Why is the Mat-Su still growing by healthy margins while other population centers in the state are actually shrinking? I asked myself that after sitting through Neal Fried’s presentation on the Mat-Su economy. For the “outsiders” Mat-Su is short for the Matanuska-Sustitna Borough which encompasses the 24,000 square miles that make up the Susitna and Matanuska River Valleys. Most of us locals just call it, “the valley”.
There are all kinds of reasons so many people want to call this area home. I’ll touch on just a few attractions for now and add more later.
Mountains Galore. The Chugach Range runs along the southern edge while the Talkeetna Mountains run right through the middle of the borough. The Chugach Mountains are a vast wilderness area. Most of the center part of the Chugach is one huge glacier with fingers stretching down the valleys all around. The ice is the result of an average annual snowfall of 600 inches a year! The Talkeetnas are also huge but easier to access. There are many trails leading up into the Talkeetnas and even a few roads. The mountain photo above is from Doug Lloyd’s Photography and is only one of many beautiful photos of the Mat-Su Valley.
Lakes and Rivers The valley is literally dotted with many beautiful lakes. Rivers run all through the Mat-Su Borough. From the two large namesakes to the Deshka, Talkeetna, Yentna, and Chulitna they provide access to the outer edges of the mostly road-less borough with power boat in the summer. Just the names of many of these rivers cause wilderness lovers to squirm. And there are hundreds of other streams and rivers teeming with fish and visited by bears, eagles, and moose.
Lots of Space The borough is the size of West Virginia. And although it is growing faster than anywhere in Alaska, it still has a population of only 75,000. Many residents can literally hike or ski from their back door with the assurance of not seeing anyone at all on their jaunt. Pure wilderness is no further than a 20 minute ride at the most from anyone in the valley.
Hatcher Pass This is one of my favorite destinations. The fact that one can drive from Palmer right up into the Talkeetnas and end up not only above timber line, but almost above the alpine tundra is what makes it such an adventure. It’s also a great place for snow sports in the winter. Accomodations include Hatcher Pass Bed and Breakfast at the bottom and Hatcher Pass Lodge on top.
Other cool places are the Musk Ox Farm, Reindeer Farm, Matanuska Glacier, and the Iditarod Trail Headquarters.