Category Archives: first tee

muni delays decision on russian jack park until early ’09

There was a public session on Dec. 1st where there was an opportunity to comment on four new options for park improvements.  Commendably, the first option was to do nothing at all.  Each person was given three little round stickers, to place on the scheme/s they liked the best.  When I left the gathering there were about 50 people there and there were at least 25 dots on Option #1.  Options #2 and #3 leave a smaller footprint but are still noticeable changes, and Option #4, though scaled down still has most of the features of the controversial original plan, including a driving range.

I am advocating for no changes.  I think the public is starting to agree!  The Anchorage Daily News came out in favor of improvements for safety only, in a Nov. 28th editorial.  At least one recent letter to the ADN editor again raises serious questions about the efficacy of golf as a conduit for rehab and recreation of troubled kids. 

Local cross-country advocate and activist Dirk Sisson gives more details in a Nov. 30th ADN guest editorial.  [Do yourself a favor and stay out of the comments section following Dirk’s piece, or if you must go there please take solace in the idea that these goons are too busy killing more brain cells in the evening to go to any meetings.]

I’d like to know a little more about First Tee, the operator/conecssionaire partnering with MOA to run the golf course.  I’d like to know more about chemicals to be used to fertilize fairways and greens.  Someone told me that mercury is used in some parts of the country to keep mildew out of the fine grass used on greens!

Further public testimony will occur on Dec. 11th, Jan. 8th and Feb. 12th.  Everyone who cares about this park, a treasure and a relic of this city’s wilderness legacy should study up on this project proposal and provide feedback.

Update 12/15/08.  In a letter to the editor in today’s Anchorage Daily News, a local resident lays out the ground rules:

Mayor can’t unilaterally alter park
The Compass piece by Mick Brogan supporting First Tee’s golfing development plans for Russian Jack Springs Park (ADN, Dec. 10) completely misses the mark. First, the folks who don’t want to see any of the remaining natural environment of Russian Jack sacrificed to First Tee’s proposed golf course development and related “improvements” are not trying to protect this small patch of natural land as a critical contribution to combating global warming. Instead, they are trying to preserve what remains of the original, natural scene in this relatively small public park, for the sake of the park itself, and for its many and varied users. So his suggestion that trees can simply be planted elsewhere as mitigation and “biomass offset” is pure nonsense.
Second, Mr. Begich is mayor, not king. He may have shaken hands and told First Tee that they could do what they proposed in Russian Jack. But Mr. Begich has no legal authority to override or ignore the existing, adopted park plans and related management plans that govern this park. If First Tee believed the mayor could just do that, they are either naive or gullible — and in any case, they are wrong.
— T. E. Meacham
Anchorage

