As seen in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman:


April 22, 2007

By John R. Moses
Frontiersman

 
TALKEETNA - Some residents who planned to meet
amongst themselves Saturday about the impact of tour
buses rumbling through a quiet rural neighborhood instead
got a chance to sit down informally with representatives of
Princess Tours and the Alaska Railroad Corporation to hash
out the plan's basics.
 East Woodpecker Road residents and other interested
parties told railroad spokesman Tim Thompson they worry
about dust, noise and other fallout from the railroad's intent
to load and unload passengers at a railroad siding that until
recently has only been used as a crew camp and a rail
welding yard.
 The half-mile-long siding, which sits on 300 undeveloped
acres of railroad land ending in riverfront property, became
a little less remote in the minds of area residents when
heavy equipment this week cut a swath of woodland to
lengthen the mile-long road so tour buses can easily reach
the tracks.
 Chris Thompson, an executive with Princess Tours, said
about 10 buses a day will go up and down East
Woodpecker Road on Saturdays and Mondays. Every other
Wednesday, six to eight buses will serve a smaller train.
 Tourists bound for Denali will have a chance to get a ride
into Talkeetna to meet fishing tours or other trips they might
have booked, or to shop downtown before boarding another
bus for their final destination. Chris Thompson said tourists
are encouraged to go into town before going to the lodge.
Some, he said, simply want to get to their lodge.
 Talkeetna Town Council Chair Ruth Wood was one of
about 15 people gathered around a group of picnic tables in
front of a Main Street coffee house for the Saturday
meeting. She told the railroad's Thompson that she is
disappointed the railroad didn't let locals in on the new
planned use of the road and rail siding.
 “You've had all winter to talk to the community,” she said.
“A decision should never have been made without talking to
the community.”
 The railroad, which moved 525,000 passengers last year,
is congested, the spokesman said. Using the siding in
Talkeetna for a special train will resolve a train delay
problem caused by congestion.
 Offloading passengers in Sunshine, farther up the
Talkeetna Spur Road, is not practical, nor is offloading in
Willow or Wasilla. If the railroad did that, he noted,
Talkeetna would really lose some tourism.
 Tim Thompson said that news of the plan broke when the
plan was only about four weeks along.
 He apologized for not meeting with the community sooner.
 When pressed for a look at what the future holds, the
railroad spokesman noted that the railroad owns 300 acres
and for now has no plans for permanent structures there.
The railroad may, however, build a new section house
there, which would add to the road traffic.
 “Ten, 20, 30 years down the road, I don't know,” he said.
 One area resident who moved to the Wolf Run Subdivision
in the late 1970s said he has a pretty good idea what the
future for that area holds, and it looks a lot like a new lodge.
Gesturing to the buildings surrounding the group, Bill Aratt
said he sees the potential of East Woodpecker Road turning
into a street lined with businesses like the downtown where
the group sat.
 “The railroad doesn't care about Talkeetna and certainly
not about us living in this area,” Aratt said. “It's all about
money, and it's only about money. When somebody tells me
it's not about the money, I'm skeptical. I just wish I were
wrong more often. The question is not what they plan to do
now. The question for us is ‘what is their potential to
grow?'”
 Longtime Talkeetna resident Roberta Sheldon recalled how
she has seen the volume of tourist traffic grow over the
decades. The trains, she said, “grow larger and larger every
year.”
 The town has provided things like restroom facilities and
other services for tourists.
 “We've taken our hit. I think it's time that Princess and the
railroad chip in on the impacts,” she said.
 The railroad spokesman said he'd take concerns from that
meeting back to railroad officials.
 Residents want not just dust control but more control by
the railroad on the speeds crew members use when driving
down the road to railroad land. Several residents said
dangerous driving speeds put pedestrians, including the
area's children, at risk.
 The railroad will send its chief executive to the Talkeetna
Town Council meeting May 7 to meet with the community.

 Contact John R. Moses at 352-2270 or john.moses@
frontiersman.com.  
RR, locals debate plan