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A central park: Goldstream public use area needs permanent designation

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Posted: Saturday, December 26, 2009 12:31 am | Updated: 12:52 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

A letter to the editor dated Nov. 23, 1959, from Jim Todd offered a hopeful vision for the Goldstream Valley, which lies just beyond the hills that form the northern horizon in Fairbanks.

Todd appealed to the territory’s Bureau of Public Roads, or, rather, the “Bureau of Parallel Ruts,” to divert some of its “superhighway”-building enthusiasm into a real road for Goldstream, where dozens of farmers were struggling in the mud. 

“We beg your assistance, dear editor. Next year when these spendthrifts start blowing their measly millions, help them ‘blow’ a few thousand into roads into Goldstream Valley. Alaska’s returns will be a thousandfold,” Todd wrote.

The roads came to be, but Todd’s vision did not. As a result, much of the valley bottom remains undeveloped. For the past 20 years, the state-owned portions of the lowlands have been held in that undeveloped condition by the Goldstream Public Use Area, a popular, legislatively designated withdrawal. The withdrawal is about to expire, so the Legislature needs to reaffirm it — permanently this time. 

It was an accident both of Fairbanks’ economic history and the swampy nature of the Goldstream Valley bottom that the area remained undisturbed. By the mid-1960s, the roads that Todd wanted were built. Sheep Creek Road was a modern, if still-unpaved, thoroughfare. Goldstream and Ballaine roads weren’t far behind. The farmers didn’t follow, though. Instead, the roads mostly brought homeowning commuters. Today, the evening view from the valley divide — whether at Happy Gap on Sheep Creek Road or the top of the big hill on Ballaine — reveals a constellation of house lights on the slopes to the north.

The valley bottom itself, where some of the farmers of Todd’s day worked, remains empty in many places. Some of the land was never homesteaded because it was too wet or frozen. But the farmers also were undercut by the increasingly efficient road, rail, air and ocean connections to the Lower 48, which allowed importation of cheaper fresh food. So, aside from some large mining pits, Goldstream is more wooded today than it was in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The residential homeowners who replaced the farmers, however, have put the lowlands to use. The acreage has become a favorite year-round recreation area. The old Tanana Valley Railroad bed, along which ties and spikes sometimes still can be seen, provides a backbone trail through the area. The railroad intersects with a few roads and other trails from the homesteading era. Here and there, the old roads are sinking into lakes that began decades ago as drainage ditches, but they still work as winter routes. Ponds, swamps and creeks of various sizes are scattered throughout the area, containing the relatively rich variety of wildlife and vegetation that such areas support.

This all makes for an ideal center for outdoor recreation, a sort of Central Park for the Goldstream neighborhoods. It deserves a permanent designation. 

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