A Lesson Worth Learning

A 2.3-acre pond serves as the centerpiece of the Cuddy Family Park in Anchorage, Alaska.  Photos Courtesy Of Chris Arend / Courtesy of USKH Inc.

A 2.3-acre pond serves as the centerpiece of the Cuddy Family Park in Anchorage, Alaska.

Photos Courtesy Of Chris Arend / Courtesy of USKH Inc.

“Kids,” now in their 60s, who grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, remember Fish Creek as a babbling brook running through Blueberry Bog at the city’s southern edge. It was a place where moose roamed, salmon swam up the creek to spawn, and bears ate berries, salmon, and an occasional roaming moose.

Fast forward 30 years and the landscape had changed dramatically–the babbling brook was gone, replaced with a mostly culverted creek that, where exposed to the air, was in a straight-line ditch. Taking the place of salmon were shopping carts, plastic bags, and construction debris. Drainage structures had been sized for stream flows for the salmon-filled creek, but rapid urbanization of Anchorage’s expanding “Midtown” generated buildings, roads, and parking lots that increased runoff quantities. The result was poor water quality for Fish Creek and, more seriously, flooding of roadways, businesses, and homes.

Separate Issues, One Ultimate Goal

While Fish Creek was degrading, two separate but related efforts were taking shape. First, citizen park activists identified a need for parkland in the rapidly urbanizing Midtown area. Second, public-works officials and water-resource interests joined together to begin the process of restoring waterways to address water-quality concerns and flooding that was becoming more problematic.

These were separate issues, but solutions for the park lay in the resolution of both.

While the need and a general plan for the park were recognized in the WestAnchoragePark and Trail Study, it was the concerted efforts by a pair of parks and recreation commissioners who worked hard to secure a site and garner funding through a number of key parties. Chief funding came from the Cuddys, a local banking family with roots far into the city’s past. At that point the “Gang of Four” worked to carry the project to the next level.

The Gang of Four included a pair of landscape architects, a community planner, and an architect. These people worked with elementary-school students and the public to generate a concept recognizing the panorama of the ChugachMountain range and featuring “glacial” forms that set trails, an amphitheater, and a small playground in a landscape of sweeping landforms and boulders. The early schematics of the park became a reality as funding and donated labor by local business interests spurred the project forward.

Revamp The Plan

While the park became a reality, it initially received little use. An impetus for change arrived when a small group of speedskaters requested approval for an oval in the park. The group involved in the conception and design of the park expressed concern, but public input deemed the oval to be a key component for park use in the winter. A new master plan, overseen by landscape architects from Land Design North/USKH, grew from this effort using the “bones” of the old plan, but focused on encouraging greater public use.

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