Alaska’s “Forgotten Gardens”
Drive down any highway, and you will see intentional landscaping. These areas are planted with lovely perennial trees, bushes, and grass with the intention of beautifying our country, making our commute a little brighter and improving our mental state.
However, more often, you may notice this landscaping has been neglected. It is now overgrown. Unsightly and dangerous, blocking visibility for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Not at all meeting the intended purpose of improving our mental state.
These “Forgotten Gardens” have quite a history, and a future as well. The story begins with good intentions, but there was a fatal flaw in the plan.
Lady Bird Johnson was an avid gardener and member of the National Garden Clubs. She called the sight of roadways filled with junkyards and billboards, “an unsightly eyesore” and turned her concern into action. Throughout her time in the White House, Lady Bird fought to make American cities and roadways more beautiful by encouraging the planting of flowers and green landscaping, adding park benches in parks, and removing billboards and junkyards from the nation’s highways.
Lady Bird and her husband lobbied hard to pass the “Highway Beautification Act of 1965.”
Its intent was to restrict such unsightly eyesores along the highways. The First Lady’s belief that beauty can improve the mental health of a society and her determination to make the United States a more beautiful place was Lady Bird’s legacy.
The Highway Beautification Act passed in the Senate on September 16, 1965, and in the US House of Representatives on October 8, 1965, and was signed by President Johnson on October 22, 1965. The act called for the control of outdoor advertising, including the removal of certain types of signs along the nation’s highways system. Also, the act required certain junkyards along the interstate or primary highways be removed or screened, and the encouragement of scenic enhancement and roadside beautification development was born. When federal funds were used to build roadways, a certain portion of these funds would need to be used for beautification development.
The thought of roadside beautification is most desirable; however, there has been little to no afterthought of funding for the care of these plantings. This oversight has led to the “Forgotten Gardens” dilemma.
The Greater Eagle River Garden Club, a member of The Alaska Garden Clubs, Pacific Region and National Garden Clubs, has identified such a problem in Eagle River along the Eagle River Loop road. The group wanted to do something about the care of the “Forgotten Gardens.” After requesting permission from the highway department, the club members planned to take on these gardens as a community service project. This spring the club members will number and identify these gardens plantings and start weeding, pruning and moving blocking plants in an attempt to beautify their town’s roadway. These club members will ask for help from businesses along this roadway to help them with the gardens closest to their businesses. Several businesses and organizations have already joined the project.
As funds become tighter, garden clubs and concerned citizens are needed to step up and care for these gardens. Please consider partnering with us in caring for our community and beautifying our town. More hands make for lighter work.
If you would like to participate in the “Forgotten Gardens” project, please contact Chris Wood, President of the Greater Eagle River Garden Club at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 907-312-6130.