When the towns of Chugiak and Eagle River were awarded the rights to host the 1996 Arctic Winter Games, there were really about five separate communities in the area and sometimes they just didn't get along.
But over the 3 1/2 years they spent preparing to host the week-long competition, the five communities -- Chugiak, Eagle River, Birchwood, Eklutna and Peters Creek -- not only learned to get along, they also became unified on other projects. That was just one of the unexpected benefits of hosting the Arctic Winter Games, John Rodda told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce last week as he encouraged a Juneau bid to host the Games in 2006.
"You have to look not only at what the community gained initially, but what the community gained in five years," said Rodda, a member of the Arctic Winter Games' International Committee and the Host Society President for the 1996 Chugiak-Eagle River Games. "We never talked to each other before we got the bid, but hosting the Arctic Winter Games put people together. It's not about the Games, it's about the community."
With distinct communities in Juneau, Douglas, Auke Bay, North Douglas and the Mendenhall Valley, Rodda sees similar unifying benefits if Juneau submits the winning bid to host the 2006 Games. On Friday, Rodda detailed some of the benefits and expectations Juneau can expect if it hosts the Games in a morning meeting with city officials and again at the noon meeting of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
For those not familiar with the Arctic Winter Games, the event began in 1970 as a way to develop younger athletes in Alaska, Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and northern Quebec. The Games are held every other year and, even though northern Quebec chooses to no longer participate, they've grown to include teams from northern Alberta and Nunavut from Canada, Greenland and the Russian regions of Chukotka and Magadan.
The Games feature 19 sports common in areas north of the 60th parallel, such as hockey, indoor soccer, skiing, snowshoeing and others. But Rodda said the Games are about more than athletic competition. Each region not only brings athletic teams to the Games, but they also bring dancers and other artists for a week of cultural events.
"There are three rings in the Arctic Winter Games logo and they stand for the three components of the Games -- athletic, cultural and social," Rodda said. "Competition is not the main focus. Competition happens. What you see is a lot of people learning about different cultures."
The host city rotates among the participants and the 2002 Games are split between Iqaliut, Nunavut, and Nuuk, Greenland, for the first split-site Arctic Winter Games. Alaska is scheduled to host the 2006 Games and Rodda said four communities have expressed interest in being Alaska's host city -- Juneau, Fairbanks (which hosted the Games in 1982 and 1988), the Mat-Su Valley (Palmer-Wasilla) and the Kenai Peninsula (Kenai-Soldotna).
Jamie Parsons, the executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and a former Juneau mayor, said not having an ice rink has been one reason Juneau's never seriously considered bidding for the Games until now. But with a rink soon to be under construction in Douglas and the possibility of a new high school by the 2006 Games, Parsons feels Juneau will have enough facilities to serve as host city.
Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, another former Juneau mayor who serves as the state government's designated liaison for the Arctic Winter Games, agreed. She feels hosting the Games can help Juneau build a lasting legacy.
"I don't think Juneau has ever gotten to the point of putting a proposal together (to host), but I hope Juneau does it," Ulmer said. "I think there are many benefits. I think it creates opportunities for young people to test themselves. It builds international bridges and it's a way of teaching young people tolerance and acceptance. There's the cultural aspect, and the educational experiences as well."
Hosting the Games can be a lot of work, Rodda said, but the end result is very worth the trouble. When Chugiak-Eagle River hosted the 1996 Games he had a paid staff of seven people and more than 3,300 volunteers working to make the events run smoothly. Whitehorse is about the same population as Juneau and has hosted the Games several times, including in 2000, while Iqaliut and Nuuk combined have fewer people than Juneau.
Chugiak-Eagle River's budget for hosting the Games started out at $1.6 million and eventually grew to $2.1 million, Rodda said. But by the time the Games were over the host society had raised $2.4 million and it was able to give its seed money back to the Municipality of Anchorage, becoming the first Games to be able to give the money back. He said a study by the University of Alaska Anchorage showed the Games had a $3.4 million direct impact on Chugiak-Eagle River's economy, and an indirect impact of $4.3 million.
"If you put your mind to it, if you lay down your swords, you can realize as a community what you can do together," Rodda said. "It's all here and whether you, as a community, want to tackle something this daunting is up to you. Yeah, it's a big job, a big commitment. But in the long-term, it's a chance to leave a legacy."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.