Saturday 13 December 2008

Alaska counts down to 50th celebration

Happy 50th birthday, Alaska!
The 49th state celebrates 50 years of statehood on January 3

When Alaskans found out the United States Senate passed the Statehood Act in June of 1958, sirens blared, crowds gathered and celebrated around bonfires, Anchorage Elks Club members unfurled a 40-by-60-foot flag and Fairbanks residents accidentally dyed the Chena River bright green.

It was a spontaneous, joyful celebration that kicked off six months of anticipation ahead of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's signature on the statehood proclamation on Jan. 3, 1959. Fast-forward 50 years, and Alaska is preparing to mark the official anniversary of the Declaration of Statehood with just as much fervor.

With events recognizing the anniversary scheduled throughout the year and taking place across the nation's largest state, 2009 makes a great year to travel to Alaska. Another great reason? Many tourism businesses are offering special 50th anniversary deals that will reduce costs on experiences statewide, from flying around the tip of North America's highest peak, Mount McKinley, to cruising the waters of the Inside Passage.

The Statehood Gala at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center will lead off the celebrations on Jan. 2 in Anchorage. The state's political dignitaries will speak at the commemorative dinner and entertainment will feature symphony, chorus, opera and dance performances from statewide groups. The next day, a birthday bash will take over downtown Anchorage, led by a procession of Alaska's diverse people (two representatives from every village, town and city in the state). The event will continue with a stage performance, rotating musical and cultural performances in three venues and a fireworks show.

Also on Jan. 3, the Valdez Family Fest will include dog sledding, snow sculpting, snowshoe races, a Wii tournament, an indoor carnival, fireworks and, of course, birthday cake. The family-friendly events will take place in and around the Valdez Convention and Civic Center.

"If travelers are looking for a different kind of New Year's party to attend, this is it," said Ron Peck, president and COO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. "We're celebrating our history, our founders, our successes and our growth as a state. It's going to be a tremendous day for Alaska, and an even bigger year."

Many Alaskans can think back over the past 50 years and marvel at how the state has managed its natural resources, capitalized on its strategic location and preserved its Native culture. But even as the state grows up, it will only take a scan of the crowd gathered on Jan. 3 to realize Alaska's pioneering spirit is still alive in today's generation.

Here's the historic timeline that led Alaska to statehood:

1867 - Financial struggles force Russia to sell what is now Alaska for $7.2 million, or about 2 cents an acre.

1896 – The first discovery in what would become the Klondike Gold Rush was made in Bonanza Creek in northern Yukon Territory, Canada. The discovery sent thousands of prospectors north to Canada and Alaska in the late 1800s and enforced the enduring mythology of Alaska as a place of vast natural resources and the chance to get rich quick.

1906 - Alaska authorized to send a non-voting delegate to Congress.

1916 - First bill for Alaska statehood introduced in Congress.

1955 - Constitutional Convention opens at University of Alaska Fairbanks.

1956 - Territorial voters adopt the Alaska Constitution; send two senators and one representative to Washington under the Tennessee Plan.

May 28, 1958 - The U.S. House of Representatives passes the Alaska Statehood bill.

June 30, 1958 - The U.S. Senate passes the Alaska Statehood bill. The Anchorage Daily Times' headline reads, "We're In!"

July 7, 1958 - President Eisenhower signs the Alaska Statehood bill.

January 3, 1959 - Statehood proclaimed; Alaska becomes the 49th state in the Union.

About Alaska Travel Industry Association
ATIA is a non-profit, membership-based organization comprising all facets of Alaska's visitor industry and representing over 1,100 large and small travel-related businesses. The association serves as the voice of Alaska's tourism industry and maintains the Web site for visitors interested in the state. For more information about ATIA, visit

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