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Roadtrippin’: Exploring Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 4:29 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks offers visitors something unique: the chance to walk with a reindeer herd through the boreal forest of Jane Atkinson’s 13-acre ranch.

The 2 1/2-hour, year-round tours aim to give people a sense of the land the gentle creatures call home and the chance to get close as more than a dozen reindeer frolic in their natural setting.

But although Atkinson and her husband Doug Toelle have offered the tours for nearly a dozen years, it wasn’t what they had in mind when they acquired the first reindeer. Atkinson said it started shortly after she moved to the parcel in 2004, and her then 10-year-old daughter Robin pleaded for a horse. Atkinson said that was a hard “no”.

“I’m allergic to horses, we couldn’t have horses,” Atkinson said. “Then she suggested goats. Well I’m a gardener and I don’t believe in living with goats.”

Sheep got the same response. It wasn’t till her daughter started researching reindeer that Atkinson considered the animals might be a good fit. But her yes came with a contingency: her daughter would have to raise the money to buy the animal herself.

“What she decided to do to raise money was to make and sell homemade cookie dough,” Atkinson said.

It took Robin two years, but she did it.

“She raised $2,000,” Atkinson said. “That is a lot of cookie dough going through your kitchen, a lot.”

It was enough to buy one deer, and, with help, they bought a second. Over time, they bred the animals and the herd grew. Atkinson said the reindeer were always family pets. The fact that they would become the heart of a family business was almost accidental.

“When my daughter spent her junior year of high school in Germany, I asked friends if they would help me walk them,” Atkinson explained. “If they had family or friends in town they would always want to see the reindeer.”

Atkinson said friends encouraged her to list her ranch on the Tripadvisor website so that she could share the reindeer walks with others. From that point on, she said, people started coming.

These days, walks aren’t the only thing happening at Running Reindeer Ranch. In the last three years Atkinson has offered “Yoga with Reindeer”. Participants do yoga with professional instructors three days a week in a fenced-in pasture, while the reindeer herd mills about, occasionally interrupting a pose.

“Reindeer are very sensitive to energy,” Atkinson said, explaining that yoga is a great fit.

The classes attract locals and tourists alike.

Atkinson said she never realized reindeer would become such an important part of her life when they got the first two so many years ago.

“I am so lucky. I feel so grateful to have reindeer in my life,” she said.

It’s a love she feels lucky now to be able to share with others.

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