More work planned for controversial South Fork Trail

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 21:33
State Parks crews to fix last summer’s redesign



When Chugach State Park crews finished a rehabilitation project on the popular South Fork Trail to Eagle and Symphony lakes last summer, the response from South Fork residents wasn’t exactly enthusiastic. 

“Some people aren’t very happy with it,” said Blaine Smith, a trails specialist with the park. 

That’s an understatement. 

In October, the South Fork Community Council voted to send a letter to State Parks protesting the new trail design. Among the community council’s concerns were that the trail removed too much vegetation, created a “permanent visible scar on the landscape,” and appears too much like a road rather than a natural trail. 

South Fork council vice president Lora Reinbold said neighborhood residents felt like they had been misled by State Parks. Instead of a simple upgrade project,  Reinbold said the trail was radically changed. 

“It was not what we were expecting,” she said. 

From its trailhead, the trail climbs about 600 feet up the valley to Eagle and Symphony lakes. Along the route, there are also side trails leading to the Hunter Pass and Hanging Valley trails. 

Following a park-wide Trails Inventory and Assessment project that began in 2007,  it was determined that the trail was “heavily degraded,” according to a project update on the department’s website. Work on the new trail began last spring, and the new trail to the lakes was completed by the end of the summer. 

But Smith acknowledged the new trail has its issues. He explained that the trail was, indeed, realigned to address drainage issues. Now, it runs roughly parallel to the old trail — sometimes along the same route, sometimes veering off by a couple hundred yards. But because heavy machinery was used to widen the trail, he said its aesthetic qualities were lacking when the project was completed. 

“We cut in a whole different trail more or less,” he said. 

However, that’s not the end of the story. 

Next month, Smith said he plans to visit the community council to let them know there’s still work left to be done on the trail.

“We’ve got a plan this summer that I’m interested in getting the public involved with,” he said. 

Smith said a crew of about a dozen workers will plant vegetation and rehabilitate the trail so that it more closely mirrors the old trail. The existing 60-inch-wide trail will be narrowed to about 36-42 inches, and Smith is hoping that the end result will be something everyone will be happy with. 

“We’re determined to improve it and fix the issues,” he said.

Reinbold said she can’t wait to hear what Smith has to say. 

“We’re really looking forward to his presentation,” she said. 

Smith will meet with the South Fork Community Council at 7 p.m. on May 3 at Eagle River High. He said he’s hopeful area residents will be understanding of State Parks’ ultimate goal. 

“For this project to be a success, people have to end up with a product that they like in the end,” he said.

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