Ninilchik (Нинильчик), Alaska is a small village on the Kenai Peninsula about 2 hours south of Anchorage.The village has a population of just over 800 people. What catches your eye as you drive down Sterling Highway is a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church up on a bluff overlooking the river.
I knew there was more to this village so I pulled in to check it out. First, I just sat on the banks of the river to watch the bald eagles dive for lunch. What a sight, I counted at least a dozen. Then I wandered up to the Church, Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel, beautifully simplistic. As I talked with some of the locals, they shared a bit of the community’s history with me.
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH HIGH UP ON THE BLUFF
Ninilchik was a hunting and fishing area for the Dena’ina Athabaskan people. In the 1800’s the village became a Russian settlement for retired and infirmed people with the help of the Russian-American Company. Soon, other Russian settlers from other parts of Alaska would migrate to the area. Eventually, it became a thriving town. The church cemetery reflects the families that long ago made this area home.
Even after Alaska was sold, most villagers chose to stay. The Ninilchik Russian language sometimes referred to as Old Russian, is still spoken by a handful of people and is now being documented for historical preservation.
Ninilchik has gone through many changes over the decades. The 1964 earthquake and a fire in 2007 caused considerable damage resulting in part of the village being moved and rebuilt. Some of the original buildings remain such as the original Russian schoolhouse.
Mt. Redoubt in the distance
Today, it is still known for great salmon fishing and razor clam digging, abundant wildlife, and snowmobiling in the winter. They also have their annual salmon festival, which is popular with tourists during the summer. Ninilchik is a wonderful part of Alaska’s history and just a nice place to spend an afternoon on the river bank watching the wildlife and picnicking.
*****All pictures taken by Simple Sojourner unless otherwise noted.
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