by Deborah Brocke ~ May 24th, 2013
KTNA is celebrating 20 years broadcasting to the Upper Susitna Valley by airing audio from the past two decades. We share the past every Friday on 88.9 FM at 12:35 after Writer’s Almanac.
This is a condensation of some of the news stories in a thick paper folder, many written by other KTNA staff when we were between paid news producers. May 1996 was a time of rapid change for Talkeetna. Here’s what was going on during that month: (Audio runs 3:37, text follows audio).
Thirty Talkeetna residents gathered at the Elementary School at the beginning of May 1996 to offer public comment to the Borough Planning Commission, regarding the final draft of the Talkeetna Comprehensive Plan, six long years in the making. Fifteen of the twenty-five who spoke voiced support for the adoption of the plan, four were opposed, and four others identified pros and cons, without openly taking sides. There was a second public hearing in Talkeetna, and the plan was eventually adopted.
Jim and Julie Okonek sold K2 Aviation to Rust Air of Anchorage. The Okoneks had grown the business since they had purchased it in 1981 from Kitty Banner and Kimball Forest. At that time, K2 Aviation consisted of one Cessna 180, a post office box, and a supply of letterhead. Kitty and Kimball operated from a log building on Main Street. In 1996, K2 had ten aircraft, and up to 10 pilots during peak season.
The Talkeetna State Airport was slated for major improvements later that summer, including apron expansion, taxi-way construction and access road improvements, and a new maintenance building. Geeting Aviation applied for financing of a 2400 square-foot hangar and office facility.
A small engine airplane made an emergency landing on the Spur Road near the intersection of the Parks Highway when his engine seized. The man was uninjured and the aircraft sustained minor landing gear damage.
The river opened up early in May 1996. Talkeetna River Guides owner Margaret Salmon expected to start raft trips around the first week of May.
The dry month of May saw several wildfires in the lower Valley. A fire near Houston burned three homes and a camper, and one hundred twenty acres of spruce forest.
Then-governor Tony Knowles identified the 40 mile stretch of the Parks Highway between Wasilla and Talkeetna as a priority for road improvements that “couldn’t wait”. That was in 1996…
A strip was paved along each side of Main Street in Talkeetna, widening the pavement from 20 feet to 32 feet. On the Parks Highway, turn lanes were added for the Su Valley High School, and for the Talkeetna Spur Road.
The Alaska Railroad informed the Talkeetna Community Council that it could no longer use the existing Talkeetna depot for loading and off-loading its passenger trains. Princess Tours planned to double its railroad cars that year, and expected 10% growth per year. The Railroad was looking at two options at the time, one at Sunshine, and one just south of the crossing to East Talkeetna. The consensus of the council was that it would be, quote “criminal” unquote, for Talkeetna to lose its train station, since it had always been a railroad town.
In May 1996, internet access in Talkeetna was dial-up speed only, through a regular phone line. At the Elementary School, teachers were learning about the World Wide Web along with students, on their one computer. Since web pages took so long to load, they were mostly using the computer for email. Su Valley High students, however, were already creating web pages and exploring the internet, pre-parental control. The first undesirable, as well as desirable, information of the cyber age, was reaching rural Alaska, and fiber optic cable access was expected, and eagerly anticipated, in a couple of months.