TENAKEE SPRINGS, Alaska — If you don't like crowds, don't come here.
The Tenakee Springs head count has increased by more than half in just 10 years and, according to former Mayor Bob Pegues, "The fact we've got maybe 150 people around here now is really driving the old-timers crazy."
Even given that population "explosion," however, Tenakee Springs is an absolute delight for the undemanding, go-with-the-flow visitor.
A few more new faces aren't likely to make the locals any more loco than they already are.
Tiny, Untidy Town
Placed about midway on the air route between Alaska's capital, Juneau, and the one-time Russian capital, Sitka, this tiny, untidy, timbered town is a resort, quite possibly the last resort for the unreconstructed recluse.
Pegues is a good example. Even while mayor he continued to commute five hours each way--by skiff--from his bachelor cabin even farther out in the boonies.
"No problem," he says. "I was legal. My place was still within the city limits."
A former radio station executive who's just turned 50, he settled down here two decades ago and was subsequently joined by a brother, Don, who had just returned from the South Pacific with his Samoan wife and their kids.
The siblings, both Alaska-born, own Snyder's Mercantile. It's a crowded attic of a store opened in the last century to serve the miners who'd come here in winter to soak their weary, rheumy bones in the hot springs upon which the town is built.
The village isn't the only thing built upon the springs. So, too, was a recent controversy that bubbled all the way up to the state's human rights commission.
Seems that women argued that their hours at the bathhouse, the only tub in town, discriminated against them. They were awarded new hours for use--9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.--with males being confined to the hours in between.
Main Street Is a Trail
If the bathhouse imbroglio indicates a certain hygienic narrow-mindedness on someone's part, that particular dimension is nothing compared to the width of the main street. It's just a trail abutted by steep embankments on the mountained inland side, and houses recklessly perched upon pilings over the ocean on the other.
"You can simultaneously knock on the doors of two houses on opposite sides of the street," said Bettye Adams, who runs the local bar. "I guess that's great, if you're a kid collecting for the paper."
It is less convenient, however, when all three of the vehicles in town--the oil wagon, the fire engine and the dump truck--are out at the same time and with no cross streets to back into.
Work's hard to come by here, which is one reason Tenakee Springs has the largest percentage of older people of any community in Alaska. The main employer is the city, with one full-time staffer and four others who put in an odd hour here and there.
Still, government is government and it's all done by the bureaucratic book.
For example, one public document advertised for a health-center janitor, two hours a week, $7.50 an hour. It must have taken longer to write up the notice than it does to sluice out the place: The job description ran 32 typewritten lines.
Despite the high average age in Tenakee Springs, the rise in population isn't totally a result of a balding boom. Even yuppies come in for the weekend, all in the kind of attire usually associated with a rough Saturday morning at the mall.
Popular With Weekenders
That Tenakee Springs is so attractive to weekenders and Alaskan vacationers is no surprise. It's just half an hour by float plane (charter) from Juneau, and many of the capital city's affluent people of public affairs have private retreats here.
"I guess they enjoy paying for the privilege of hauling water and chopping wood," Sandra Anderson said. She, husband Jerry and their two kids live in nearby Coffee Cove, a suburb of Tenakee Springs.
She didn't say just how much they enjoyed hauling water and chopping wood, but one of the prices they pay for the privilege is having to constantly shoo bears away from their outhouses.
"Oh, sure," chimes in Pegues, "we had a lot of hippies drift through back in their heyday, looking for the good, clean bucolic life.
"They drifted right back out pretty fast, though, when they discovered that Alaska living wasn't all banjos and buttercups. And they didn't like the idea of bears in the commune. You know, it upset the balance of their nature."
Bears Are Common
Speaking of bears, they're as common around the settlement here as the big bald eagle population, and generally really no more of a problem than is that ubiquitous bird. Except, of course, when encountered on that narrow main street. And that's when it's really nice to be able to pound on doors on both sides of the street at the same time.