SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Stephen Bugno offers keen insight on Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks. Bugno’s own migratory path includes periodic visits to Fairbanks, the Golden Heart City. Learn more about his trips and adventures here: BohemianTraveler.com
Creamer’s Field – An Unlikely Tourist Destination in Fairbanks, Alaska
What began as a dairy farm on the edge of the Arctic is now a stop for in-the-know travelers on the Fairbanks tour circuit.
The dairy farm-turned-wildlife refuge traced its origins to Alaska’s turn-of-the-century gold rush when a pioneer family brought three cows and some horses up the Yukon and Tanana Rivers to Fairbanks from Nome to operate a dairy.
Today Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge is a well-known birding spot on the edge of downtown Fairbanks. Its 2,200 acres of forests, fields, and wetland habitat are now a refuge for birds and wildlife, and the grounds are open to the public, offering walking trails and viewing platforms.
The land provides thousands of migratory birds a place to feed, rest, and breed from spring through fall. For more than 30 years, Creamer’s Field has provided the Fairbanks community and its visitors with educational opportunities and recreation on the refuge.
Established in 1991, Friends of Creamer’s Field is a citizen-based, nonprofit organization that offers family programs and educational opportunities at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.
The historic Creamer family farmhouse is operated by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and serves as a visitor and nature center staffed by volunteers.
History of The Creamer Dairy Farm
The Creamer family bought the dairy in 1928 for $12,000 (milk at the time sold for 25 cents/quart) and enlarged it, growing it into the largest and most successful dairy in Interior Alaska until 1966. As the dairy grew, so did the migratory waterfowl that stopped at Creamer’s Field, lured by the large open fields and grain.
Creamer’s Field: How a Fairbanks Dairy Farm Became a Wildlife Sanctuary
When the Creamers put their farm up for sale in 1966, Fairbanks residents rallied to ensure the farm fields were preserved as a migratory stopover.
The area was established as a state game refuge in 1979 with a mission to protect and enhance migratory bird habitat, emphasizing waterfowl. The farmhouse and barns, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, are the only surviving pioneer dairy buildings in Interior Alaska.
What to do at Creamer’s Fields in Fairbanks
Bird watching is big in Alaska! And Creamer’s Field is one of the top 10 spots in Alaska for bird watching.
Sandhill Cranes are the main event all summer long. You can watch these four-foot-tall grey birds in the grainfields, but the greatest numbers are present during spring and fall migration. There is an observation platform along College Road (or, more precisely, Danby Street).
There is a vast list of birds for bird watching at Creamer’s Fields, including the Greater White-fronted Goose, Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, American Wigeon, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Mew Gull, Alder Flycatcher, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Swainson’s Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and the Common Redpoll.
Look out for waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) in the farm fields during the spring migration (late April/early May) and fall migration (mid-August to early October). Some ducks nest right in the wetland areas of the refuge, remaining for the summer.
Songbirds and shorebirds migrate to Fairbanks from Mexico and Central and South America. Look for snow buntings starting mid-March, alder flycatchers in early June, and many others. Catch peak fall migration starting in late August.
Wildlife Viewing at Creamer’s Field
Creamer’s Field offers many wildlife viewing opportunities. You might catch sight of a red fox hunting voles or peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and goshawks hunting.
Woodchucks can be spotted sunning themselves outside of their burrows anytime after late April.
Listen for courting wood frogs echoing through the woods as soon as the snow melts, and keep in mind their bodies have been frozen solid through the winter!
And, of course, there is always a chance to spot moose here.
Hiking, Skiing, & Dog Mushing Trails
Several walking paths at Creamer’s Fields are enjoyed all summer long, as well as others used for skiing and skijoring in the winter. There are even dog mushing trails, too.
Start with the Boreal Forest Trail. It’s a self-guiding 1.5-mile loop that takes you through various habitats to discover this environment’s geology, plants, and animals.
The trail winds through a small sample of the largest land ecosystem on Earth, the boreal forest; this subarctic forest stretches around the northern latitudes of the world with habitats ranging from birch and spruce stands to bogs and tussock meadows.
The Seasonal Wetlands Trail is another 1.5-mile trail with signs and observation platforms. Look out for waterfowl, wood frogs, and shorebirds.
The Farmroad to ABO Visitor Center is a 2-mile path across the back edges of the farm fields and along the forest edge. Look for woodchucks along the edge of the field and try to spot a red fox, peregrine falcon, or American kestrel. The Farmroad trail is also great for observing migrant shorebirds in spring.
It is also possible to extend your walk by continuing to the Chickadee Loop Trail and on to the adjacent Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary to walk through the boreal forest on the Taiga and Wander Lake trails.
See this page for a map with trail descriptions.
Guided Nature Walks at Creamer’s Field
From June 1st to August 31st, you can take a free guided tour of the property led by volunteer naturalists. Learn about the history of the Creamer family, Creamer’s Dairy, and the ecology of Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.
The tours start at the Farmhouse Visitor’s Center Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 10 am.
Programs and Events at Creamer’s Field
Friends of Creamer’s Field also offers a venue for community involvement through education programs and special events. Their programs focus on the natural ecology of the refuge and the history of Creamer’s Dairy.
Look out for the Spring Migration Celebration in late April, the Sandhill Crane Festival in August, Thanksgiving for the Birds in November, and others.
All Programs are free of charge, but donations are appreciated. Call 907-978-8457 for current information.
Stop by the Farmhouse Visitor Center at 1300 College Road to learn about the farm’s history and wildlife before heading out on the trails to look for birds.
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