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Alaskæpœdia:

Posted: November 6, 2011 - 1:00am

Not to be confused with the city of Juneau, Wisc. or the county of Juneau, Wisc. which, interestingly enough, have absolutely no connection to each other. Neither is it to be confused with Juno the ancient Roman goddess, Juno the line of Roland synthesizers, or Juno the quirky indie flick that heralded the long overdue return of Jason Bateman.

The City and Borough of Juneau is a unified municipality along the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska. See that, two separate Juneaus, Wisconsin? Get it together, man, seriously.

Geography

Juneau is located on the Alaskan panhandle, geographic equivalent of the part where the grip meets the metal and you’re always burning your hand. Ironic, considering that in Juneau, it can be 38 degrees and raining in the middle of the summer.

Nestled among steep mountains that slope some 3,500 feet straight out of Gastineau Channel, downtown Juneau sits at sea level, much of it directly at the base of several known avalanche paths. As such, it’s not a matter of if, but when the city gets destroyed by an avalanche. It’s also not a matter of if, but when some smug know-it-all says “it’s not a matter of if, but when the city gets destroyed by an avalanche.”

Atop the mountains that threaten to engulf Juneau in one massive death cookie — it’s a snowboarding term; look it up — sits the Juneau Icefield, the fifth-largest ice field in the Western Hemisphere, noted for massive, awe-inspiring crevasses, flowing deep blue moulins, and schmaltzy dog sledding outfits that fly tourists up there for $500 a pop (gratuity not included).

Juneau is named after gold prospector Joe Juneau. The Tlingit name for the downtown area is Dzántik’i Héeni, meaning “river where the flounders gather;” the area north of Juneau through Auke Bay is called Aak’w, meaning “don’t park illegally in the harbor lot — you’ll definitely get a ticket; they’re randomly really serious about that.”

To the south of Juneau, the Taku River takes its name from the icy t’aakh or Taku winds, which sometimes blow down off the Juneau Icefield through gaps in the mountains. Taku winds are not to be mistaken for taco winds, which also sometimes blow from deep within interior passes.

Juneau’s total area exceeds Rhode Island and Delaware individually, and almost equals the two combined. If there’s that much room, why does living here involve so much parallel parking?

According to the 2010 census, the City and Borough’s population tallied 31,275, nearly all of them at Fred Meyer on a Sunday.

History

The waters around Juneau have served as favorite local fishing grounds for thousands of years, most likely because that’s how long you have to troll around before you catch something.

Although Alaska Natives have inhabited the area since pre-historic times, Juneau was first “discovered” by Joseph Whidbey, who explored the region in July and August 1794. He probably could’ve gotten a better deal if he’d booked in June or September.

Development didn’t begin until the discovery of gold nearly 100 years later, when Chief Kowee led prospectors Richard Harris and Joe Juneau to deposits in the Silverbow Basin. The two marked a 160-acre town site, and soon a mining camp sprung up, followed by a full-fledged town, followed by a street lined with tanzanite shops.

Apparently, founding municipalities ran in the Juneaus’ blood — Joe Juneau’s cousin, Solomon, helped found Milwaukee, Wisc., — fitting, considering how much beer Juneauites drink.

The seat of the state government shifted from Sitka to Juneau in 1906, also the year that the Grand Duchy of Finland became the first nation to adopt universal suffrage. Coincidence? Most likely, yes.

Juneau remains Alaska’s capital to this day. It is the only U.S. state capital inaccessible by road; it is also the only U.S. state capital in which it is physically impossible to purchase a men’s dress suit aside from at the Salvation Army.

Climate

Juneau’s climate is boreal rainforest, featuring cool, temperate weather. Precipitation averages 60 inches a year, snowfall 85 inches, usually all falling at the same time, non-stop, for months on end.

Economy

Juneau is a company town, and that company is the government. Federal, state and municipal employees comprise nearly a quarter of Juneau’s economy. Tourism also plays a major role, as does the commercial fishing industry. Anyone left makes his/her living either playing pull tabs or silk-screening T-shirts that say “Juneau: Quaint little drinking town with a fishing/legislating/rusting red Toyota truck driving problem.”

Culture

Juneau is home to the Alaska State Museum, the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, Perseverance Theatre, the Alaska Folk Festival, Juneau Jazz & Classics, and several local opera companies, as well a combination sheet metal/bridal shop with giant Wizard of Oz sculptures on the roof.

Recreation

Juneau residents tend to enjoy a healthy outdoor lifestyle. Popular activities include: hiking, biking, trail running, kayaking, skiing and talking about all the hiking, biking, trail running, kayaking and skiing you’ve been doing. Hunting and sport fishing are also popular, as is jaywalking.

Sightseeing

Points of interest include the Mendenhall Glacier, Last Chance Mining Museum, the state Capitol, House of Wickersham, the governor’s mansion, the shop where Sarah Palin used to buy all her shoes, the world’s smallest Costco (seriously), and a McDonald’s franchise location that actually went out of business.

People

Notable people from Juneau include pro basketball player Carlos Boozer, Olympic silver-medalist alpine skier Hilary Lindh, convicted murderer Robert Stroud aka “The Birdman of Alcatraz,” an 11-year-old singer who almost won “America’s Got Talent,” and a high school student whose case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court after he held up a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” as the Olympic torch passed through downtown. Mel Gibson is rumored to own a vacation home in Juneau. Mel Gibson does not actually own a vacation home in Juneau.

But mostly —

Juneau distinguishes itself by not being Ketchikan.

• Geoff Kirsch will be presenting “Pressure!” a free workshop sponsored by Friends of the Juneau Public Library. For writers of all levels, topics include techniques for writing under deadline plus a crash course in the craft of fiction. 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Valley Library.

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