Above: Tiffany Charles smiles for a photo while playing with friends at a local playground on Phillips Street, Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in Akiachak, Alaska. (AP Photo/Tom Brenner)
By Tom Brenner and Mark Thiessen
There’s nothing more universal than kids enjoying themselves at a summer carnival, whether it’s in the middle of a heat wave in New York City or in much cooler weather on the Alaska tundra.
In mid-August, the children of Akiachak, Alaska, eagerly shelled out dollar after dollar hoping to win a stuffed animal when the village held its annual carnival before the start of school. Children stood in long lines waiting their turn to throw rings around soda bottles, roll a bowling ball to knock down pins, or throw darts.
Many children proudly displayed their prizes, including some wearing stuffed snakes around their necks — perhaps an odd prize choice in Alaska, which is “famous for its complete absence of snakes,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game notes on its website. (For the record, the nation’s largest state has no lizards or freshwater turtles, either.)
Makeshift carnival booths were framed of wood and covered with a blue tarp to protect workers from the ever-present drizzle falling in the community on the west bank of the Kuskokwim River, about 400 miles (644 kilometers) west of Anchorage. There are almost 700 residents — a third of them children under the age of 10 — in the community that is accessible only by boat or plane in the warmer months.
In the winter, the frozen Kuskokwim River becomes an ice road, serving as a motorway to other nearby villages and Bethel, a hub community for southwest Alaska about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of Akiachak.
Children on bikes and older kids and adults mostly on four-wheelers navigate the muddy streets or run through the village filled with dogs and few — if any — cats. And even though it was well past the Fourth of July, some boys seemed to have a never-ending supply of fireworks to keep things lively.