Recreation access should be fair

The youth of Lemon and Switzer creeks would benefit from proposed basketball courts

Posted: Friday, March 03, 2006


The Alaska Observer

Juneau is fortunate to have some very nice infrastructure, with facilities that benefit a large segment of the community.

There are those that I use at every available opportunity (of late, Eaglecrest Ski Area comes to mind), and those that I haven't tried yet but still hope to enjoy (the Treadwell Ice Arena - don't worry, I promise not to try hockey until I'm sure I haven't completely lost the ability to skate).

These facilities are the subject of public debate from time to time, as their primary users and beneficiaries remind everyone else why they are so important and why they deserve public support. It bears remembering that this is a process many on this planet will never have the luxury of enjoying.

Over time, I have spoken out about things like the proposed Dimond Park water facility, our gem of a local ski area (and its grill - you simply must go have a breakfast muffin with sausage, even if you're not a skier), and other things our civic future holds. I am encouraged by recent actions of those Juneauites with whom I disagreed with in the last municipal election concerning the wisdom of using revenues from the 1 percent incremental property tax for a water park. They are taking their aspirations back to the drawing board and trying to come up with a plan that will work. As long as they can show me that there is sufficient demand for water recreation in the community as a whole, and in the Mendenhall Valley in particular, then I shall be happy to see the city pursue some sort of sustainable pool.

I wish every one in the community was in a position to enjoy the fruits of our fairly comfortable existence here in the incomparable beauty of Southeast Alaska. Some parts of Juneau are not as close to recreation centers as others, and - perhaps more determinative of actual access and use - many people are reliant on others or public vehicles for transportation. Folks downtown, on Douglas and in the valley - especially those with cars - are close to the pool, tennis courts, the youth center, and skiing and skating venues. Other parts of town don't have as easy a shot at getting to these areas. It will never be a matter of equidistance, but perhaps there are ways of making things more fair.

Recreational activities are important to all of us, at every stage of life. I know that having been lucky enough to be encouraged to get outside and be physically active in my youth has made me a healthier man today (not that Bowflex has offered me an endorsement deal, which may have something to do with the sausage muffins). It is unarguably in the public interest to promote exercise and physical health among our young people. It is often said Alaska's youth are our greatest resource, and I believe this to be true. So that makes me want to see them fit, healthy and active.

One Juneau old-timer who has undertaken an extremely worthy remedy to this lack of equity in access to recreational opportunities is Patrick Owen. Patrick and his wife have lived in the Capital City since 1969, raised a family out near Lemon and Switzer creeks, and every day he sees kids with too little to do. We were talking, and I noted that Kmart used to provide a focal point for the community, but is no longer there for people to visit. Patrick told me there are 1,200 young people in the neighborhood, which is growing as fast as any other in Juneau. Many of them don't come from affluent homes.

Patrick has gone before the Assembly on numerous occasions to ask for a modest appropriation of parks, schools, or any funds to build some basketball courts at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. He easily convinced me that these youth will benefit from a nod in their direction, some sign from their community that playing ball is a good way to hang with your friends. Patrick knows that resources are scarce and has worked to secure a commitment from the school district to operate basketball courts if they can just be built.

I am delighted to know that people like Patrick care enough to go to their public officials to point out both problems and good ways to solve them. I am sure that he will succeed, because I know Juneau is the sort of place that knows how to allocate resources efficiently most of the time. And that is just one more reason we're lucky to be here.

• Benjamin Brown is an actor and attorney who lives in Douglas.

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