Surrounded by rolling hills and hedged with mountainous peaks of the not so distant Portage Mountain Ridge and Russian Mountain Range, Aniak is located on the south bank of the Kuskokwim River at the head of the Aniak Slough.
Aniak is a Yup’ik word meaning “the place where it comes out.” The name, once applied to the entire surrounding area, was a reference to the mouth of the Aniak River flowing into the Kuskokwim. Because of its location, the village of Aniak played a key role in the placer gold rush of the early 1900s. However, since there was little infrastructure in the region and very few trading posts between Aniak and Nome, the gold stampede was short-lived and the village was abandoned.
In 1914, Tom L. Johnson homesteaded the abandoned site and opened a store and post office. Soon after, Willie Pete and Sam Simeon, Yup’ik Eskimos from Ohagamuit, brought their families, reestablishing the Native community. There are now 501 people residing in Aniak according to the 2010 U.S. Census (approximately 70 less than in 2000).
Aniak, incorporated in 1972, is considered an isolated town/ Sub-Regional Center. It is the largest city in the area and is the service hub for surrounding villages. The economy is supported by government, transportation and retail services, though the majority of the population (primarily Yup’ik Eskimo and Tanaina Athabascan) relies on home gardening and subsistence foods like salmon, moose, bear, birds and berries for their diet.
There is no road access to Aniak (though the community has requested one be constructed to the nearby village of Chuathbaluk), but during the summer it is accessible by boat via the Kuskokwim River and by fl oatplane on the Aniak Slough. Notably, Aniak has one of the best airport runways in rural Alaska. It was constructed during the Cold War Era in the 1950s to accommodate the erection of the White Alice radar-relay system, which closed in 1978.