Hometown hero? Valdez may soon get a life-sized statue of a ‘Star Trek’ icon

A mock-up of what the proposed bronze statue of William Riker in Valdez would look like. (Courtesy of Riker Maneuver)

Commander William Riker is many things. A tactical leader. A bearded charmer. Even a jazz aficionado. And though he won’t be born for another 300 years — and he’s a fictitious character — Riker just might be the most famous person born in Valdez. 

To “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fans, the first officer aboard the Enterprise was a highlight of the show’s adventures in seeking out new life and new civilizations in space: the final frontier. 

Now, a group of fans want to honor the character’s roots with a bronze statue in his hometown: the Last Frontier.

Cameron Harrison is spearheading the effort. Like Riker, he also grew up in Valdez. A lifelong science fiction fan, he said the story goes that Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek”, was inspired to make one of his main characters an Alaskan after visiting the state.

“To know that Gene Roddenberry was so impressed and taken with Alaska that he purposefully made one of his characters from here is something I think we should pride ourselves on and celebrate,” Harrison said.

Harrison lives in Portland, Ore., now, but he and other like-minded Alaska Trekkies are working to build a life-sized bronze statue of Riker in Valdez. The group even formed a nonprofit —  Riker Maneuver — to get the project done. It’s named for a pose the Starfleet officer was famous for, lifting his leg up on a rock, stool or chair while he spoke with people. 

“It’s such an iconic pose, we were like, ‘Well, it has to be that,’” Harrison said. “And then my idea was always, I wanted him to be doing that on a bench. One, I liked functional art, so let’s add a bench. Two, that gives great photo opportunities for people either to sit next to him, to do the pose next to them.”

Jessie Desmond, one of the other organizers with Riker Maneuver, helped put together the project proposal. She said they’ve already found a local Alaskan to build the statue, Patrick Garley of Palmer, and estimate the total cost would be around $125,000. 

“Once we had more of a finalized proposal, we were able to approach the city of Valdez with it, and actually start discussions with them,” Desmond said.

Harrison said they’ve not only pitched it as a tourist attraction, but also a monument to a character the organization believes embodies Alaska values.

The proposed design of a plaque to go on the Riker Maneuver project ion Valdez. (Courtesy of Riker Maneuver)

“He’s kind of fly by the seat of your pants, rugged, into fishing and sports and a team player, but also does his own thing, which I think is very Alaskan,” Harrison said. “We all have to work together to survive up there, but we’re all definitely individuals.”

Desmond, who’s in the process of getting her master’s degree in space management, said there’s also the space connection. 

“Alaska is home to the Pacific Spaceport Complex, which is out in Kodiak,” Desmond said. “We have a Space Force Base, which not everywhere has one of those yet.”

Desmond said another way Riker fits with Alaska values has to do with his eagerness to interact with aliens from other cultures. She said people living in Alaska — many of whom come from somewhere outside the state — have a similar trait.

And intentional or not, even some of Riker’s turns of phrase suggest a man who’s well versed in Alaska’s wildlife. 

“Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you,” Riker quipped in a season four episode where the crew of the Enterprise finds itself caught in a trap set by the antagonistic Romulan Empire.

Riker Maneuver organizers say they’ve gotten support for their project from local community members and even officials with CBS, the company that owns “Star Trek”. At this point, the prospect of the statue lies with the city of Valdez and its Parks and Recreation department.

“Well, I mean, I come from the Star Wars background,” said Ken Wilson, Valdez’s director of Parks and Rec and Cultural Services. “So it’s a little different for me.”

Wilson said his department has received the Riker Maneuver proposal. And while he hasn’t watched “The Next Generation”, he says he knows there are dedicated Trekkies out there and sees the project’s potential as a tourist attraction. 

“From a, you know, economic development standpoint, and a possibility for drumming up additional tourism and economic impact within the community, I think it’s a viable project,” Wilson said.

The statue proposal now needs to go up the city’s chain of command and the city council has to agree to it. If approved, it would go through a public comment process before moving into fundraising. Organizers say they intend to crowd fund the project.

Similar statues have been built in Riverside, Iowa– the future birthplace of Captain James Kirk from the original “Star Trek” series — and Bloomington, Ind., where Captain Kathryn Janeway of “Star Trek: Voyager” hails from. Even the coincidentally named Vulcan, Alberta dedicated a bust to Spock, the iconic “Star Trek” Vulcan played by actor Leonard Nimoy. 

Nimoy and Janeway actress Kate Mulgrew even visited their statues as part of local festivities.

Harrison is hoping for a similar guest appearance in Valdez. He’s already planning for the statue’s unveiling. Of course, he said, Jonathan Frakes, the actor who plays Riker, would be invited. 

“I have a dream of Jonathan Frakes playing the Star Trek theme on his trombone at the unveiling,” Harrison said. “That’s the goal.”

While Frakes did not respond to a request for comment for this story, Harrison said he met the actor at Comic-Con and he was all for the project.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Leonard Nimoy was Canadian. He was American.

a portrait of a man outside

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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