Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Public Parks are Public Trust

Alaska's incredible public parks didn't happen by accident, they happened because of the commitment of the US government and the public to the preservation of wild lands and native cultures. Right now a PBS special by Ken Burns is highlighting Denali National Park as well as the other parks established in this state. Alaska has the most acreage of the US Park System, and Denali is the largest, which includes Mt. McKinley and its immense snowfields and cloud covers, home to wolves and the caribou who survive on lichen and other plant forage, at least for now. I went on a charter flight that operates out of the local airfield and takes 5-6 people on a "bush pilot eye view" of the terrain and lakes. Chased a bear on the way back.

The ecosystem preservation is critically important, but the global climate change is heavily influential in this area, particularly in the sensitive north latitudes. Hence, public awareness and participation beyond a superficial impression is key to the solution to this problem. The Alaskan native culture and wilderness extends all the way down through Canada to the Pacific Northwest, and is very prevalent in the Seattle historic parks and cultural galleries. They embody a way of life that adapted to the natural ecology, and was able to exist within it.These influences can be seen in the Alaskan native architecture that adapted to the climate and terrain thousands of years ago, which has been preserved most fully in the wilderness park areas. Some of the areas of Alaska that have not yet been built out still have the rough-and-tumble quality of the old logging, hunting and canning operations that were carried out in the region hundreds of years ago. These resources are in the process of being further built over and drilled out, and it's imperative that the public commitment to these wilderness lands be reinforced. Viable ecosystems are critical to human civilization.

This shot is from the Seward Highway south of Anchorage. Kenai Lake is fed by melting glaciers and does not have the silt that many of the lakes and streams have, which results in an emerald color. It's a good fishing spot, and this lake feeds into Ressurection Bay at Seward. At Seward, the Fijord cruises depart around the Kenai Peninsula, and we spotted otters, steller sea lions, harbor seals, humpback and grey whales, puffins, eagles, and gulls. On the Kenai Peninsula, along the steep banks of the Fijords, it's not hard to spot bears and mountain goats.

It's still possible to see some of the sunken forest beds and displaced landscape (by about two feet) resulting from the Good Friday earthquake of 1964 that created a tsunami (tidal wave) that essentially destroyed Seward. The harbor was rebuilt afterwards, and is currently undergoing a change of character as the fishing industry declines and the tourist industry increases.