Location and Climate
Nikolai is located in Interior Alaska on the south fork of the Kuskokwim River, 46 air miles east of McGrath. The community lies at approximately 63.013330° North Latitude and -154.375000° West Longitude. (Sec. 36, T028S, R023E, Kateel River Meridian.) Nikolai is located in the Mt. McKinley Recording District. The area encompasses 4.5 sq. miles of land and 0.3 sq. miles of water.
Nikolai has a cold, continental climate with relatively warm summers. Average summer temperature range from 42 to 80 degrees fahrenheit, and winter temperatures range from -62 to zero degrees. Annual precipitation is light, averaging 16 inches per year, with 56 inches of snow. The river is generally ice-free from June through October.
History, Culture and Demographics
Nikolai is an Upper Kuskokwim Athabascan village and has been relocated at least twice since the 1880s. One of the former sites was reported in 1899 to have a population of six males. The present site was established around 1918. Nikolai was the site of a trading post and roadhouse during the gold rush. It was situated on the Rainy Pass Trail, which connected the Ophir gold mining district to Cook Inlet. It became a winter trail station along the Nenana-McGrath Trail, which was used until 1926. By 1927, the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church had been constructed. In 1948, a private school was established, and in 1949 a post office opened. Local residents cleared an airstrip in 1963, which heralded year-round accessibility to the community. The city was incorporated in 1970.
A federally-recognized tribe is located in the community — the Nikolai Village. Nikolai is an Athabascan community. Residents are active in subsistence food-gathering. The sale, importation, and possession of alcohol is prohibited in the city.
According to Census 2010, there were 48 housing units in the community and 37 were occupied. Its population was 80.9 percent American Indian or Alaska Native; 7.5 percent white; 11.7 percent of the local residents had multi-racial backgrounds.
Facilities, Utilities, Schools and Health Care
Households and facilities use individual wells. Thirty-three (33) homes, including 10 HUD housing units north of the airport, are connected to the piped sewage system. The remaining 15 homes use septic tanks. Electricity is provided by City of Nikolai. There is one school located in the community, attended by 11 students. Local hospitals or health clinics include Nikolai Clinic. Emergency Services have river and air access and are within 30 minutes of a higher-level satellite health care facility. Emergency service is provided by volunteers and a health aide.
Village employment peaks during the summer when construction gets underway. The city, state, and federal government provide the primary year-round employment. Residents rely heavily on subsistence activities for food and wood for heat. Some residents tend gardens. Salmon, moose, caribou, rabbits, and the occasional bear are utilized. Trapping and handicrafts also provide income.
Access to Nikolai is by air or water. A state-owned 4,003 foot long by 75 foot wide gravel airstrip is available. Barges supply fuel and heavy equipment. Boats, ATVs, and snowmachines are used for recreation and subsistence activities. A winter trail is marked to McGrath (50 mi). Nikolai is a checkpoint for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race held annually in March.