Taku River draws National Geographic to Juneau

Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2001

The Taku River is becoming better known outside Alaska.

Already major newspapers in the U.S., England and Canada have featured the Taku, including The Washington Times, The Guardian, and The Globe and Mail.

Now National Geographic is giving the river three-pronged attention in print, on TV and on the Internet.

"I was really impressed by the scale of the country," said Sean Markey, a writer and producer for nationalgeographic.com. "It was my first time in such a wild space."

The Taku River will be featured on nationalgeographic.com in mid-October. The Web site gets 20 million pages used per month, said Carol Seitz, communications manager for National Geographic.

National Geographic TV will also broadcast an hour-long segment on the Taku River at 11 p.m. Oct. 12. The eight-month-old cable channel reaches 15 million homes and is channel 276 on Direct TV. National Geographic Traveler magazine already did a story on rafting the Taku River, which ran in their March issue.

"Part of the effort is to show there is so much there that needs to be protected," said Seitz.

The Taku watershed was brought to National Geographic's attention by Wade Davis, an ethnobotanist and explorer-in-residence from British Columbia. Davis is a strong advocate for keeping the Taku pristine, and a friend of Ian Kean, who took Davis and the National Geographic crews down the river.

"The attention has come from, I think, the loss of our wilderness," Kean said. "National Geographic is particularly interested at this point in cultures of conservation and sustainability."

Juneau is being pulled into the spotlight along with the Taku River. The National Geographic TV segments, in particular, focus almost as much time on Juneau as on the river. National Geographic anchor Tom Foreman spent five days floating down the Taku and four in Juneau, interviewing people about tourism, bears and salmon.

"In almost all of our stories we brought Juneau into it, because Juneau's the nearest sizable community that's actually remarkably connected to it," Foreman said. "Even if you don't realize it."

Foreman toured Juneau's trash bins with officer Dan Garcia, talking about the interactions between bears and humans.

He dropped into the middle of the tourism debate, asking people what constitutes good tourism and how much is too much for a remote region.

"How long does it take before there's too much traffic in an area like the Taku?" Foreman asked.

When Foreman began questioning fishermen, environmentalists, biologists and processors about the connection between the Taku watershed and the salmon fishery he finally found consensus.

"They all say the same thing. They say the fact that the Taku River is so untouched is what allows the salmon fishery to be so spectacular there," Foreman said. "Even if a mistake is made with the catch one year, the salmon can still recover there."

During his trip down the Taku, Foreman was most impressed by what wasn't there. No roads, no planes, no signs of people. Even from the top of a 3,000-foot mountain he saw no signs of occupation.

"I've been reporting for 25 years and I've never seen anything like it," Foreman said. "The scenery is like you see a lot of places, but that sense of nothing there is pretty strange."

"It's the only place I've ever been where with confidence you could just reach down and drink out of the river," Foreman said. "We did that all the time."

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