Veterans' cemetery site near Fox gives hope to local service members

The state’s long hunt for a veterans’ cemetery in the Interior appears to be over. Late last week, the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs announced in a press release that it has purchased more than 300 acres of land for the cemetery in the Fox area off Goldstream Road. This is welcome news for local veterans, who previously had no local options for being buried with military honors among their fellow service members.

The road to the cemetery’s establishment has been a bumpy one. Early plans to locate the facility on Fort Wainwright land near the existing Birch Hill cemetery ran into complications when the site was shown to be contaminated by fuel storage tanks nearby.

In 2011, the state thought it had found a suitable site off Goldmine Trail, also in the Fox area, but residents in the area voiced concern about whether the black-spruce forests at the proposed site could support cemetery construction. Indeed, further study showed considerable permafrost in the area, and the plan was shelved while state VA officials went looking for an alternate location.

The new site, on land purchased from Interior resident John Reeves, looks more promising. The site is eight times as large as the previous location, and is on a south-facing hillside less likely to be underlain with permafrost.

The issue of a veterans’ cemetery for the Interior has been closely followed by those who have retired from active duty to live in the Fairbanks and North Pole area — and there are many. According to state figures, more than 11,000 borough residents have performed military service, making it the second densest population of veterans in the state and one of the most concentrated areas in the country. State VA officials estimate that an average of 112 local veterans will die per year during the next decade, for a total of 1125 former service members by 2025.

Without a local veterans’ cemetery, their next-best option would be 350 miles to the south at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage or 750 miles to the southeast in Sitka. Having an option for burial close to home, where friends and loved ones can visit without a lengthy trip, will be a great service.

The journey from idea to reality for the Interior veterans’ cemetery has been circuitous and at times difficult for those invested in the project — but ultimately, it appears to have been fruitful. Perhaps that’s fitting, as many local veterans would likely say the same of their service in the military.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

Aug. 2

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