Giving thanks this Fourth of July

Posted: Sunday, July 04, 2010

"You Americans may think Independence Day is just an American phenomenon and that we British don't celebrate it. We do celebrate Independence Day, only we celebrate it on Thanksgiving Day."

Such was the toast a proper Englishman made when he was hosting Thanksgiving Day dinner for 40 homesick American students attending Durham University in northern England. Delivered with an impeccable sense of dry humor, this toast set the tone for a joyful exchange of holiday spirit. I'm recollecting this toast decades later, because it seems appropriate for this Fourth of July. In all the constant clamor of everything that is wrong with our federal government, we overlook all the good we receive. I think we could use a little Thanksgiving as we celebrate our independence.

In honor of our independence and all those who protested British rule, I would like to acknowledge our service-oriented, duty-driven federal government. Let's push the pause button on all the government bashing and instead give thanks. Join me in giving thanks for:

• NOAA fisheries scientists that are not only running a state-of-the-art research lab at Lena Point but mentoring 20 high school kids in ocean science.

• The Tongass National Forest that builds and maintains 23 cabins, two campgrounds, two recreation areas and many miles of trails for our recreational pleasure.

• The Federal Aviation Administration which ensures the safe landing and takeoffs of thousands of flights every year in all kinds of nasty weather.

• The Fish and Wildlife Service which funds habitat restoration projects throughout Southeast Alaska and provides expertise in conservation of fish, wildlife and their habitats.

Anyone who is in the tourism industry should be particularly grateful for the well-run Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center which hosts half a million visitors every year. It is hard to imagine the flow of tourist traffic without such a world-class attraction managed and protected by the federal government.

Then there is the Coast Guard, the lifeline for all who venture out on the water. Just last year, the Coast Guard responded to 665 calls, saved 137 lives and assisted 817 persons in Alaska. And when not responding to calls, they mark our channels, escort cruise ships and teach us all about boating safety.

There is one other important way the federal government gives back to Juneau - grants. Grants to the Alaska Department of Transportation are rebuilding the road from Amalga Harbor to Eagle Beach and resurfacing Mendenhall Loop Road to Auke Bay. Grants to the Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority are rehabilitating housing for energy efficiency. Federal grants are also vital to the operations of our municipalities, school districts and organizations like SEARHC. Like it or not, federal funding is often a key ingredient to the successful delivery of public service. It is as fundamental as the U.S. Postal Service.

While this is only a sketch of the ways the federal government positively contributes to our community, it is important to remember that behind every federal program are real people enriching our lives as neighbors. For example, the Forest Service here is comprised of 150 families that actively support local charities like the Glory Hole and the AWARE shelter. Similarly, Coast Guard families are very active in mentoring programs run by Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Juneau School District. Here in Juneau, federal government employees commonly give beyond the call of duty.

Although our government is not perfect and could use some fiscal discipline and retooling, let us not be indifferent to all the good that the federal government provides. All we need to do is pause the rhetoric, hike a trail, set out on the water or drive out the road to see how the federal government enriches our lives here in Juneau. Franklin Roosevelt said it best many years ago: "Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference."

• Kate Troll is a Douglas resident.

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