The streets of Dawson vary in size, height, width and smoothness with the seasons.
In spite of snowfall and the need to plough them, they are really at their best in the winter, when the hard-packed snow fills in all the possible places where potholes might form.
In the summer, potholes are the bane of drivers, and no matter how many times the streets are graded – usually just before major weekend events – all it takes is a bit of rain to bring the potholes and washboard sections back again.
Winter does have its disadvantages, of course. Drifting snow can be hard on low slung vehicles and the streets can be slippery enough to make you use your four wheel drive setting even on the town streets, but the ride is smoother.
The streets get narrower as the graders don’t quite manage to get to the property lines each time they make their rounds, and the town’s decision to have people use trash bins on the streets instead of in the back lanes hasn’t made that job any easier. So a two lane street or avenue can be down to a lane and a half by this time of the year, especially when you add in the blockage caused by the people who don’t have driveways and just park on the streets outside their homes.
Downtown is where the boardwalks are and a funny thing happens. I suppose it really happens all over the town, but it’s more noticeable there: the street levels rise. In the summer the boardwalks are an average of four to six inches above the level of the streets, except on Front Street, where it tends to be more level. In winters, as the hard-packed snow builds up on the gravel streets, they gradually rise until they are level with, and in some places slightly above, our iconic boardwalks.
It creeps up on you bit by bit and you don’t really notice it until one day you suddenly do. Of course it’s at its most obvious when they start to strip the hard-pack off the street, which is what they’ve been doing for the last fortnight, as I write this column.
On different days various of our streets and avenues have suddenly turned into boulevards, as the graders chew up the road and leave it all in high windrow cakes in the middle of the street. At some points the intersections are blocked for a few hours and you have to plan alternate travel routes to get from place to place, but they fix that problem as quickly as they can.
These clearances are necessary because most of our streets are still frozen once you go down a foot or so and, even if all of our storm drains were completely thawed and clear, the water wouldn’t have enough ways to get to the river. The result would be even more gumbo mud than we actually get, and the destruction of our street beds by the flowing – sometimes rushing – water.
And, oh yes, lots of potholes (I did mention those back there somewhere, yes?) and deeply carved ditches.
Yes, the streets of Dawson are a bit of a mess in the spring, but it means summer’s coming, so it’s worth it.