Natural Features and Perspectives
Steese National Conservation Area, located in northeast Alaska, was designated to protect wildlife habitat, including crucial caribou calving ground and home range, and Dall sheep habitat. The 1.2 million-acre NCA includes Pinnell Mountain National Recreation area and Birch Creek Mountain National Wild River (NWR).
Birch Creek NWR includes 113 miles of the 344mile Birch Creek, which empties into the Yukon River Basin. Canoeing and rafting are popular pastimes along the river, which takes 7 to 10 days to float. Fishing and hunting are also major recreational activities and there are natural campsites all along the river. In the winter, dog mushing is quite popular throughout Steese. The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race, running between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, passes through parts of the NWR.
Twenty seven miles long and as rugged as it is steep, Pinnell Mountain National Recreation Trail takes about three days to back pack and provides many opportunities to watch for birds, behold the many wildflowers, and enjoy geology that has been dated between 714 and 2,330 million years. Packers may see quartz-rich schist and patterned ground. Elevations rise to 4,872 feet and provide spectacular vistas including the White Mountains, Crazy Mountains and the Alaskan midnight sun.
Visitors destined for Steese NCA can drive along the Steese Highway and tour preserved gold camps, visit a monument to Felix Pedro, and hunt for caribou and moose. North of Fairbanks, also along the Steese Highway, is Historic Chatanika Gold Camp resort, on the National Register of Historic Places, which continues to be an active gold mining area. At other areas such as Ester Gold Camp, also on the historic register, visitors can tour remnants of mining operations and original buildings.
In 1867 the United States acquired Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. Nearly a century later, in 1958, Congress passed the bill designating Alaska as the 49th state. To ensure economic survivability for the fledgling state, Alaska was given 102,550,000 acres of public land, comparable to the size of California.
Fairbanks, the closest city to Steese NCA, is a prime example of the rough and ready beginnings of Alaskan settlement. Hearing the call, "there's gold in them thar hills," people from all walks of life and a variety of backgrounds came to Alaska to find their fortunes. One man, E.T. Barnette, never did find his gold treasure. He was however destined to be the founder of Fairbanks. On August 26, 1901, Barnette, his wife and great quantities of goods and supplies landed on the banks of the Tanana River. After a grueling voyage from Seattle they were still hundreds of miles downshore from where they had intended to be. However, luck finally found them and that same day they had their first customers, miners Felix Pedro and Thomas Gilmore. Less than a year later Pedro found gold and Fairbanks quickly became the center of action for gold rushers.
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 established the Steese National Conservation Area. The NCA is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Threats to the Steese National Conservation are considerable. The BLM does not have enough staff to patrol this region and one result is that off-road-vehicle use is destroying pristine wilderness and animal habitat.