Starvation Gulch

September 23, 2023

Once again, Nanook Traditions Kicks-Off the school year with Starvation Gulch. The bonfires have been a symbol of the passing of the torch of knowledge to our new students since 1923. We welcome back all our students and hope they all have a grand year. Enjoy the biggest bonfires you will ever see! 

Starvation Gulch history

By: Forest Puha

It's an annual celebration; a way to ease new students into campus life. At times it's a fierce completion of honor between campus dormitories. It's also a living story of the incredible odds the University has faced and overcome. It's Starvation Gulch.

Founded in 1923, Starvation Gulch was an inspiration of Charles E. Bunnell, the University if Alaska Fairbanks's first president. Student built a mock town to serve as an entertainment facility by day and fuel for enormous bonfires by night. Bunnell wanted the fires to symbolize the passing of the torch of knowledge.

UAF students nicknamed the town "Starvation Gulch" an ostensible poke at the pioneers who first settled in Fairbanks. It quickly became the official name of the annual festival, and has served since then as an icebreaker of sorts to introduce new people into the college fold. During the Starvation Gulch of 1923, students could throw friends into jail, get divorced for a buck and enjoy the other hundred forms of UAF entertainment. Since then, the contest has taken on unique and historic forms.

In 1956, drunken brawls caused UAF president Ernest Patty to pass a campus-wide alcohol ban. Enraged student buried beer bottles outside Constitution Hall in a mock funeral wake, marking the burial ground with the infamous 'Tradition Stone'.

The Stone, a 400 pound slab of concrete emblazoned with a bronze plaque reading "Here Lies Tradition, 1957" to mark the anniversary of the ban, became a symbol of rebellion against the campus prohibition. UAF students continually reach new heights in stealing the stone from each other, and the stone never stay in the same place for more than a year.

During the 16-year long ban on alcohol, changes were made to the list of activities. Marking giant towns out of wood was outlawed; only piles of wood could be made. Broomball became the official sport of the Starvation Gulch festival.

Today, safety comes first with UAF administration. Height restrictions discourage people from building 75 foot high stockpiles. Instead, trophies are given to the most creative wooden sculpture possible. Student may no longer discharge shotguns into the air to dissuade wood thieves, as was common in 1948. Instead, speed and resourcefulness sees contestant through. And spectator can no longer roast hot dogs around the bon fire.

Despite the dramatic changes in the celebration, no one can deny the power of a 79 year-old ceremony. Starvation Gulch is not simply the passing of knowledge to a new generation.

Starvation Gulch is UAF history.