Advisory Board seeks trails support


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South Fork Valley, from Harp Mountain, in Chugach State Park.

Frank E. Baker

People from Girdwood to Anchorage to Eagle River to Hunter Creek along Knik River live adjacent to one of the largest and most unique state parks in the nation — Chugach State Park — a 495,000-acre recreationists’ paradise of mountains, valleys, lakes and streams and diverse wildlife. But in many locations, access to the park has become problematic and some of its trails are in dire need of maintenance, if not re-routing.

For this reason, the Chugach State Park (CSP) Citizens Advisory Board is working with the State on a plan to improve and even re-route some of the park’s trails. This 15- person volunteer board advises the State Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation on management of the park, and represents the multitude of Park users; including neighborhood groups, fishermen, bikers, skiers, equestrians, hikers, hunters and motorized users.

State Parks retiree Pete Panarese, of Eagle River, is Vice Chair of the CSP Advisory Board. He is currently helping the board communicate plans to user groups, community organizations, legislators and others. He is hopeful that the Board can get some of its proposals before the 2013 State Legislature for funding.

Through his 28 years of professional experience as a park manager and most recently, his involvement with the CSP Advisory Board, Panarese has had a front row seat to State Parks overarching plans, which after considerable public input earlier this year, include a management plan, a park trail plan and a park access plan. From these voluminous reports, the Advisory Board has culled out a handful of projects that with modest state funding and help of volunteers, could be implemented in a relatively short time frame.

As part of the Park Access and Trail Rehabilitation Project, areas that are recommended for trail rehabilitation include Mt. Baldy from Skyline Drive, Mile High into Meadow Creek, the South Fork of Eagle River, the Crow Pass trail from Eagle River to the boundary near Girdwood; and trails on Hillside near Flattop and Canyon Road.

“Some of these trails are currently accessed by social trails that are very steep, prone to fall hazards and are adjacent to or on private property,” says Panarese. “These will require preliminary designs and in some cases new alignments to make them safer, more fun to use, and minimize impact on property owners.”

Such trails include Ram Valley from Mile 11 Eagle River Road; to the summit of Mt. Baldy from Skyline Drive; to Meadow Creek from Mile High Road; and on the backside of Flattop from Canyon Road. Additionally, a design is needed to bring the boat launching potential of the North Fork of Eagle River back into use.

“This is a short list, but we have to walk before we can run,” says Panarese. “We want to build support for these projects and demonstrate that they can be done at a relatively modest cost if we enlist the support of volunteers to help maintain the trails once they are improved.”

Panarese adds that these projects will promote public health, reduce trail erosion and maintenance costs, provide for enhanced public safety and enjoyment, and will help stem conflicts with private property owners near park access points.

He says that last year, an estimated 1.3 million people used the Park, the vast majority of which are Anchorage residents.

Over recent months Panarese and other members of the CSP Advisory Board have been speaking to local organizations, legislators, community leaders and sending out informational materials. So far the board has received letters of support from friends of the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC); Eagle River Valley Community Council; the Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors; Hillside Area Land Owners; Alaska Trails; Arctic Air Walkers, Anchorage Parks and Recreation Commission, and the Rabbit Creek Community Council. The Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA) has also expressed interest in the trail plans.

“We are blessed with one of the largest and most unique back yards in the nation,” says Panarese. “But we also have problematic access at some locations and in many cases, marginal, non-sustainable trails. We can do better, not only for the sake to today’s outdoor recreationists, but for our children and their children.”

 

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact him: frankedwardbaker@gmail.com

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