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Brrrrr! It’s freezing out here! There is only one extremely long tunnel to get in or out. Look! There is only one tall building in this whole place! Where are the rest? Welcome to the tall but small, wild and wonderous Whittier, Alaska. The community under one roof!

Last year, my family and I went on a vacation to Alaska. We traveled there to a little town called Whittier--a very unique community. What is a community? It is a group of people who live and work together with rules and laws to help keep them safe. A community is a place they call home. It typically has essential places and services that the people need to go about their daily lives, like a school, hospital, places of worship, grocery store, police and fire station, etc. It may also have fun places to visit like parks, playgrounds, museums, aquariums etc.

What makes Whittier, Alaska very unique?

The tunnel in and out

Whittier is located 60 miles southeast of Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. It is to the west of Prince William Sound; a sound is a narrow sea or ocean inlet between two bodies of land. It is nestled in between majestic mountains on one end and forests on the other. The only roadway to and from Whittier is a one-way tunnel that is two and a half miles long and shared by cars and trains. It is the longest tunnel in North America and the first ever that can withstand -40 degrees Fahrenheit and winds that are 150 miles per hour! The tunnel is open only during the day and closed at night. Every half hour, the tunnel opens one way and closes the other. You can also get to the town by sea as well as a scenic ride on Alaska Railroad.

The climate

Whittier, Alaska is in the arctic tundra biome. It is located north of the world’s northernmost coniferous forests. This biome has long cold winters and short cool summers. It is very windy here. The average temperature in summer is 60 degrees Fahrenheit and in winter is 25 Fahrenheit.  It has permafrost grounds which means that the ground is permanently covered in a thin layer of ice. The flora are adapted to grow in these condition by being pine-cone shaped and having small spiny leaves to prevent loss of water. You may think Whittier is too cold for animals but there are so many out there! There are black and brown bears, salmon, sea lions, sea otters, humpback and killer whales and bald eagle.

The Begich Towers

The population of Whittier is just over 200 people. All of them live in a 14 story building called Begich Towers that was built during World War II. It was originally an army barracks built for hurt or ill people in the war. It was designed in 1953 by Anton Anderson and was completed in 1957. There is a church, school, grocery store, police station, a health clinic, and a laundromat within the building. This way, when the weather gets too cold, the residents can go weeks at a time without ever having to leave!

The community is very close-knit. The Chugach people form the Native American Indian community. There are also other communities that live here. Kids can just walk up to their teachers’ apartments to get help with their homework and finish it at their teacher’s kitchen table! People can knock on their police chief’s door at any time. Kids can take an underground tunnel to their indoor playground when it is very cold outside!

The wonderful sights to see

Whittier has breath-taking sights to see! We went on a glacier cruise in Prince William Sound where we saw massive glaciers that towered over us. The glaciers are blue because they are so densely packed with ice that they absorb all the colors in light and reflect only the blue. You can also go kayaking, boating and back- country camping here. Whittier, Alaska is an adventurous place and fun to visit!

Fact Sources

Welcome to Whittier, Alaska; NPR, Jan 18, 2015.

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