My Turn: Road would ruin the Lynn Canal wilderness

Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Why don't I want a road? Well, if you asked me as a teenager I would have said build the road. A couple years ago maybe I would have been on the fence. Now, after building my kayak and paddling from downtown Juneau, through the Gastineau Channel, past Auke Bay, out to Echo Cove, across Berners Bay, and up Lynn Canal to Mud Bay in Haines, I say no way. It took me a year of work to build a kayak. It took about a week to paddle to Haines.

Paddling Gastineau Channel is a confusing activity. You are in a beautiful waterway, with peaks, birds, and mountains but there is a constant drone from Egan Drive. It's really loud. Yet the beautiful thing about Juneau is once you get away from Auke Bay and pass all the big houses, you come to total wilderness. Peaceful, quiet stillness. Your thoughts rarely become complex as you contemplate the rain hitting your boat, the rain hitting the water, how your boat is rocking in the water. Are you hungry, or do you have the energy to continue without food? Do you have water, should you start scanning the shore for a creek? What was that? Was it a sea lion coming up for air? Oh there's that blasted ferry going by, but soon it's out of sight, out of mind, and the people on board are wondering what that kayak is doing alone out in the rain. If there is a road built, paddling Lynn Canal would be like paddling Gastineau Channel, confusing.

A friend of mine use to say if only people could see the places he'd been they would never want to build a road. He talked of forests without survey markers. You can never take those experiences away from him. He and his partner have climbed almost all of the peaks along Lynn Canal, accessing them by skiff. They are some of the few to stand on those peaks. They have bushwacked through those creek valleys and seen those hidden lakes. What a gift.

If a road is built, Lynn Canal will not be a world destination for adventuring mountaineers and kayakers. As it is right now it is absolutely world class, the premier best of the best. The mountains rise almost straight out of the water to 7,000 feet, and they are capped with snow and glaciers. The water is unpredictable; it can be calm or violent. The wild animals are there, in numbers. I think people should realize the potential for adventure tourism. This is becoming more popular as wilderness around the world is being developed. Lynn Canal has massive potential for this purpose. If a road is built, it would ruin any chance for adventure tourism. How can you camp on a beach if there is a road 20 feet away? It wouldn't be very attractive to people from around the world. Many people would pay to experience the wildness of Lynn Canal. There really aren't too many places left like Lynn Canal. Taku comes to mind, the rest of Southeast Alaska, too.

We should save these places as wilderness for generations after we are gone. It will be to their benefit and ours. The Tlingits enjoyed Auke Bay and other sites for thousands of years, no road, just water. The Alaska Marine Highway system is well engineered. It can continue to improve as well. I support the Lynn Canal ferry fund idea (see Chilkat Valley News issue No. 9), which was absent from the SDEIS. Adventure tourism is knocking on the door.

• Nick Foster is a 24-year lifelong resident of Juneau. He kayaks and climbs mountains.

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