The Homesite Program: Providing Low-Cost Homesteading in Alaska

Denise Caldwell shares her story about the homesite program which provided her family low-cost homesteading in Alaska. The program participants have five years to build their cabins and reimburse the state for the cost of surveying the lot.

| November/December 1985

This lucky homesteader shares her story of low-cost homesteading in Alaska through the Alaska homesite program. 

Of Mud, Bears, and Free Land in Alaska

Under the provisions of Alaska's homesite program, a state resident can acquire title to five acres of rural land by "proving up" on the parcel—a process that involves residing on the property for a total of 35 months, building a house, and reimbursing the state for the cost of surveying the lot to qualify for this low-cost homesteading in Alaska. Applicants are allowed five years in which to build their cabins, and seven years to satisfy the living requirements.

It was March of 1982 when my husband, Ron, and I decided to take advantage of that seemingly generous offer. We've learned a lot since then, and because homesteading on "free" Alaska land has long been one of the Great American Dreams, I thought you might enjoy hearing about how that dream turned out for us.

Our decision to accept the strenuous challenge of the Homesite Program stemmed from our desire to extricate ourselves and our children, Ronica (age eight) and Michael (three months), from the Anchorage rat race and see, for a change, some direct results from our labor. By way of preparation, we spent two years in planning, acquiring equipment, stockpiling supplies, and shoring up our courage. When time for the move drew near, Ron went on ahead of the rest of us to haul in supplies, supervise the bulldozer work we were having done, and set up our temporary living quarters: a pickup camper with a plywood addition.

The subdivision containing our sparsely timbered lot (and 217 others pretty much like it) is located approximately 100 miles north of Anchorage, on the perimeter of Mt. McKinley's vast river valley region, near the little town of Talkeetna. To reach our place, you must drive nearly five miles on a dirt road that branches off from the Talkeetna highway.

Only 18 of our subdivision's 218 lots are under the Homesite Program; the remaining 200 were sold to the public and so carry no requirements for "proving up." Nonetheless, all property owners in the subdivision are required by state law to form and work within a community association in order to build and maintain roads and other common facilities within the area . . . which creates something of a communications problem, in that most of the 200 non-Homesite lots are absentee-owned. Consequently, our subdivision's roadways (and their three bridges) long remained unimproved.

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