Surviving In Rural Alaska: Tok's Solution To High Fuel Costs Uses Scrub Black Spruce Trees

Tok's Visitor Center
The Incredible Story of How Tok Is Fighting Forest Fires, Heating Its School -- And Making The Most Of What It Has 

Like many small rural towns, Tok is surrounded by highly flammable scrub spruce. It's been evacuated six times in the past 20 years, as forest fires raced to within feet of major buildings. 

The state and federal governments have spent over $100 million, putting those fires out.

Tok has another problem, common to rural communities -- high fuel costs. The school in Tok was spending $7,500 per student, just for heating and lighting -- before a single child entered the school.

Then, three Tok residents -- a state forester, a school administrator, and an engineer, all working together, turned Tok's pathetic scrub forest into a miniature Prudhoe Bay.

In a scientific survey, the Tok forester discovered that every 5 foot x 5 foot plot of scrub spruce was the equivalent of a gallon of oil. Using that fact, Tok is now solving two problems.

Tok is building a fire break around its town. The wood from the fire break is harvested with mechanical cutters, and stacked for a year to get its water content down to 35%. Then it's ground up, and burned at 2800 degrees Fahrenheit.

That heats the school. They will soon add a generator, saving the school an additional hundreds of thousands of dollars. If a 300-foot buffer is built around the town, the wood gathered will have enough energy to heat the school for 120 years.

There is so much heat available that Tok thinks it could heat up to eight greenhouses with the surplus -- providing fresh food to the town.

This is a community taking what seem to be insurmountable problems -- constant forest fire danger and the cost of fuel -- and coming up with a fantastic solution that makes the most of what seems to be practically nothing to begin with.

This is real Alaska. Making the most of what we have.

And this is why people are flocking to Alaska every summer -- to see the Alaskan lifestyle, in all its authenticity.

Story copyright: Bearfoot Travel Magazines, 2015

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