The city of Wasilla was virtually unknown outside Alaska until 2008, when Republican presidential nominee John McCain chose former Wasilla mayor and then Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Wasilla had only about 5,500 residents at the time of the 2000 census, but that number has grown and was estimated to be almost 10,000 in 2007. However small, Wasilla is the fifth largest city in the state. Wasilla became a city in 1974 and occupies only 12.4 square miles.
Wasilla began as a supply station for gold miners and fur trappers during the early 1900s. It sits at the crossroads of the Alaska Railroad and what used to be Carle Wagon Road (renamed Wasilla-Fishhook Road). Transportation and extraction of natural resources still play a large part in Wasilla's economy, as does manufacturing.
Although Wasilla is not known for being a tourist spot, it does have plenty of people coming in from the surrounding communities. The shops and restaurants of Wasilla benefit from this, giving the city a stronger economy. Health care contributes to the economy as well, especially with the 2006 opening of Mat-Su Regional Medical Center only a few miles outside the city. In town, there are also plenty of offices privately run by doctors, dentists, and other health-care specialists.
Approximately 35 percent of working Wasillans commute to Anchorage for their jobs. Anchorage is the state's largest city and is only 42 miles south of Wasilla. However, Wasilla is experiencing rapid population growth. In addition to employment in Wasilla and Anchorage, many of the town's residents carry commercial fishing licenses and travel to other parts of the state for seasonal work. Some of Wasilla's residents work at Alaskan oil fields for companies such as BP and ExxonMobil. These jobs are often seasonal due to the travel limitations of the area.
The price of housing anywhere in Alaska is higher than the average in the lower 48 states. Wasilla's home values tend to be comparable to those of the rest of the state, however. The vast majority of housing units in Wasilla are two- or three-bedroom single-family homes. Much of the city is suburban. The cost of living in Wasilla is higher than the national average. Although Wasilla is small, there are still several distinct regions within it:
Iditarod Headquarters: Although the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race no longer passes through Wasilla, the headquarters are still there. Visitors can check out the free museum and purchase memorabilia. During the summer months, visitors can meet the dogs of the Iditarod.
Nancy Lake State Recreation Area: Located on the outskirts of Wasilla, this park offers lake access as well as camping and picnic facilities. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular here during the winter months.
Knik Museum and Mushers Hall of Fame: Visitors can see rustic cabins at this museum on the Iditarod Trail. The Knik Community Picnic is held here every July and provides a chance to meet local mushers.
Independence Mine State Historical Park: The remains of the original buildings and machinery of a century-old gold-mining operation are still here. Summer activities at the park include hiking and panning for gold; winter activities include cross-country skiing and snowboarding.
Dorothy Page Museum and Historic Town Site: This museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the surrounding regions. It features fossils and native artifacts found in the area. Several historic building are located at this site, including Wasilla's first school building.
Residents of Wasilla can enjoy a rural lifestyle while remaining connected to the urban hubs of Anchorage and Fairbanks. The George Parks and Glenn Highways, as well as numerous local roads, link Wasilla to the rest of Alaska as well as Canada. The Alaska Railroad stops in Wasilla between Fairbanks and Seward, and there is also a seaplane base at Wasilla Lake.
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