Pave paradise, put up a parking lot

Gastineau Elementary School students get into the woods and psyched about saving trees

Posted: Sunday, May 16, 2010

When 8-year-old Freedom McCorkle heard his school was extending its parking lot and that some trees would have to be cut down, he wrote up a petition to save them.

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Kim Andree / Juneau Empire
Kim Andree / Juneau Empire

"He was upset they were going to pave paradise and put up a parking lot," said McCorkle's grandmother, Karen Alexander. "I'm extremely proud that he has the courage to take a stand like that for something he feels strongly about."

Aside from being able to hold on to them when climbing on rocks, trees are good for many things, McCorkle said.

"Trees are good because they make a lot of oxygen. They're home for a lot of the animals, and they help you get more shade."

The concerned Gastineau Elementary School student enlisted fellow second-grader Dylan Hulbert to help get signatures for what they called The Nature Club. It took the boys three days to get 36 signers (five teachers and 31 students).

"My goal was to help the trees," McCorkle said. "I really wanted them to not cut down the trees. I want to see the creatures survive; no sacrifices."

"I don't want to look at it as a parking lot," Hulbert agreed. "I want to look at it as a nice, healthy forest."

Although McCorkle's classmate, Riley Crocker, said the concept is "kind of a lot for an 8-year-old," she and her friends agree they don't want to see a parking lot when playing at recess.

McCorkle's teacher, Paula Savikko, said the lot extension would mean removing at least four large cottonwood trees that frame the playground. She said the trees also provide inspiration for creative writing.

"Those cottonwoods are gorgeous," Savikko said. "They are 'solo' spots for connecting with nature and are such a joy to behold. Perhaps the proposed parking lot could be reconsidered with this attention - thanks to Freedom."

Although McCorkle and Hulbert spearheaded the petition, they had guidance from physical education teacher Dirk Miller, who originally told them they'd need to cut down a few trees to extend the trail behind the school for skiing.

"This area that we're working on is going to remain," Miller said of the extension, which is opposite of where the parking lot would go. "So I thought, 'Let's make this a place that kids want to come see.'"

Luckily, Miller had help with the ski trail extension from Lawrence Place, of the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, during Global Youth Service Day on April 23. Although the project cut down about seven small trees thus far, Miller decided that for every tree they cut, they would plant one.

"Freedom (McCorkle) and I are interested in replacing those seven trees we cut for the trail soon," Miller said. "(Our goal is) to keep these woods important to kids and get kids out in the woods. I think a trail brings them into the woods."

Miller also hopes to build a bridge over an adjacent ditch.

"I think we have a pretty reasonable compromise," Miller said of the ski trail. "If we can plant trees to replace the ones we cut, I think we can come out with a healthy outcome. I'm excited, and like Freedom, I'm a little worried about the parking lot plans."

Although the parking lot is part of the Gastineau remodel, which it has been bonded for, the Juneau Urban Forestry Project might work with Miller on a planning project after the remodel is over.

"The thing I really appreciate is that Freedom has a passion for the wild, and he was concerned about a plan," Miller noted. "He found an issue he believed in, and we got kids into the woods. So it was a teachable moment."

To inquire about donating trees to Gastineau Elementary School, call Dirk Miller at 463-1999.

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at

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