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Roadhouse and national park are highlights
Copper Center, Alaska, is along the Richardson Highway about 100 miles from Valdez. It is on the west bank of the Copper River at the confluence of the Klutina River, just west of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
Copper Center, with a population of about 370 people, has long, cold winters and relatively warm summers. Temperature extremes have been recorded from minus 74 to 96. Snowfall averages 39 inches, with total precipitation of 9 inches per year.
The economy is based on local services and businesses, the National Park offices and highway-related tourism. Several RV parks and river boat charter services operate from Copper Center. Many Native residents depend on subsistence hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering. Eight residents hold commercial fishing permits.
The Richardson Highway connects Copper Center to Anchorage (via the Glenn Highway), Fairbanks and Outside year-round. A state-owned 2,500-foot gravel airstrip provides for chartered flights and general aviation.
A federally recognized tribe is located in the community: Native Village of Kluti-Kaah. Half of the population are Alaska Native or part Native. Athabascan Indians represent the primary Alaska Native group. There are two distinct settlements, a Native village and a non-Native settlement.
The Ahtna people have occupied the Copper River basin for 5,000 to 7,000 years. They had summer fish camps at every bend in the river and winter villages throughout the region.
Copper Center was a large Ahtna Athabascan village at one time. In 1896, Ringwald Blix built Blix Roadhouse, which was highly regarded for its outstanding services. The Trail of '98 from Valdez joined with the Eagle Trail to Forty Mile and Dawson. Three hundred destitute miners spent the winter here, and many died of scurvy.
Copper Center became the principal supply center for miners in the Nelchina-Susitna region. A telegraph station and post office were established in 1901. A school was constructed in 1905, which brought a number of Native families to Copper Center. In 1909, the settlement was designated a government agricultural experiment station.
In 1932, the original roadhouse was destroyed in order to build the Copper Center Lodge. This lodge is on the National Register of Historic Roadhouses and is now considered the jewel of Alaskan roadhouses. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, construction of the Richardson and Glenn highways made the region more accessible.
The first church in the Copper River region, the Chapel on the Hill, was built here in 1942 by Vince Joy and U.S. Army volunteers stationed in the area. Joy built other churches and a Bible college in the area over the years.
Source: Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development