50 Years ago today fundraising program began to preserve creamer’s field local news newsminer.com electricity lesson plans 8th grade

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In its day, Creamer’s Dairy was the largest commercial dairy in the Interior. Belle and Charles Hinkley founded the business early in the 20th century after traveling from the waning gold rush in Nome to Fairbanks by steamship with three of their cows and horses, according to a history of the refuge written by the nonprofit organization Friends of Creamer’s Field. The Hinkleys paid for their journey by selling milk to their fellow passengers.

“As we took pictures and observed Charlie Creamer looking over his fields and the thousands of geese we couldn’t help but catch a smile and gleam in his eye,” he wrote. “No doubt he reminisced into the past and wondered if the encroachment of population to make way for progress was the better way of life. Without the geese on Creamer’s Field in the spring and fall something will be missing along College Road — something meaningful and significant.”

Most of the money to purchase the farm land, appraised at $2.5 million in today’s dollars, came from the federal government through the Pittman-Robertson tax on guns and ammunition. But to access that money, the Alaska legislature had to authorize the state to pay 25 percent of the bill.

Ebb Rice, a engineering professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, organized a meeting in March 1967 to discuss the public purchase of the farmland. The Creamers agreed to keep the farm off the market while the legislature decided whether to buy the property, but only if the community was able to raise a small percentage of the total purchase price to put an option on it.

Mary Shields, who would go on to become the first woman to finish the Iditarod seven years later, was spending her first winter in Alaska in 1967. This year, she recounted her efforts for the fundraiser in an article she wrote for the Friends of Creamer’s Field newsletter. Shields wrote that she biked down to see Charlie Creamer when she learned he was planning to sell the farm.

Shields lead a group of Bluebirds (junior Camp Fire Girls) at the University Park School. To raise money for the refuge, her Bluebirds held a winter outdoor bake sale at the corner of College and University Avenue that raised $67.45, or nearly $500 in today’s dollars. Shields’ group wasn’t alone. The list of contributors includes student councils from around the area. Other students raised money by foregoing Christmas gift exchanges and sponsoring a dance, according to a history of the fundraiser written by Nancy Murphy in 1975.

The initial purchase was for 250 acres of farm fields. Over the next decades, the barn and farm buildings, which are national historic sites, were added to the property. The state and university added hundreds of acres to the refuge to bring it to its current size. The property was officially designated “Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge” in 1979.

Although Creamer’s Field is no longer a working farm, the tradition of scattering grain for waterfowl continues. Today, the waterfowl feeding is financed by Fairbanks International Airport and Fort Wainwright to keep the large flocks of birds well away from their runaways.

Internationally, trumpeter swan and peregrine falcon populations were down in the 1960’s because of overhunting and pesticide poisoning, respectively, but have rebounded and returned to Creamer’s Field. Some lower-latitude birds such as a killdeers have also extended their range north in recent years and have been spotted at Creamer’s Field, he said.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game continues to manage the Creamer’s Field lands today and nonprofit organization Friends of Creamer’s Field coordinates volunteers to staff the visitor center at the old farmhouse and to lead educational walks. The organization hosts events year-round such as the Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival held each August to celebrate the fall migration of the big red-faced cranes.

There aren’t currently any events scheduled to celebrate the anniversary of the fundraising campaign, but Friends of Creamer’s Field executive director Christine Huff said they’d be interested in having skydivers drop on the farm fields again to recreate the Dec. 8 anniversary of the fundraising campaign.