- Pronounced (nuh-NAN-uh)
- Current Population 408 (2012 Alaska Department of Labor Estimate)
- Legislative Districts (link to State Legislature page):
- Senate District S
- House District 38
- Judicial District 4
- Latitude: 64.5639
- Longitude: -149.0931
Nenana is located in Interior Alaska, 55 road miles southwest of Fairbanks on the George Parks Highway. Nenana is located at mile 412 of the Alaska Railroad, on the south bank of the Tanana River, just east of the mouth of the Nenana River. It lies 304 road miles northeast of Anchorage.
Nenana has a cold, continental climate with an extreme temperature range. The average daily maximum during summer months is 65 to 70 °F; the daily minimum during winter is well below 0 °F. The highest temperature ever recorded is 98 °F; the lowest is -69 °F. Average annual precipitation is 11.4 inches, with 48.9 inches of snowfall. The river is ice-free from mid-May to mid-October.
Nenana is in the western-most portion of Tanana Athabascan territory. It was first known as Tortella, an interpretation of the word “Toghotthele,” which means “mountain that parallels the river.” The Nenana Valley of Central Alaska is the site of one of the earliest archaeological sites in North America, dating between about 11,000 and 12,000 years old.
The first non-Native explorers to enter the Tanana Valley were Allen, Harper, and Bates in 1875 and 1885. However, the Tanana people were accustomed to contact with Europeans, due to trading journeys to the Village of Tanana, where Russians bartered western goods for furs. The discovery of gold in Fairbanks in 1902 brought intense activity to the region. In 1903, a trading post/roadhouse was constructed by Jim Duke to supply river travelers and trade with Natives. St. Mark’s Episcopal Mission and School was built upriver in 1905. Native children from other communities, such as Minto, attended school in Nenana.
A post office opened in 1908. By 1909, there were about 12,000 residents in the Fairbanks area, most drawn by gold mining activities. In 1915, construction of the Alaska Railroad doubled Nenana’s population. The Nenana Ice Classic – a popular competition to guess the date and time of the Tanana River ice break-up each spring – began in 1917 among surveyors for the Alaska Railroad. The community incorporated as a city in 1921. The railroad depot was completed in 1923, when President Warren Harding drove the golden spike at the north end of the 700-foot steel bridge over the Tanana River, which created a transportation link to Fairbanks and Seward.
During the 1925 diphtheria epidemic in Nome, serum from Anchorage was transported to Nenana by train before being sent by dogsled to Nome. According to local records, 5,000 residents lived in Nenana during this time; however, completion of the railroad was followed by an economic slump. The population in 1930 was recorded at 291.
The population of Nenana is a diverse mixture of non-Natives and Athabascans. The majority of residents participate in subsistence activities. Several Iditarod sled dog race competitors and former champions are residents of Nenana. The community has a health clinic, mental health clinic, fire department, public library, and State Troopers office. It is home to the Nenana District Court system. Golden Valley Electric has their Railbelt office located in Nenana. The Nenana Student Living Center, one of three statewide boarding facilities for high school students, has students from around the state; it attracts students due to its extensive programs, academic quality, and vocational studies.