McDonald’s ran commercials earlier this month touting their fish sandwich in Alaskan markets. It informed us that their tasty product was now available in our Juneau market for our dining pleasure. I’m thankful for many things living in Juneau; however, having access to a double fish stick with a slab of American cheese is not one of them. After only being domiciled in Juneau for three years, it occurred to me I have become somewhat of a fish snob. Maybe not the “I only eat same-day-caught white king variety”, but like many Juneauites, having the opportunity to bring home fresh fish or game is pretty special. In fact, there are many things special things about living in the capital city of the 49th state. I’ve had 15 different zip codes in my adult life and hands-down, Juneau has the highest quality of life of anywhere I have lived. This quality of life cannot be assumed into perpetuity and our community leaders must provide a visionary direction to maintain Juneau’s competitive edge.
I’m a huge sports fan (probably more accurately defined as a prisoner of televised competition); and, I find the Gold Medal Tournament and Klas Stolpe’s account “riveting” — this event was properly memorialized in the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame last month. However, basketball does not have a stranglehold on “March Madness” as you have a conversation, like I did in my office, as to the “field of 68.” Only in Alaska can you have confusion as to whether you are talking Duke and Carolina, or Kake, or Dee-Dee, Lance and John Baker.
Certainly part of this equation is never having to ask a fellow Alaskan “what area code” is attached to your phone number. This is something even with the most optimistic growth projections is unlikely to change within the next generation. Juneau’s population has hovered around 30,000 for the past two decades. However, even with this small pool of resources, Juneau’s youthful talent is impressive. Of course, Juneau has produced nationally recognized personalities like Anna Graceman and Carlos Boozer and talent like Talisa Rhea and Joe Tompkins, but if you haven’t attended a Juneau-Douglas or Thunder Mountain High School event recently, you have really missed out in some excellent home grown entertainment. From high school musicals to band and orchestra concerts, the talent pool from the fine arts is very deep. The same can be said about Juneau-area athletics, not only will you witness perennial competitive programs but you will also be pleased to see our kids carry themselves as sportsmen and ambassadors of the capital city — for example, the JDHS girls winning the state basketball tourney “sportsmanship award.” Certainly, if you made it to the regional science fair last weekend, you were treated to impressive academic acumen. It is worth mentioning JDHS has six years of consecutive Alaska State National Ocean Sciences Bowl championships under its belt.
One of the most unique and endearing aspects of rearing kids in a 998XX zip code has to be the tradition of reciprocity of “housing” students from visiting communities. I’m sure Southeast Alaskans who match my years with decades simply look at this as a pragmatic economic necessity. My family always looks forward to meeting and hosting two or three absolutely random kids from around the state in our home for a weekend. Not certain how my high school junior appreciates the arrangements, but surely at some level all visiting kids benefit somewhat with this family swapping. I hope this tradition can carry on and the bean-counters prevail over the barristers and my down south friends and family remain bewildered to this ”only in Alaska” liability.
Similarly, the school district’s policy to teach sixth graders hunter safety is laudable and demonstrates another example of Alaskans being Alaskans and reinforces that gravitas of doing things out of responsibility for our community and without the consent of the Lower 48. Especially in Seattle, folks are shocked to hear that teaching hunting education and gun safety is part of the matriculation of the children and are equally flabbergasted to hear of pre-teen girls who hunt big game in Southeast Alaska. To me, this is part of the quality of life we enjoy here. That measurement of total quality of life in Juneau is, in reality, the quality of life that our youth enjoy. The potential which is available for the Juneau youth is strong, the challenge will be to continue to provide the local opportunities to keep the youth movement motivated and close to home.
• Uchytil is the port director of the Port of Juneau and is a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer.