It seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do — visitors wanted to hike and look for birds. The weather cooperated with a spectacularly sunny day and so we drove to one of Juneau’s premiere hiking and bird watching areas, the airport Dike Trail. As we approached the parking lot, something looked amiss. The narrow path at the end of the runway was expanded to the width of a two lane highway and covered with compacted gravel and rock. And amazingly, Duck Creek was nowhere to be found.
It wasn’t registering until my nephew, a civil engineer, glanced at the massive construction project and said, “This looks like runway improvement, but the real idea is to minimize bird strikes by filling wetlands.”
He has inspected similar sites in Ohio and instantly recognized this project for what it was. We continued on, but the heavy equipment, dredging and earth removal operations made bird watching impossible. I was embarrassed at the cruel irony of picking a location known as a bird watching Mecca only to see vital habitat being destroyed before our eyes. On the way back a sobering thought hit home: one of Juneau’s hidden jewels was changed forever.
The rational and need for this airport project has been discussed for years, but the real impact had not registered until we walked the site. The place looked like it had been hit by a bomb. I wondered why Juneau was following the example of other cities that incrementally lost their identities by paving wetland areas with concrete and asphalt. Thinking about the urbanization of Vanderbilt and Jordan Creeks, the threats to Montana Creek and the slicing and dicing of the Mendenhall Wildlife Refuge made me wonder how much more could be lost. And will tourists continue to spend millions of dollars in Juneau when it bears a striking resemblance to the places they left down south?
Standing up and speaking out for what we value is the only way to insure that future generations will enjoy this beautiful place. Remaining passive, fatalistic or quiet insures that history will indeed repeat itself.