Think back to a time before protected areas within population centers were all the rage, and you’ll understand how hundreds, if not thousands, of junked automobiles ended up stuck between a park and a wildlife refuge in Anchorage proper.
It’s not immediately apparent that the 444-foot bluff below Kincaid Park’s motocross track is actually a sea of cars covered in sand and topsoil. Some are half-buried, jutting towards the sky at odd angles. A few are left completely exposed, and for many, the only evidence is a classic fender or taillight poking through the tall grass.
From the tidal flats below, part of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, the extent of the waste becomes clear. A massive gash in the side of the bluff exposes hundreds of rusted, mangled chassis — a tetanus playground.
According to the Anchorage Park Foundation, the current site of the motocross track, off of Jodhpur Street, was a junk car crushing operation until 1975. The site had long served as a convenient place to dump vehicles, a practice most likely dating back to before the 1964 earthquake.
Curt Abbas, 66, took a job at the dump in the fall of 1970, bulldozing hundreds of cars over the bluff and out of sight. He recalls dirt bikes racing around the scrapped cars before the site was cleared.
Abbas explained that in order to get the vehicles over the edge, a hole had to be punched in the ridge that hemmed in the landfill at the time. After the cars had been pushed through the hole, the entire ridge was leveled on top of the cars — creating the steep, unstable terrain seen today.
“That bluff was pretty much vertical before,” Abbas said.
In 2010, Abbas had recently retired as general superintendent of Granite Construction Co. and returned to the site to lend a hand in a massive volunteer effort to clean up the eyesore.
The ambitious idea came from Joe Meehan, lands and refuges program coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Meehan had already gotten his hands dirty several years earlier pulling out more than 2,000 tires with a group of volunteers — many of the tires had previously lined the motocross track.
Meehan assembled a new team in 2010. This time around Granite Construction Co. agreed to volunteer personnel and heavy equipment, made possible by Granite’s environmental manager at the time, Shawn Crouse.
NC Machinery loaned the group an excavator, a crucial piece of equipment for the project.
In early January of that year, with the coastal marshland frozen solid, the group set to work. A fleet of heavy equipment crossed through the Anchorage International Airport to a point of access four miles from the cleanup site.
The group plowed an ice road to the site, hugging the coast across the boundaries of Kincaid Park.
Silas Hoffman, 32, a dispatcher with Granite, was one of the younger volunteers given the duty of running winch cords up the snowy bluff to vehicles that appeared retrievable. For some of the lodged carcasses, the equipment below was no match.
The excavator loaded the cars into trucks that shuttled back and forth for the five-day cleanup. Hoffman believes the effort recovered at least 60 cars.
“We got as much as we could,” Hoffman said. “It would take more volunteers to get more.”
With an untold number of vehicles still remaining under an unstable hillside in a wildlife refuge, the possibility of a complete cleanup seems out of the question.
“I don’t think a complete removal of the dump site is feasible as it would require a massive excavation of the bluff (certainly to cost millions),” Meehan said. “We had an engineering assessment that pretty much states the same.”
Nevertheless, Meehan wants to see the project through to some kind of practical closure.
According to Meehan, the bulk of the cars currently visible in the gully are a consequence of erosion brought on by pumping water from the irrigation pond used to wet down the motocross track.
Meehan says there may be an agreement in place to cease pumping water over the bluff. Neither Anchorage Parks and Recreation or the Anchorage Racing Lions, which maintains the track, responded to attempts to substantiate these claims.
The Great Land Trust currently has $50,000 pledged toward a future cleanup.
Meehan says that ADF&G may have as much as $40,000 for the project, and there are additional funds that may become available.
“My current plan is to stabilize and revegetate the sites that are eroding (mainly the big gully) and to perhaps ‘shave’ off some of the vehicles at ground level that are imbedded in the bluff and cover them with topsoil,” Meehan said.
Whether the Kincaid cleanup reaches some form of completion remains to be seen, but it shows that some shortsighted actions of the past may be reversible.