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Episode 75: Bridging the Divide

By KTVA Alaska 4:28 PM October 3, 2016

This week we take you to Aleknagik, a Bristol Bay community less than a 20-mile drive from Dillingham.

Aleknagik is the gateway to the Wood-Tikchik State Park and to some of the most beautiful scenery in Alaska. The waters are so clear, you can see the salmon swim – and whether it rains, shines or snows, there’s no such thing as a bad view.

We became intrigued with Aleknagik, after a bridge was finished there last year connecting two sides of the lake.

Now this wasn’t just any bridge. The community has fought for it since 1933, when the first school was built there.

With only one school for two sides of the lake, students were always crossing back and forth, a journey that could at times be dangerous. In fact, there have been at least 10 drowning deaths on the lake since 1960.

For a community of 200 to 300 people, the biggest hurdle was the cost: the $20 million dollar price tag for the bridge and the virgin roads needed to access it. Also, not everyone in the community wanted the bridge. Many preferred the isolation — and particularly didn’t want newcomers venturing into their prized berry picking and hunting grounds.

These are circumstances that are not unusual in rural Alaska, where communities continually weigh the trade offs of a new road.

Some of the highlights of this week’s show:

  • A look at the community’s long battle for the bridge and some of the unintended consequences. In rural Alaska, transportation projects are always full of bumps in the road. Photojournalist Andy Nitchman brings his adventurous spirit to this story.
  • Our guests are Marc Luiken and Jim Amundsen. Luiken is Alaska commissioner for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Amundsen was the project engineer for the Aleknagik Bridge. The road to Tanana in Interior Alaska, one of the first new roads in the state in a long time, is part of the discussion.
  • Also on Frontiers, one man’s passion project: why Graeme Pincott, an Anchorage hair stylist, is obsessed with dahlias of every shape and size. Photojournalist Will Mader captures the beauty and poetry of Pincott’s dahlia extravaganza.

Whether it’s a bridge or a garden, I would suspect Alaska has more passion projects per capita than any other state. Some are purely for personal satisfaction, but many are for the benefit of others. Maybe it’s the long winters, or the long summers – or just something about our state that inspires people to dream and do.

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