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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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Community Profile: Juneau


Gazette

Juneau, Alaska's isolated coastal capital city, sits at the foot of the spruce-covered Coast Mountains in Southeast Alaska. The downtown area, an historic district with steep hills and brightly painted homes, was built along the Gastineau Channel. A few miles down the Egan Highway, or "out the road" as locals say, the Mendenhall Glacier sprawls across the vast valley of the same name.

Juneau

Juneau (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

Location: Lat. 134E 24' W, Long. 58E 18' N

Area: 2,584 square miles

Population: 31,262

Industry: Government, tourism, fishing, mining

Access: Air, sea, year-round ferry

Alaska Native Affiliation: Tlingit

Alaska Native Regional Corporation: Sealaska Corporation

Weather: Wet, mild weather, with average summer temperatures between 45 and 62 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees. Annual precipitation averages 92 inches.

Historical Overview

  • Juneau was originally a fishing camp for Tlingit Indians who trolled the salmon-rich waters of the Gastineau Channel.
  • In the 1880, George Pilz, a German mining engineer, offered a reward to any Tlingit coming forward with gold-rich ore from a local source. The reward was considerable, and included one hundred Hudson Bay blankets and paying work for the clan. When Auk Tlingit Chief Kowee came forward with an impressive gold sample and information on where to find more, Pilz sent miners Richard Harris and Joe Juneau to investigate. Chief Kowee led them up Silver Bow Basin to a stream where, as Harris said, they saw "large pieces of quartz, spangled over with gold." The stream, dubbed "Gold Creek," runs through downtown Juneau.
  • That same year, on October 18, a day now known as "Alaska Day," Harris and Juneau staked a mining claim and mapped out the 160-acre town site of Harrisburg. Within a year, a gold-driven stampede began, and hundreds of prospectors flowed into town. The year-round population grew to 600, including 450 Tlingits and 150 white miners.
  • By 1881, the town boasted a bakery, a drugstore, blacksmith shop and several saloons, and a new name: Juneau City. In 1906, Juneau became the territorial capital, and in 1959, the state capital.
  • Pierre Erussard, a French Canadian miner, found gold ore on Douglas Island in 1882, on the site that eventually became the Treadwell Mine, which operated until 1917.

Harriman's Visit

  • When the Elder steamed up the Inside Passage in 1899, there were several mines in operation, but it was the steady din of the Treadwell that caught the passengers' attention.
  • On the recommendation of the ship's mining engineer, Walter Devereux, the expedition toured the mine, taking note of the mine's considerable size and its level of activity. Several also remarked on the effect the mine had on the surrounding forest, which had been clear cut, in some cases the landscape scraped bare. The air above the channel was clouded with haze. The sound of the mine's new hard-rock equipment was so loud, John Burroughs said Niagara Falls was "only a soft hum" in comparison. Frederick Dellenbaugh mistook the noise for cannon fire.
  • When the Harriman passengers docked in Juneau, the town had a population of about 2,000, some of them Tlingits familiar with the spending habits of tourists. Many offered Native art and craft items for sale, and the Harriman group spent their time in Juneau exploring these early tourist shops. Dellenbaugh bought a small, carved model of a dugout canoe.

Economy

  • Almost 45 percent of Juneau's adult population works for the state and federal governments. This number climbs during the state legislative session that runs each year between January and May.
  • Another major industry in the area is fishing -- over 600 Juneau residents hold commercial fishing licenses and cold storage facilities process over 2 million pounds of seafood yearly. A few mines continue to operate in the area, among them the Kennekott Green Creek Mine, the largest silver mine in North America, which also produces gold, lead and zinc.
  • Tourism is a major factor in Juneau's economy. This year, over 560,000 visitors are expected to arrive in close to 400 cruise ships, tripling the population on downtown streets and bolstering the local economy by $80 million. The tourism industry creates about 2,000 seasonal, primarily minimum wage, jobs.

Community Issues

  • Juneau, and many other communities in southeastern Alaska are grappling with the environmental problems of tourism and the ever-growing cruise industry. The state government is looking at the possibility of tightening its regulations of tour boats, or putting a "head tax" on the tourists that visit.
  • One environmental worry is ship discharge. Currently cruise ships are allowed to empty "gray water," water from sinks and showers, and "black water," sewage, directly into the Alaskan waters if the discharged water meets federal standards for bacteria levels. The Coast Guard enforces these regulations, and many cruise lines participate in a voluntary reporting system, but violations still occur. In the past few years, more than one ship has been fined, and at least one ship has been charged with criminal neglect after releasing large amounts of gray and black water with high bacteria counts and other pollutants. One ship was charged with dumping black water 3,500 percent above federal standards for fecal coliform.

(View the Juneau daily log entry)


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