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russian jack springs park

An article in today’s Anchorage Daily News unveiled some details of a planned public-private partnership to drastically modify Russian Jack. Voters in ’06 approved a ballot initiative to OK a lease of an existing 9-hole golf course at the park by a private non-profit, ostensibly to involve youth with a goal of providing an outlet for at-risk youth in the community. Sounds great thus far, eh? Hard to imagine golf in that kind of role, maybe, but let’s give it a chance. I remember when a representative of the non-profit, First Tee appeared at the Mt View Community Council meeting. They represented their project as merely an adaptive re-use of the existing course. They hinted there might be some improvements to occur commensurate with the lease, but that it would be a clubhouse building that would integrate into the existing park without any impact on the character of the place and its other uses. This is the basis on which the project was ‘sold’ to the Community Councils and the voters.
The details released today counter that assertion and are as scary as hell. The plans include the clearing of 25 acres of fully wooded land, primarily for enlargement of the golf course. There is a new parking lot for 100 cars, two new park entrances and significant regrading. Even the natural spring that exists in the middle of the park will be piped and channeled for irrigation of the greens.
The park is a treasure, created from one of the few remaining intact homesteads of the 1920-40 era. And it is one of the few with interesting terrain, the aforementioned spring, and a network of narrow trails through the trees you can ski in the winter and hike in the summer. There’s also a chalet there that functions as a warmup shelter for a sledding and downhill ski hill. I think it’s mostly sledding these days, as the rope tow that used to be there for the skiers hasn’t been in operation for a few years.
I went there as a kid in the early ’70s and it felt like a practice facility for all of the sports — when you got better at cross-country skiing you moved out to the more challenging trails at Kincaid and Hillside Parks; when you mastered the ski hill it was off to Arctic Valley and then Alyeska. The ADN article mentions that Kikkan Randall, the Anchorage cross-country skier who just became the first American to win a world championship is among many others who learned to ski at Russian Jack.
Even the golf course had always been clearly for amateurs, its narrow fairways and turfed greens obviously not the stuff of serious golfers. But the golf course and all of the other existing amenities fit into the park without taking away from its essential goodness and status as a piece of untamed alaska in the middle of the city. Goodbye to all of that, if this plan is pursued.
I am so hacked off about this plan I don’t even know where to start. It is just so bad on so many different levels. One of the deep-seated, inexcusable and serial behaviors of people in city government [none of whom should ever be in an advocacy position for a private developer, I think it could be easily argued] is a compulsion to either misrepresent essential characteristics and scope of a proposed development; or be intentionally and deceptively vague concerning details; or else flat out lie about it. According to ADN again, at a recent public hearing at the Russian Jack Chalet, a neighbor said she never would have voted for the lease had she known the details. And the people pushing this project knew that, and that’s why those details were not revealed prior to the election!
A couple of years ago the Municipality created something called the Anchorage Parks Foundation. The idea behind the foundation, as it was presented was to strengthen parks and recreational facilities with private donations, allow some degree of public-private partnership in order to enliven what we have and protect it for the long haul, through pendulum swings in the political climate. Now, I might donate to something like that if it really worked that way. But if I felt like I was contributing even a miniscule push to something like the MOA/First Tee vision of Russian Jack, I’d want to put my head in the oven!
OK, so we have backers both inside and outside the government who are being fast and loose with the facts, and seem to have a vested interest in not revealing truth about scope and intentions. If a groundswell of protest against this project appears, as seems likely, the people who want it to happen will redouble their efforts. I would expect there to be multiple talking points coming out of City Hall, including:
1. If you’re against this project you’re for gang violence and reduced opportunities for recreation for kids;
2. The vast wooded and unsupervised acreage in the park has provided a place for crimes to be committed; and
3. The proposed partnership is a good deal for the city because the private partner pays for part of infrastructure improvements that become a permanent part of the park.
And my respone to each is:
1. Physical education in schools has constantly been cut. [Music and art have, too.] Organized sports used to exist at the middle school level in Anchorage. There are many other ways to enhance opportunity that don’t involve destruction of a major natural asset. And the participants of other modes of sport and recreation have gotten a cold shoulder from the Muni recently, too. Witness what happened to the skaters and BMX riders. If a lot of kids want to play golf in First Tee’s programs, we can figure out how to share one of the other courses that already are suitable.
2. Other parks in Anchorage have been crime scenes, too. Their remoteness and wild character makes that a risk, but hardly is a justification for eliminating the experience of the place for all. It’s not as if it’s a crime epidemic.
3. The improvements under discussion are neither necessary or desirable.
Because this same sort of struggle continues to play out in Anchorage, time after time, it limits the real progress we could make. We know in our hearts what makes this place great, what development should occur, what assets should be protected and off-limits. But we are constantly putting out fires trying to stop really bad big ideas that slip under the radar. Whether it’s the Knik Arm Bridge; the loss of the 4th Avenue Theater; the mothballing of some neighborhoods and wholesale marginalization and cashing out of others; the hegemony of roads and commerce at the expense of quality of life — we have a real problem with moderating our approach, and expanding public input. We have a demonstrated impatience for nuance and a hatred of doing our homework. Look no further than the level of debate in the current Anchorage Assembly for evidence.
All this has got to change, damn it!