Been Traveling – Kaktovik

Kaktovik Housing

My temporary home away from home… transient housing in Kaktovik.

Kaktovik is located on the northern shore of Barter Island, facing Kaktovik Lagoon and the Beaufort Sea. The village is on the northern edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), only 90 miles from the Canadian border. It is the easternmost village in the North Slope Borough (NSB).

kaktovik - winter

Barter Island has a long history as an Inupiat meeting and trading place. Its history as a permanent settlement is more recent, when a trading post was established on the island in 1923, due to the abundance of fur resources in the locale. The US Air Force began constructing an airstrip on Barter Island in 1947, and later constructed a Defense Early Warning (DEW) Line Station in the area. The community was moved three times due to military construction and operations. In the above photo you can see the DEW line station dish antennas on the left side of the photo.

In recent years, the petroleum and natural gas industry and numerous interest groups have focused attention on Kaktovik and the surrounding area due to the potential for oil and gas development. To date, the refuge (ANWR) remains closed to petroleum exploration and development. Interest in the area remains high, bringing many visitors to the region, including congressional delegations and recreationists. Kaktovik has become a popular place to view polar bears.

Kaktovik summer shot

Here’s a summer shot. You can see that the place isn’t very big. One of the upcoming projects is to relocate the airport, which is currently located in the 100 year floodplain northeast of the village (upper right in the above photo). Option 1 is to raise the airport three feet, option 2 is relocate it south of town (near the bottom of the above photo), and option 3 is to build a bridge and relocate it to the mainland to the south. Option 1 is sort of the default and not supported by anyone. Option 2 is preferred by the NSB and the feds, who are ponying up most of the cost of the move. Many locals want option 3 because it would provide easy access to the mainland for subsistence use. Currently it is a short skiff ride from Kaktovik to the mainland. The locals also argue that the site just south of the village is the last unoccupied high ground in the area (high is a relative term here – the site is maybe 40 feet above sea level, compared to maybe 20 for most of the village).

Not your standard “Beware of Dog” sign…


Downtown Kaktovik… the snow blows a bit. There is a fine, greasy grey dust everywhere. It builds up on the electrical transformers and causes electrical shorts. This is a problem throughout the arctic coast.

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