TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska – There are no restaurants in Toksook Bay, Alaska. No motels or movie theater, either. There also aren't any factories. Or roads.
But the first Americans to be counted in the 2020 census live in this tiny community of 661 on the edge of the American expanse. Their homes are huddled together in a windswept Bering Sea village, painted vivid lime green, purple or neon blue to help distinguish the signs of life from a frigid white winterscape that makes it hard to tell where the frozen sea ends and the village begins.
Fish drying racks hang outside some front doors, and you're more likely to find a snowmobile or four-wheeler in the driveway than a truck or SUV.
In this isolated outpost that looks little like other towns in the rest of the United States, the official attempt to count everyone living in the country will begin Tuesday.
The decennial U.S. census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the U.S. purchased the territory from Russia in 1867.
Once the spring thaw hits, the town empties as many residents scatter for traditional hunting and fishing grounds, and the frozen ground that in January makes it easier to get around by March turns to marsh that’s difficult to traverse. The mail service is spotty and the internet connectivity unreliable, which makes door-to-door surveying important.
For those reasons, they have to start early here.
The rest of the country, plus urban areas of Alaska such as Anchorage, will begin the census in mid-March.