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Looking for Gold in Ester, Alaska

Ester lies just west of Fairbanks on the Parks Highway at the edge of town past the university, on the way to Denali Park.

Many people don’t realize that in many parts of Alaska, gold mining is alive and well. And Ester Creek is one of those places. Even now, there are over 4 square miles of claims in this area alone.

The mining district produces more gold than all the rest of Alaska combined.

The Ester Republic (“the national rag of the people’s independent republic of Ester”) commented in its first edition in 1999 that local resident Frank Therrel “wowed the tourists” by panning for gold in the house foundations he’d just dug up. Ester Gold Camp’s buildings are a remnant of the earlier “Ester City”, which had 5 saloons.

As mining evolved, from simple gold panning to steam hoists, hydraulic cannons, and dredges, Ester developed, too. The Gold Camp was opened in 1936 to outfit the miners. It had bunkhouses, homes, shops and offices.

Two of the original camp buildings – the assay office and blacksmith shop – are still there.

In 1987, 11 buildings in Ester were put on the National Register of Historic Places.

Heading North to Fairbanks

As you head north, while on your left the Tanana River flows northward to the Yukon, the Parks Highway begins to climb the hilly ridges to Fairbanks.

Stop at a viewpoint to look south. Below you lies the Tanana River and, in the distance, the back side of the Alaska Range. If you had stood here 18,000 years ago you might think you would have been looking at a wasteland of ice. But that was not the case.

Between the icy north beyond the Brooks Range and the huge glaciers south of the Alaska Range was an ice-free pocket of grassland that stretched from Alaska across Russia to the European ice sheets. These grasslands were populated by ice age mammals, including the venerable musk ox, which has roamed the north for six hundred thousand years.

Other notable mammals that lived in the valley at your feet were 9 foot tall woolly mammoths, mastadons, giant sloths, wild ponies, bison, antelope, camels, bears and saber tooth tigers.

(Photo, UAF Large Animal Research)

Boom, Bust and Finally Tourism

The progression visible in many of Alaska's historic towns has also shaped the town of Ester. From the 1930's to the 1950's, Ester Gold Camp was a gold dredging facility.

Despite the fact that there is still gold in Ester and the hills surrounding Fairbanks, Ester is visited today mainly for the glimpse it offers into Alaska's past.

North End Of The Parks Highway

etser building

+ Map of Northern Parks Highway
+ Gold Rush Map

+ Map of Bearfoot Campgrounds


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