Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaska reporter, columnist and author, based in Fairbanks. He has written extensively about Alaska and Alaska history for more than 35 years, and is currently a reporter and columnist for the online Alaska Dispatch news site. A longtime columnist for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, his most recent book is "North to the Future: The Alaska Story, 1959 - 2009." Cole grew up in Pennsylvania and lived in Taiwan, Montana and Hong Kong before moving to Alaska in 1974. A graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Cole is married to journalist Debbie Carter. They have three grown children. His favorite hobby is cross-country skiing.
When I'm looking for world-class cross-country skiing and running trails, I need look no further than Alaska's second-largest city, and the place that I call home, Fairbanks. What drew me here was the unmatched outdoor recreational opportunities... and what keeps me here are the challenges of chronicling daily life in one of the country's most exciting regions.
1.) Birch Hill Recreation Area
The Birch Hill Recreation Area (101 Wilderness Dr., 907-457-4488) just east of Fairbanks is a perfect place to escape, winter or summer. When the snow is fresh and crisp, the cross-country skiing is unmatched. In the summer the sun-drenched aspen, birch and spruce trees border a series of trails that are perfect for bikers or for those who want to stretch their legs and expand their horizons with a quiet walk in the woods.
2.) Chena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs (Mile 56.5 Chena Hot Springs Rd., 907-451-8104) may be the best place in Alaska to find rest, relaxation and refreshment. The natural hot springs flow into an outdoor pool, hot tubs and an indoor pool where stress and tension melt away. Hiking, biking and cross-country skiing trails run throughout the resort and the Ice Museum, insulated to withstand summer's heat, entertain year-round. The lodge is an hour from Fairbanks down a scenic road that threads through the Chena River State Recreation Area, which has tons of hiking opportunities and a winding river that draws campers, canoers and fishermen.
3.) Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge
Every spring and fall I like to drop in and see the visitors who stop in by the thousands at the Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge (1300 College Rd., 907-452-5162). The refuge is unique because it's inside Alaska's second largest city, Fairbanks, and its forests, wetlands and farm fields are vital to all sorts of animals, especially the tens of thousands of migratory birds who rest here every year during the spring and fall migrations. The geese, cranes, ducks and other birds are always a welcome sight and a reminder of the rich wildlife that adds excitement to life in Alaska.
4.) Gambardella's Pasta Bella
For authentic Italian food, I turn to Gambardella's Pasta Bella (Second Ave., 907-457-4992), one of the most popular restaurants in Fairbanks. What began two decades ago as a family-operated gourmet deli has grown to a 250-seat building featuring homemade bread and the "Mother of all Lasagnas."