Monday, April 20, 2009

Helen Louise McDowell Sanctuary

An end of the legislative session email from my representative Berta Gardner mentioned some parks in our district. But one didn't ring any bells - Helen Louise McDowell Sanctuary. We looked it up and recognized it as a park we've stumbled into a couple of times and couldn't find a couple of other times. Well, it seemed more like undeveloped property at the time, between the south side of Geneva Woods and Tudor, right up against the Seward Highway at the exit to 36th. So on the way to Yamato Ya for dinner, we rode over to find the park. We went along the St. Gotthard as we'd seen on an internet map. St. Gotthard Avenue is full of the typical Geneva Woods giant houses on disproportionately small lots. We got to the end of the street, (the red circle with the 1 on the map - modified from Google Earth and enlargeable with a double click) without seeing an entrance to a park. On our right were the pink and white houses on the bottom of the first photo above, right. On our left was the long fence below. So where's the park entrance?

Well, we looked in a hole in the fence and then saw that
there was a gate. (It's where that little beige circle is on the left)

It didn't open very wide and there weren't any signs and it all looked like private property, but once we poked our heads in we could see that this did get to the park.

Inside the gate we saw graveled area (a future parking lot?), at the end of which was the park sign in the picture below.

(As always, double click any picture to enlarge it.)

We took the trail to the right. We could have ridden our bikes from the trail right onto the Seward Highway as it adds a right lane to exit onto 36th. There's no separation except some trees.

Things started getting wet, though the trail was good until it disappeared in the snow and dead grasses.

So we rode back to the signs and took the other trail over to the view below.

A little further on we found the boardwalk we'd read about online.
It doesn't go very far yet
And ends in the mud - which was why we had turned back from the other trail. But we weren't able to see the boardwalk from there.

We ended up going out the way we came and riding
back to 36th through Geneva Woods. The view from this corner looking up a street appropriately
called Matterhorn was pretty spectacular.

On the way back from dinner we rode along Tudor and turned into Eau Claire to see if the entrance to the park on the south side was any better. The picture below is at the red circle with the 2 on the map way above.
The entrance is at the end of the street behind the dumpster.

Here's a closer view. The sign in the distance says "Municipal Park Land."
There aren't any benches yet, but there was this mattress .

The Geneva Woods side did remind me of places along the California coast like Malibu where it is very hard to find access onto the beach. Somehow, the fancy neighborhoods are good at making access to their public parks much harder than most other places. But I'm thankful that this piece of wetland got preserved and will remain relatively natural as the rest of the town gets more and more urban. And the neighborhood on the south side is pretty basic and on the map it looks like there are a couple of other access points.

And who is Helen Louise McDowell? It took a bit, but I did find the ADN obituary (you may need a password on this link I got through the UAA library) from November 24, 1999.

Longtime Anchorage resident Helen Louise Socha McDowell, 84, died Nov. 14, 1999 at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage from complications following a stroke.

No local service is planned. As she requested, her ashes will be scattered over Mount Susitna.

Mrs. McDowell was born July 2, 1915, in Glide, Ore., and arrived in Alaska in 1921. As a young girl she lived for a short while in the coal mining camps at Eska and Jonesville until her family moved to Anchorage, where she attended elementary and high school.

She has been a permanent resident of Anchorage since 1927. In 1933, she married Willie Williams of the U.S. Army Signal Corps WAMCATS, and their son was born in Anchorage at the old Railroad Hospital in 1936.

During World War II, she worked as a desk clerk at Anchorage Hotel and during the mid-1950s was co-owner of Gilman's Fountain Lunch on Fourth Avenue. Mrs. McDowell was one of the few remaining longtime residents living in downtown Anchorage, residing at her home on Sixth Avenue for the past 50 years.

Her son said: ''Helen dearly loved animals, especially dogs and an occasional cat. She enjoyed reading and playing cards and, even after being confined to a wheelchair, was a cheerful and positive inspiration to all who knew her.''

She is survived by her son, Stanley J. Williams of Anchorage, and her dear friends, Curlene Harker, Kenneth Hall and Jeanie Markley.

Family requests memorial donations may be made to Friends of Pets, P.O. Box 240981, Anchorage 99524.

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