Displaced by a Lack of Respect

by Brian Okonek

Change started incrementally, gained momentum and exploded. I can not deny that I was not part of the problem. Each of us has an impact. Our activity is relative to what was taking place in a given region before our arrival and to how many of us arrive. Problems can quickly compound with how we arrive and what kind of activities we participate in. Add a person’s attitude and respect to their neighbors, the land and the wildlife in how they conduct themselves and the variety of ways a place will change become infinite.

The pattern of change in the region now called South Denali, a place I have a deep attachment to, have followed a familiar pattern. Major transportation arteries have been built, there have been land programs by the government for settlement, agencies at all levels actively promote visiting the area, huge tour companies bring their multitudes of customers here, many local business prosper on tourism and the place has a deserved reputation for beauty and recreational activities of all kinds. From being a sleepy backwater it has turned into a major destination. This is not the surprise. The irony is the lack of foresight and resolve to control an ever growing number of activities and users.

As snowmachine recreational riding increased on local trails it became too dangerous to run my dog team on the weekends. Fortunately there was little use on week days and I adjusted my schedule to use the trails at this quieter time. As time went on I grumbled at the bumpy trails created by increased use, cursed the multitude of tracks that cut up every opening erasing all feel of wildness and cried at all the black spruce trees broken down by senseless snowmobilers. Trails that I had put in and carefully taken care of for hauling supplies and training dogs became raceways. The view of the Alaska Range was still spectacular, but the foreground was marred, the peacefulness broken.

I would escape into the thickets on my skis to search out country uncut by snowmachine tracks hoping instead to intersect the track of a wolverine, a wolf, a moose, an otter or a Spring bear. I wondered how the increased motorized use was affecting the wildlife beyond the actual act of an unethical hunter running down a bear or a wolf with a powerful machine. Does anyone know how the noise, the tracks, the hydrocarbons, the constant interference of a multitude of riders is affecting wintering animals? Sound of a high speed snowmachine, the throttle constantly being punched, creates noise that carries far. No matter where I went it was becoming impossible to escape the noise.

Going to my cabin has became less a energizing retreat and more an irritant. Instead of being crossed by a ribbon of a trail the lakes and muskegs are now solidly packed by snowmachine use. Technology has advanced to the point that the snowmachines can go just about anywhere leaving few places to get away from their presence. With the number of people now participating in recreational snowmobile riding the area I have explored for most of my life is now overrun by machines. The family cabin holds lots of memories. I cherish those quieter days. I will continue to use the cabin, but not with the contentment that once engulfed me.

Brian Okonek
Talkeetna, Alaska
April 2, 2007