Friday, January 9, 2015

Ohhhh, Anchorage...

Alaska has its share of problems. One of our biggest has always been infrastructure. There's a lot of ground to cover in this state, and the terrain is no walk in the park to survey, let alone build upon. Anchorage was built as a tent city in 1915 upon orders by President Woodrow Wilson to construct a railroad upon Athabaskan land. Because the city was built by the Army, it was laid out in a very methodical way, but as it grew, a lot of thought was omitted in some areas. Now that lack of thought is biting Anchorage in the butt. 

Besides Anchorage having been built partially upon earth which liquifies and slides into the inlet during large earthquakes, it lacks transportation options in and out of the city with no way to bypass Alaska's largest population. The city should have been built upwards instead of outwards, and the army bases shouldn't have been built in such a way to prevent city expansion, which has skyrocketed property taxes in and around city limits. 

Besides financial and transportation problems with this city, it also has wildlife problems abounding everywhere. This tends to happen when you put a city right between an inlet teeming with marine life and mountains full of of moose and bears. The bears want to get out of the mountains and get to the incoming salmon. Moose come down from the mountains to graze upon low elevation trees, shrubs and open water. Of course, with Anchorage being so short-sighted, they decided to only look at what their human population might enjoy, and completely ignored the needs of its wildlife population. The city built large parks and green strips virtually connecting the mountain with the inlet, and actually expected people to enjoy these parks in a carefree way. I don't know who initially thought this would be a strip of greenery enjoyed exclusively by humans, but I don't think very well of them. Moose attacks are common for bikers and runners speeding along the wooded trails. Just because these people are in the city, they believe it's safe from surprise wildlife attacks. 

Now the city has decided the moose population in its park has risen to dangerous levels. Their solution is a moose hunt within the park, which has happened in Anchorage parks previously. As someone who grew up outside of the cities, I was accustomed to taking precautions when going on my bike rides and jogs along rural routes. Moose were a common occurrence for me since I was a child in grade school. We could always expect to hear from classmates about their morning or afternoon moose encounter at the bus stop. In my neighborhood, houses were not that close and there were kids who lived a mile up the road with no homes within a half mile. These kids rode their bikes or even canoed to the bus stop when spring thaw flooded the route. Shelters are commonly seen along school bus routes which look like children's playhouses. These are built by parents and placed where the neighborhood kids could gather to stay out of freezing temperatures and away from wildlife. In any case, we dealt with the wildlife problem, usually pretty successfully. Why people in the city of Anchorage can't have the same caution within a relatively small stretch of land is beyond me. The only thing I could hope would come from a city park moose hunt would be that the hunters be ADF&G and the meat go to the shelters. 

One uplifting thing I can speak well of is the kindness of several snowmachiners in my beloved nearby Hatcher Pass. They spotted an avalanche site while carefully venturing upon the treacherous slopes of the Talkeetna Mountains. Within this site was something dark sticking barely out of the mounds of hard snow pack. At first believing someone had been tragically caught in the slide, they carefully approached, prepared for the worst. One of the men had a previous experience with losing a fellow snowmachiner in an avalanche. When they finally made it to the dark object, they realized a young cow moose had been caught and possibly slid with the unstable snow 100-150 yards down the mountain. Only its nose was sticking out.  To be able to survive the initial blast of snow, slide that far down and land in a position to be able to continue breathing long enough for someone to see it, is nothing short of incredible. The men immediately began digging, despite possible threat of further slides. They reported that the moose seemed to be begging for their help as they cleared the snow. When they finally removed the pack around the large animal, it stood, probably in a complete daze, until one man patted its rear with a shovel and it miraculously ran off down the mountainside. 

It leaves me with hope for the people of Alaska. Avid outdoorsmen and women who respect and admire the nature of Alaska almost seem to make up for the, well, "other" portion of our population. The ones who are here because they have to be. The people who come up due to jobs, military or (ugh) dividends for their large families. They didn't come here to live with nature, they came for the money. Many of these people live in Anchorage, which is a big reason why I won't live there. I don't see eye-to-eye with quite a few of the Anchorage residents. I worked with them for years, as I preferred to deal with a long commute for my job, rather than live amongst them. Some of them had never been outside of Anchorage. One co-worker revealed he hadn't seen the need to venture outside of Anchorage for anything in the 15 years he had lived there. His vehicle had only city miles, and its destinations were grocery stores, malls and work. What an incredibly boring, monotonous life in a state where such beauty can be enjoyed. I was appalled at how many people in Anchorage felt this way. Rather than violently smacking the man upside his tiny head, I opted to convince him to take his daughter to Portage Glacier for a short day trip. He actually listened and came back with a different outlook. He explained with enthusiasm how his daughter reacted excitedly to seeing such scenery and nature. 

At least, maybe I changed the opinions of one family in Anchorage and opened their eyes to a life of adventure outside of a crowded, poorly planned city. I can only hope more transplanted residents start living the life of an Alaskan, instead of someone living for the money provided by this rich state. There are more than just monetary riches to be gained from this state. Like the beautiful moose frequenting the Anchorage parks.

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