Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dreaming of Willow

Not Willow from Buffy, Although We've All Had Those Dreams

In the 1970s, anticipating the cash that would rain down upon them from the not-yet-built oil pipeline, the good citizens of Alaska voted to move their capital city. They wanted a capital city that could be reached by road (unlike Juneau, where you had to fly in or arrive by boat), but didn't want to move the capital to Anchorage, the state's largest city (and home to more than half its residents).

This fueled a lot of land speculation as investors prepared for the wealth that would come when the new capital was built.

But a funny thing happened on the way to that future. Despite planning commissions and architects and schemes of various types, Alaska never moved its capital. So you still have to fly or sail to Juneau (which still is not on the road system).

The investors were stuck with land that quickly plummeted in price when it became clear in the early 80s that not much was going to be built in Willow beyond a few stores and gorgeous houses on lakes.

Today, Willow is probably most famous as being the start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Technically, there's a ceremonial start in Anchorage, but it doesn't count. The real race begins the next day up in Willow, population about 1700. It may never be the state capital, but for one day a year, it's the dog mushing capital of the world.

At some point while Alaskans were contemplating moving their capital, my father was offered a job in Anchorage. He turned it down for a lot of reasons. And I find myself thinking a lot these days about how different life might have been if my family had moved to Alaska from New York.

I posted this song before -- but I have a related announcement coming in a few days, so the time just seemed right to post it again.