The turnoff for the Edgerton Highway is at Mile 82 of the Richardson Highway (18 miles south of Copper Center). This paved 34-mile road leads past the dispersed farming community of Kenny Lake and on to the town of Chitina (CHIT-nuh, from the Athabascan chiti, “copper,” and na, “river”).
The Chitina Indians used copper tools to hammer copper nuggets into plates, which they traded with the Tlingits; someone who owned five or six plates was considered very rich. Chitina became an important junction in 1909 when the Copper River and Northwestern Railway arrived; a spur road connected the track to the original Richardson wagon trail to Fairbanks.
The town began its decline in 1938 when the railroad shut down, and its future was further eroded by the Good Friday earthquake of 1964, which knocked out several bridges on the Copper River Highway. The highway project to link Cordova and Chitina was abandoned at that time.
Home to less than 100 people, Chitina is famous for its dip-netting season in June, when Alaskan residents converge on the confluence of the Copper and Chitina Rivers, “dip” 35-gallon nets on 15-foot-long aluminum poles into the water, and lift out 8-pound reds and 25-pound kings by the score. The dip-net fishery is only open to Alaskans. In addition, a number of fish wheels can be seen above the bridge throughout the summer. Chitina also serves as a way station for folks heading out on the McCarthy Road.
Chitina is decidedly rustic, with aging log cabins in various stages of collapse lining the dusty dirt roads. Poke around a bit more to find antique vehicles, an abandoned railcar, and even an old-fashioned gas pump. The town is also an unbelievably windy spot, with winds funneling through the narrow mountains along the Copper River. Because of the in-the-mountains location, none of the local businesses have TV or radio reception.
Housed within a historic cabin, the National Park Service’s Chitina Ranger Station (907/823-2205, Fri.–Mon. 2–6 p.m. late May–early Sept.) has information and videos on the park and the McCarthy Road.
Spirit Mountain Artworks (907/823-2222, www.spiritmountainalaska.com, open seasonally) sells quality Alaskan art from a classic false-front building in the heart of town.
Local events include a country 4th of July parade and the Labor Day Cabbage Festival with giant cabbages, a pig roast, races, and smoked salmon. Learn more about the town from the Chitina Chamber of Commerce website (www.chitinachamber.org).
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition