlong shivaree commemorating the 1867 purchase from Russia of what was once derisively known as "Seward's Icebox." After a century of erratic growth, it is clear that the icebox is full of goodies.

FAIRBANKS FAIR SITE (In background Gold-painted Dome) Shivaree in an icebox full of goodies.

"Only the Strong." The gaudy history of Alaska's territorial period is reconstructed in miniature at the Fairbanks fair Visitors (300,000 anticipated) can either tour a gold-painted geodesic dome meant to symbolize a nugget, or else pan gold themselves, sourdough-fashion, in chest from the Chena River; sip cocktails in the "Wheelhouse," a VIP lounge on the superstructure of the old Alaskan sternwheeler Nenama; view an aboriginal village with Eskimo kayak rides and a Tlingit totem-pole carver at work; or ogle the cancan dancers from an authentic gold-rush bar.

Central feature of Alaska-67 is a 15-panel re-creation of the "Big Stampede" of gold miners focusing on Felix ("Pedro") Pedroni, an Italian immigrant who in 1902 made the first strike in the hills above Fairbanks. It also traces - of course - the peregrinations of Alaska's late poet laureate, Robert W. Service, who wrote: "this is the Law of the Yukon, that only the strong shall thrive."

Erected at a cost of $6,000,000, the fair was onto without its problems. The four-car miniature railroad train proved 2" too tall for its costly, covered wooden bridge, and the wildlife preserve through which it passes has been enclosed with low cattle fences - though the caribou inside can jump like kangaroos. The fair's bearded, ebullient President, electric-company executive Don Vogwill, 43, sill have not figured out what to do about the enclosure's moose population; during rutting season, a hostile amorous or plain myopic bull moose could knock the tiny train off its tracks.

No. 1 Wall Street. The boosterism behind, A-67 is well founded. Today despite its century under the American aegis, Alaska's natural resources remain largely untapped. In an 1867 speech supporting the Alaska purchase, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner spoke glowingly of the region's timber and grasslands, furs and fisheries, copper and gold lodes. Though the fur-seal herds that drew the Russians to Alaska have long since been decimated, trappers still work the beaver streams and fox warrens of the wooded, game-rich Brooks Range. Prospectors gutted gold in billion-dollar lots from the Kenai Peninsula to the Yukon, but vast reserves of copper, coal and petroleum remain to be developed.

Competition from Japanese and Russian trawlers has cut into Alaska' fishing industry; yet the state remains one of the world's major sources of king crab, and salmon is still Alaska's greatest single export item ($100 million in 1966). Its sweeping grasslands and dense forests are virtually inviolate; only a few sheep and steer range the prairies, and the annual cut of pulp pine and lumber rains minuscule. Even so, the state's business volume last year increased 18.2% to $1.4 billion.

With only 272,000 inhabitants - up 25% since 1960 - occupying a state twice the size of Texas with Indiana thrown in to fill the crevices. Alaska is still in effect a lovely vacuum. As the upper arm of America, and its closest contact with both Asia and Russia, Alaska is one of the continent's last and most promising frontiers. Governor Hickel, who like to refer to the Arctic as "No. 1 Wall Street," exclaims: "by God, I'd love to be a young man in this country 50 years from now!"

Rails to Siberia. Wally Hickel, at 47, has done well enough in the present. When he arrived in 1940 from "the Outside" (as Alaskans call the rest of the U.S.), Hickel had just $0.37 in his pockets; since then he has made at least $3,000,000 in real estate, mostly in the Anchorage area. "North to the Future" is the centennials's motto; yet the Governor is well aware that the state needs a lot of work before its chilly void can be filled. Transportation is a major problem, and Hickel and has stepped up highway construction (a record $88.7 million worth of contract was let last year) and bridge building (46 were begun in 1966). Hickel has proposed a railroad link with Siberia over the 50-mile Bering Strait, and is concentrating on attention and money on further development of the state's "marine highway system," a fleet of ferryboats that ply Alaska's rivers and Inside Passage to the "Lower 48."

Tourism remains Alaska's brightest hope for the immediate future. As the state celebrates its centennial this summer with blowouts from Barrow to Ketchikan, from Nome to Tok, "Outsiders" have an unparalleled opportunity to see what the icebox offers. Many of the strong are bound to stay.


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