Utqiagvik is the economic, transportation and administrative center for the North Slope Borough. Located on the Chukchi Sea coast, Utqiagvik is the northernmost community in the United States.The community is traditionally known as Ukpeagvik, “place where snowy owls are hunted.” Utqiagvik was incorporated as a first-class city in 1958.
An important historical site in the area is the Pigniq archaeological site which contains 16 dwelling mounds of a culture believed to have existed from 500-900 AD. The archaeological findings are considered a key link between the prehistoric cultures of Alaska and Canada. Another interesting site is the Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station in nearby Browerville. Cape Smythe was built as a whaling station in 1893 and is the oldest frame building in the Arctic.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the military played an influential role in the area. Construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line and exploration in the National Petroleum Reserve brought new people to the region. During the same time, the Naval Arctic Research Lab (NARL) was built near Utqiagvik. Visitors to Utqiagvik will arrive at the Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport. This airport was named to commemorate the famous pilot and the American humorist who died in an airplane crash just 15 miles south of Utqiagvik in 1935. Across from the airport sits the Will Rogers and Wiley Post Monument.
The largest city in the North Slope Borough, Utqiagvik has 4,429 residents, of which approximately 61 percent are Iñupiat Eskimo. Although Utqiagvik is a modern community, subsistence hunting, fishing and whaling are still very important to the local economy. Many residents who work full- or part-time continue to hunt and fish for much of their food
In 2003, approximately one-third of the working population of 1,935 was employed in the private sector. Only a few work for oil companies at Prudhoe Bay. The borough employs 46 percent of the work force and the NSB School District employs another 19 percent.
Quality of Life
Most Utqiagvik homes are heated by natural gas from nearby gas fields, and have modern water and sewer systems. Utilities are available through Utqiagvik Utilities and Electric Cooperative, a member-owned cooperative, which offers electricity, natural gas and water/sewer services. Water is also delivered by truck to homes beyond the piped distribution system. The NSB provides trash pick-up.
As the seat of the North Slope Borough, Utqiagvik is home to many regional health and social services. These public facilities include: a hospital, senior citizen center, women’s shelter, children & youth services center, library, and job training and assistance center. Public safety and fire protection are also provided.
The community is served by seven churches, elementary, middle and high schools and a post-secondary education center, Ilisagvik College. On evenings and weekends, the high school’s swimming pool, weight room and gym are open to the public. Residents also use Utqiagvik’s recreation center, which boasts a gym, racquetball courts, weight room and sauna. The City operates an inflatable dome for ice skating and hockey in the winter and soccer during the summer.
Communications in Utqiagvik include phone, mail, a public radio station, Internet capability and cable TV. The community also has four hotels, eight restaurants, a dry cleaner, fur shop and a bank. Utqiagvik has a large grocery/merchandise store and three convenience stores. Utqiagvik bans the sale of alcoholic beverages. Major repair services are available for marine, auto and aircraft engines. Diesel, propane, marine gas, aviation fuel and all grades of auto gas are available.
During the summer months, tour operators offer package tours of Utqiagvik and the surrounding area. Visitors learn about the North Slope’s traditional culture at the Inupiat Heritage Center, where they can also purchase arts and crafts such as baleen boats, etched baleen, carved ivory, masks, parkas and fur mittens.
Utqiagvik is served by passenger jet service from Anchorage and Fairbanks. Freight arrives by barge in the summer and air cargo year-round.