Springtime Weather Finally Warms Up Inland Alaska
Winter in Fairbanks, Alaska can be brutal. Daylight dips below 4 hours, and temperatures regularly fall past -30F.
So spring, when it finally shows up, is a big deal. People can reel off a long list of the things that signal the season is underway.
One of them is a 93-year-old man in a custard-yellow truck.
Glenn Hackney has lived in Alaska since 1948. And every spring, he's irked by the same sight: trash that has piled up over the winter, and is slowly being uncovered by the melting snow.
So every spring when the snow melts enough, he's out on the side of the Fairbanks roads picking up trash and loading it into the back of a truck he calls "the most famous pickup in Fairbanks."
"This little yellow pickup has been hauling trash around town for 25 years," he says.
Hackney says most of what he picks up is plastic and paper scraps, but he's also encountered some stranger stuff, like a bowling ball, and a gilded rose packed in a box.
"I figured it was a jilted lover who tossed it out the window!" Hackney says, laughing.
On a recent morning in Fairbanks, Hackney drove out to a section of road he says is the biggest eyesore. There was something in particular he wanted to pick up: a soggy mattress. He loaded it into the back of his truck with only a little help.
While Hackney is one of the main boosters of the cleanup cause, he's not alone in his efforts. Fairbanks has an annual community-wide cleanup day that usually happens the first or second weekend in May.
About a mile from where Hackney hauled away the mattress, there's another spring phenomenon that takes place.
On the last Thursday of April, over a thousand birds were counted at a former dairy farm called Creamer's Field — now a wildlife refuge. Most were passing through on their way to nests further north and west.
Mark Ross is a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He stood in front of a table crowded with taxidermied birds, teaching a group of 5th graders which was which.
"Snow goose!" he said energetically, pointing, "Canada goose!"
He pointed to a third bird. "Peregrine falcon," one of the kids volunteered. "Peregrine Falcon!" Ross confirmed, "the world's fastest creature is the great duck eater!"
Creamer's Field this time of year is busy with people looking through binoculars, taking pictures, and gazing out from their car windows in the parking lot.
The moment earlier in the season — when some of the very first birds arrive-- is its own event. There's a contest here called the "Goose Watch Contest."
Ross actually judges that contest.People fill out guesses for the date and time of the first goose's arrival, and whoever gets closest, wins $500. "So it's the first sign of spring here in Fairbanks," Ross says, "that's around the first week of April."
Springtime also means that a less welcome airborne critter is back in town. The mosquito.
"Our state bird," says Gerry Hovda, manager at Frontier Outfitters. It's a sporting goods store that sells everything from camping equipment to guns to fishing line. And, of course, mosquito gear.
They've got netting for cots and strollers, a mosquito repellant wash for clothes, chemical discs you can burn to keep the bugs away,plus mosquito spray.
Hovda says he puts them out "soon as the handwarmers get put away."
The first mosquitoes start appearing around this time. By this summer they'll be everywhere.
"They get in your nose, they get in your mouth, you can have lunch out riding your bike," Hovda says.
Fairbanks still has a ways to go before winter is truly over. It snowed several times this past week, and the trees are still bare.
But even a slow spring is a welcome one. It means that the summer everyone's been dreaming about through the dark months is just around the corner.
This report comes to us from Alaska's Energy Desk, a public media collaboration focused on energy and the environment.
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