Juneau Turns Out For Downtown Cleanup

Bruce Denton, right, leads the downtown cleanup. (Photo courtesy Brent Fischer/CBJ Parks & Recreation)
Bruce Denton, right, leads the downtown cleanup. (Photo courtesy Brent Fischer/CBJ Parks & Recreation)

More than 100 Juneau volunteers recently joined City and Borough crews to pull weeds, sweep, hose, scrub and pick up what some estimate to be thousands of cigarette butts.

It was the first event organized by an informal Downtown Improvement Group.

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“I think everyone picked up cigarette butts,” said 9-year-old Adara Allen.

She was a bit grossed out by all the cigarette butts that litter downtown Juneau.

“We scrubbed benches and I scrubbed railings. We picked up a ton of trash. Like a lot of cigarette butts. Almost all of it was that,” she said.

Adara and her 12-year-old sister Tsifira Kiehl joined their dad, Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl, in the cleanup.

“Adara found a whole milk jug, partly full,” Tsifira said. “Mostly I scrubbed benches and railings and stuff. I also picked up a lot of stuff, including cans, broken glass, cigarette butts.”

Cigarette butt litter is the byproduct of Juneau’s indoor smoking ban, despite the number of receptacles that line city sidewalks.

Alicia Smith was scrubbing a butt receptacle on South Franklin Street. Her son Joel also had a scrub brush.

“Right now I’m just scrubbing the lamp post down,” he said. “I just wanted to help clean up downtown.”

Business owner Bruce Denton came up with the idea for a cleanup as part of an effort to improve the heart of the capital city. He’s been joined by an informal coalition of business and property owners, downtown residents, the Glory Hole and social service agencies.

Denton took the proposal to CBJ Parks and Recreation, which welcomed the help. The city provided tools, cleaners, buckets, garbage bags, and rubber gloves. Some volunteers showed up with their own favorite tools and Juneau businesses donated other supplies.

They met at Pocket Park and worked along Front, Seward and Franklin streets, and Marine Way to the Willoughby district.

The small army of workers included a who’s who of city officials, a legislator, business owners and employees, a myriad of Juneau residents and some homeless folks.

Deborah Harris has been in Juneau for about a month and is living at the Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency shelter and soup kitchen.

Harris was washing the historical interpretive sign in Marine Park.

“So this morning we’re just getting’ all the mold and the grime and everything off and scrapin’ it up,” she said.

CBJ Parks and Landscape Superintendent George Schaaf was working in Marine Park, too. He said it’s one of the hardest places in downtown to keep up.

“You know a million people come through here every year, plus everything that just happens on a daily basis, so it’s more than we’re able to take care of right now,” Schaaf said.

Volunteer Mike Patterson organized the Willoughby Avenue group, where they found the usual trash and a lot of Styrofoam.

“And I don’t know where that came from, but it was everywhere,” Patterson said.

He said it shouldn’t require a small army to pick up litter, which ought not be there in the first place.

“If everybody does their part and just picks up litter and puts it in one of the many garbage receptacles we have around Juneau then it doesn’t have to get to that state again,” Patterson said. “It just takes people caring.”

About 11 o’clock, the volunteers arrived back at Pocket Park, stripped off the rubber gloves and enjoyed music and a thank-you picnic for their efforts.

“The last time I saw Gunakadeit Park this clean was when it was built,” said CBJ Parks and Recreation Director Brent Fischer.

Fischer said keeping the capital city clean should be a community effort.

“If we have community support like this, we can get it done. From the city’s standpoint, we can’t do it alone,” he said.

Fischer is already looking ahead to the next scour and scrub.

“I hope we can do this in the spring time, so get your rubber gloves, get your tools out, get your brushes and come back.”

Denton is planning another cleanup after the cruise ships leave this fall to focus on private property, including painting some downtown buildings that could use a facelift.

Original story:

Downtown Juneau is a lot cleaner today thanks to more than 100 volunteers who joined city crews to sweep, hose and scrub streets and sidewalks.

Juneau residents as well as the homeless joined city officials and landscape crews for the three-hour cleanup. It started at Gunakadeit Park, also known as pocket park, then wound along Front, Seward and Franklin streets to the Willoughby district.

Bridget Smith spent the first hour scrubbing dirt and moss from a forgotten park post.

“As citizens we all have a collective responsibility to make our community better, to make our state better, to make our nation better and this is part of it. And I am so happy to see so many people here,” Smith said.

The Downtown Improvement Group hopes to join the city and borough for another cleanup this fall, at the end of the cruise ship season.


Rosemarie Alexander is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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