Willow is north of Anchorage in the Mat-Su
Borough, approximately a 90-minute drive. It is located between mile 60
and 80.7 of the George Parks Highway. It lies at approximately 61░ 44' N
Latitude, 150░ 02' W Longitude (Sec. 08, T019N, R004W, Seward Meridian).
The community is located in the Palmer Recording District. The area
encompasses 14 sq. miles of land and 1 sq. miles of water.
Dena'ina Indians have occupied this area historically, living in
semi-permanent villages. The community got its start when gold was
discovered on Willow Creek in 1897. Supplies and equipment were brought
in by boat to Knik. From there, a 26-mile summer trail went northwest,
up Cottonwood Creek, and across Bald Mountain to Willow Creek. The
winter sled trail went north, crossing the present line of the Alaska
Railroad at Houston, and up the west end of Bald Mountain for 30 miles.
This trail, dubbed the "Double Ender Sled Trail," is still being used by
skiers, hunters, backpackers and snowmobile enthusiasts. The sleds then
followed a trail along Willow Creek in an easterly direction, now
Hatcher Pass Road. The Talkeetna Trail also passed through Willow and
was used by dog teams and pack horses. Cabins to accommodate freighters
and mail carriers were located at Nancy Lake, Willow and other points
north. This route was the forerunner of the Parks Highway.
During construction of the Alaska
Railroad, surveyors, construction crews, homesteaders and other settlers
came to Willow. A Railroad station house was constructed in 1920. During
World War II, a radar warning station and airfield were built. The
Trail's End Lodge was built in 1947; it subsequently became a post
office in 1948. By 1954, Willow Creek was Alaska's largest gold mining
district, with a total production approaching 18 million dollars. Land
disposals, homestead subdivisions, and completion of the George Parks
Highway (in 1972) fueled growth in the area. In 1976, Alaskans selected
Willow for their new State capital site. However, funding to enable the
capital move was defeated in the November 1982 election.