By Aly De Angelus
It was the evening of Jan. 25, the first large snowfall in Skagway, and it appeared as if I was the first person to galavant through two feet of snow covering Broadway.
Without hesitation I began running toward the dock, making zigzags and circles in the snow, spelling one word after another that popped into my head. I felt as if I was one of the snowflakes dancing around me, blowing past me by heavy gusts of wind.
I must admit, I was thankful to be in a more remote town than where I came from, Gainesville, Virginia, where the snow would sparkle on the street and lay untouched long enough to enjoy the gleam.
But as I knocked snow off my boots and hung up my jacket in the newsroom, I received a text about the fuel spill on the Klondike Highway. I hadn’t the slightest clue what this beautiful landscape was capable of. I hadn’t the slightest idea of how vulnerable a town could be to transportation issues and, perhaps most important of all, how adaptable residents could be during a six-day struggle to clear the asphalt passageway to town.
I called my parents a few days later to discuss the news about our canceled ferry and closed road and the avalanche potential. And I realized that it would be quite hard to explain the true meaning of isolation when a highway road closure to us in Virginia would be cleared within an hour. A truck collision might stall a chain of cars for an extra half an hour on their commute home. The ice on roads never sits long enough to manifest and it would be nearly impossible for my town to become isolated, there is always a way in or a way out.
Our connectivity and 24/7 service is something that I often took for granted, and this week certainly allowed me to see Gainesville in a new light.
That following afternoon I received a long email from a friend who I had worked with at Barnes & Noble. He was telling me about a job he had applied for, a communications position with a podcast called Strong Towns. The founder and president of the podcast, Chuck Marohn, created a movement called The Strong Towns Approach and reports on issues of cities and towns across the United States, drawing parallels and differences.
He looks for a way to protect the integrity of small communities without encouraging poor practices that have led to a dissolved or maladapted town, a town that once had a local charm like Skagway.
I found Marohn’s cause to be admirable, and wondered, could Skagway ever dissolve? Could the snow wipe away a homeland? Is lack of housing what will stifle us?
Unlike Marohn, I have no specialty in assessing the fortitude of infrastructure, but much like the snowfall, I have noticed a commonality sweeping the town – resilience.
And as I write this, I ask that readers note this quality in every Skagway story I have had the opportunity to tell this month. Whether it was the youth hustle and determination at the robotics championship or the advocacy for state government to pay attention to how budget cuts affect communities, I felt incredible passion from community members that only grows with adversity.
To look at this town 10 years in advance and demand a quality of life is what will keep Skagway alive.
My friend told me that he used to be an Adams County resident in Ohio where his small town, a place where he met his wife as a kid is completely gone. This is the place where he farmed on his family’s property and learned how to be a man. In the midst of adversity, and in a desperate plea from state officials, his town lost its integrity.
The identity of Skagway is more than a place to hold boats and drive trains, it’s the place where I left a piece of my heart, to visit it when I need to feel full. I am invested in Skagway just like everyone else.
I ask Skagway to pay attention to every decision, stay alert and don’t ever underestimate the power of a home.
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