A tiny town in Alaska's Interior has no gas station, no grocery store or traffic lights, but it does have plenty of woodsy land -- and it's free to folks willing to put down roots there.
The community of Anderson, population 300, is offering 26 large lots on spruce-covered land beneath the Alaska pathway of the famed aurora borealis and just a short walk from spectacular views of Mount McKinley, North America's tallest mountain. And what's an occasional day of 60-below weather in a town removed from big-city ills?
"It's Mayberry," said local high school teacher Daryl Frisbie, whose social studies class came up with the idea for a project exploring ways to boost the town's dwindling population. Students developed a Web site and Powerpoint presentation, then persuaded the Anderson City Council to give it a go.
"Are you tired of the hustle and bustle of the Lower 48, crime, poor schools and the high cost of living?" the Web site asks. "Make your new home in the Last Frontier!"
The general rules: The 1.3-acre lots will be awarded to the first people who apply for them and submit $500 refundable deposits beginning at 9 a.m. Monday. Each winning applicant must build a house measuring at least 1,000 square feet within two years. Power and phone hookups are already available.
City Clerk Nancy Hollis said best shots at the offer will go to people who apply in person or have someone stand in for them. The post office doesn't open until noon and deliveries are even later from the regional urban hub of Fairbanks, 75 miles to the northeast.
City phones are ringing nonstop over the deal despite only local publicity. People seeking more information are calling mostly from Alaska, but Hollis also has heard from folks in California, Texas, Idaho and Florida.
"We expect people to camp out here Sunday night," she said.
Locals eyeing the sites include 15-year-old newcomer Brittney Warner, a student who worked on the project. The 10th-grader, her parents and three siblings moved to Anderson two months ago from Boise, Idaho, when her father got a job at nearby Clear Air Force Station.
Warner likes her new community, calling it "very nice, small, very outdoorsy," a place that would be even better if it grew enough to bring in some new businesses. Residents now drive at least 20 miles for gasoline or groceries.
Her family is living in a rental home and plans to apply for one of the lots.
"We already have a house design," she said.
Cory Furrow said he'll be in line too. The 26-year-old electrician grew up in Anderson and has no desire to ever leave. It has everything he enjoys -- good terrain for snowshoeing and skiing, fishing, hunting for moose and grizzly bears.
"I've lived here my whole life, so when free land comes up in my hometown, I can't pass that up," said Furrow, who lives in his family home.
Offering free land has been tried many times in the United States as a way to pump up declining populations and spark rural economies, including a growing number of Great Plains communities. Giveaways have been attempted with various degrees of success since the heyday of the 1862 federal Homestead Act, which turned over millions of public acres to private citizens.
Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's post-Depression-era New Deal, 203 hard-hit Midwestern families moved to Alaska's Matanuska Valley in 1935 to set up farms on free, fertile soil. The Matanuska Colony has been called an extravagant failure, costing more than five times the original $982,000 and abandoned by more than half of the colonists within five years, although supporters say publicity about the project lured scores north.
Another large giveaway was attempted in 1989 by northern Minnesota's Koochiching County, triggering a rush of calls from across the nation and as far away as Japan and Europe. Only two of the 40-acre homesteads were awarded before the offer was terminated the same year because of complaints from worried residents and other problems, including would-be landowners wanting only prime property such as waterfront lots.
The Anderson project was modeled after giveaways scattered across Kansas with some tweaks, like requiring the $500 deposit to attract only the most serious applicants. Some Kansas communities, such as Eureka, don't require any money down and have fielded hundreds of interested calls since the program began in 2005. But to this date, only three of the six available lots are spoken for in the town of 2,800, said spokeswoman Karen Simon.
"We were expecting a lot of interest," she said. "But the reality was that because of a lack of jobs, people don't want to come here."
The folks in Anderson said there are some employment opportunities within driving distance, including a coal mine, regional utility, major hotels and the air station, an early ballistic missile warning site. Locals also would like to see entrepreneurs among the newcomers. They also are hoping for families to bring more students to the school. The high school basketball team went coed this year because there weren't enough boys.
There are plenty of non-employment perks: no property, state income or sales taxes, virtually no crime, no traffic or local fast food stands. There are magnificent summers with temperatures as high as 90 degrees and plenty of wide open space.
"One of the resources that we have is land," said Mayor Mike Pearson, a mechanic at Clear. "If this works out well, the city's got lots more property."