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Location: The end of Baldwin Peninsula in Kotzebue Sound on Alaska’s west coast; 33 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Commercial air service available from Anchorage and Nome (184 air miles). Population: 3200. Visitor Information: cityofkotzebue.com
The largest town in the Northwest Arctic Borough, Kotzebue is believed to have been used by the Inupiat since at least the 1400s as a trading and gathering center for the region, when it was know as Qikiqtagruk, meaning "almost an island" in reference to the gravel spit the town occupies. Three major rivers historically providing transportation to inland villages drain into Kotzebue Sound, and native Alaskans gathered for celebration games and competitions. Russians also arrived to trade in guns, fur, seal skin and oil. The town’s current name derives from Otto von Kotzebue, an explorer of Baltic German descent in the employ of Russia, who searched for the Northwest Passage in the early 1800s. Missionaries, whalers and gold prospectors added to the population. Domesticated reindeer from Asia were introduced in the area in 1897, and a US post office established two years later.
Kotzebue is situated very near Kobuk Valley National Park, Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, the Noatak and Bering Land Bridge National Preserves and Cape Krusenstern National Monument. Seasoned hunting, fishing and tundra hiking guides are available for hire in town.
The Northwest Arctic Heritage Center presents wonderful displays and programs highlighting the flora, fauna and peoples of the region. The film Salmonberries, starring popular Canadian singer KD Lang, was filmed here in the early 1990s and in 2015, President Obama became the first sitting US president to visit an Arctic community when he spoke in Kotzebue about climate change.
Visitors will find a variety of dining and accommodation venues. Very high quality native clothing, carvings, jewelry, imagery, beadwork and baskets are available in a number of stores, and are priced much lower than in the larger cities.