OPINION: Parking, access issues not unique to South Fork

Saturday, May 20, 2017 - 19:45
  • The parking lot at the Upper South Fork Eagle River Trailhead on May 7, 2017. The South Fork Community Council has passed resolutions calling for an end to free parking at the entrance to the popular Eagle River trail. (Star file photo/Kirsten Swann)

The South Fork Community Council recently passed a resolution asking Chugach State Park to start charging a parking fee at the Upper South Fork Eagle River Trailhead. They also wanted to see both sides of the public road leading to the trailhead signed as “No Parking”. Currently, only one side of the road is signed. The neighborhood hopes these measures will reduce the parking conflicts and congestion caused by park visitors parking along the road when the 40-car trailhead parking lot is full.

I visit the South Fork Trailhead often. It is a very attractive hike because of its scenic values, quick access to the alpine, and the potential to see wildlife, good snow conditions in the winter, etc. I support charging a fee there.

I have empathy for the people who live near the trailhead. I arrived one summer weekend day at 10:30 a.m. The parking lot full. I luckily found a spot on the road down the hill a hundred yards or so. There were about 30 to 35 vehicles legally parked on the road. People were unloading and packing up dogs and kids for a hike in the sunshine. Car doors slamming, lots of commotion. There was even a small pavilion set up in one of the driveways across the street from the trailhead where a couple of little kids, supervised by Dad, were selling Kool-Aid and cookies to park visitors. And there was a line!

This onslaught of people anxious to enjoy their state park is to be expected. We live in a beautiful place and most of us love to get out and experience it. I doubt that people park along the road to avoid paying a modest daily parking fee. Most probably have the State Park Annual Parking Pass. But even though the trailhead was there before the homes, the continuous presence of park visitors coming and going all day long is very annoying and frustrating for the neighbors living across the street.

The parking problem is not unique to the South Fork. The same issue exists at many Chugach State Park access points: The Eagle River Nature Center, Rabbit Lake Trailhead and Glen Alps for example. The problem at Glen Alps has been quieted by substantial investment in expanded parking and caretaker facilities. I hope the state will continue to invest in Chugach State Park facilities but when and if it does, those facilities (parking lots) need to be built away from neighborhoods. That means building roads into the periphery of the park which will draw substantial public scrutiny and cost. At this point, I don’t see the state building more state park facilities for a while.

So, folks, we just need to try and get along. Charge a fee, sign one side of the road, and if you are visiting the South Fork, get there early and show a little respect by parking legally.

Eagle River’s Pete Panarese arrived in Alaska as a soldier with the 172nd Infantry Brigade in 1972 and has been an Eagle River resident since 1976. After his service was complete, he was hired as a Chugach State Park Ranger in September, 1976. He retired as Alaska State Parks Chief of Field Operations in 2004. Since retiring, he has served on the Chugach State Park Citizens Advisory Board; the Eagle River Nature Center board of directors; and on the Eagle/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors.

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