Follow Alaska's Trails -- On Your Own -- With Bearfoot Travel Magazines

Bearfoot Guides Takes A Look At Birchbark Baskets On Display In A Small Rural Alaska Country Store

Birch is a symbol of American Athabascan Indian culture.
Locally made birch baskets in Chistochina, Alaska.

Alaska's Birchbark Baskets Were As Common As Plastic Containers Back In The Past -- And Served The Same Purpose As Modern Tupperware, Pans Or Pottery

In Alaska, you can find birch in the Matanuska-Susitna region, along the roads.  Lots of birch. So much birch, in fact, that there's actually a birch syrup company that sells gallons of birch syrup that rivals maple syrup. This is a relatively balmy part of the road system: "The Banana Belt," as Alaskans like to call it. 

There is also birch near Fairbanks. Up there beyond the high Alaska Range, Fairbanks and the Tanana Valley are very cold in winter, but extremely warm in the summer. 

The Mat-Su Region is Dena'ina Indian country. The Fairbanks Region is Tanana Indian country. And both have a heritage of use of birchbark for a broad range of tools, especially the canoe. But also, baskets, baby cradles, and other objects. Birch is an excellent, moldable, strong wood that is used for snowshoes and sleds, too.

In the Copper Valley, which is Ahtna Indian country, and which lies between the vast areas held by the Dena'ina and the Tanana language and cultural groups, birch is hard to come by. The Copper Valley is plagued by poor, cold, permafrost-underladen soil. It's cold in the winter. But, unlike Fairbanks, it's usually cold in the summer, too. You can find birches here. But they are few and far between. This is black spruce country, and aspen country. It's home to willow. Birch are extremely rare. They do grow here -- often on isolated hills -- but they do not grow everywhere.

Yet, birch is highly valued all over Alaska, even in the Copper Valley. These baskets are at a Copper Valley trading post in Chistochina, near the Tanana Valley entrance.

Share this post

Post a comment


Next Post
Newer Post
Previous Post
Older Post

Contact Us At Bearfoot

Bearfoot Travel Magazines A Division Of Northcountry Communications, Inc. Jeremy Weld Linda Weld Tim Weld 2440 East Tudor #122 Anchorage, Alaska 99507 907 320-1145 Fax: 1 800 478 8301