WASILLA, Alaska -- Every morning she's at home here, Sarah Palin wakes up to a postcard view from her lakeside home. Out the windows of her two-story wood-framed house stretch the serene, birch-lined waters of Lake Lucille. Ducks go gliding by the red-and-white Piper Cub floatplane docked outside. With the snow-frosted Chugach and Talkeetna mountains looming in the distance, the scene seems to define the Alaska that Palin celebrates: rugged, majestic, unspoiled.
And, yet, the lake Sarah Palin lives on is dead.
"Lake Lucille is basically a dead lake -- it can't support a fish population," said Michelle Church, a Mat-Su Valley borough assembly member and environmentalist. "It's a runway for floatplanes."
Palin recently told the New Yorker magazine that Alaskans "have such a love, a respect for our environment, for our lands, for our wildlife, for our clean water and our clean air. We know what we've got up here and we want to protect that, so we're gonna make sure that our developments up here do not adversely affect that environment at all. I don't want development if there's going to be that threat to harming our environment."
But as mayor of her hometown, say many local critics, Palin showed no such stewardship.
"Sarah's legacy as mayor was big-box stores and runaway growth," said Patty Stoll, a retired Wasilla schoolteacher who once worked in the same school with Palin's parents, Chuck and Sally Heath. "The truth is, Wasilla is just plain ugly, it's not a pleasant place to live. It's not thought out. And that's a shame.
"Sarah fouled her own nest, and I can't understand why. I hate to think it was simply greed or ambition."
Among the environmental casualties of Wasilla's frenzied development was Palin's own front yard, Lake Lucille. The lake was listed as "impaired" in 1994 by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and it still carries that grim label. State environmental officials say that leaching sewer lines and fertilizer runoff caused an explosion of plant growth in the lake, which sucked the oxygen out of the water and led to periodic fish kills.
"Sarah," a recent biography of Palin by Kaylene Johnson, features a photo of a beaming Palin, sitting in a rowboat on Lake Lucille clutching a fishing rod. But, according to local fishermen, the Republican vice-presidential candidate would have to be very lucky to reel in something edible.
The Alaska Fish and Game Department dutifully stocks the lake with coho salmon and rainbow trout each year -- but the fish don't last long.
Fishing on the lake "was tough," reported Alaska fishing guide Carlyle Telford on his Web site when he tried his luck on Lake Lucille last year, "because the vegetation is decaying and floating. When you retrieve every cast, the fly comes back with crud on it."
In a recent phone conversation, Telford said he hasn't returned to Lake Lucille since then. "I think the lake's pretty dead," he said. "That's why I haven't been back."