Support grows for Chugach State Park trails and rehab project

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 19:00
Eklutna Lake. Adjacent to Anchorage and other population centers, the 495,000-acre Chugach State Park is unique among all the 50 states.

Support for the Chugach State Park Park Access and Trail Rehabilitation Project has grown significantly in recent months, with more than 20 user groups and organizations endorsing a small set of projects that have been recently submitted to the Alaska Legislature for a $415,000 capital appropriation.

Several legislators, including Rep. Lindsey Holmes (Anchorage) have expressed interest and support for the project, which was spearheaded several months ago by the Chugach State Park (CSP) Citizen’s Advisory Board. The Board advises the State Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation on management of the park, and represents the multitude of park users. These include neighborhood groups, fishermen, bikers, skiers, equestrians, hikers, hunters and motorized users.

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.

Part of the funding would go for preliminary trail designs for hiking trails to Ram Valley from Mile 11, Eagle River Road, near Falling Water Creek; to the summit of Mt. Baldy from Skyline Drive; to Meadow Creek from Mile High Road; and to the summit of Flatttop from the Canyon Road. Currently, these areas of CSP are accessed by social trails from neighborhood roads near or on private property.

“The $415,000 requested for these projects is a quite modest appropriation given the historical size of the state’s capital budget,” said Pete Panarese, advisory board vice chairman and spokesperson for the trail rehabilitation project. “We realize that money for Parks is tight these days, but these are important projects that will greatly enhance the quality of life for many Alaskans.

“In the long run, these projects will reduce trail erosion and maintenance costs, diminish fall hazards, promote livability and stem conflicts with private property owners near park access points,” he added.

Endorsement letters from diverse groups — from hikers to snowmachiners to paragliders — are indicative of the project’s broad and growing support.

“The trails listed in the proposal are, or will be, among the most popular trails in the park,” said Rick Sinnott, president of the Eklutna Valley Community Council. “By building sustainable trails and rehabilitating existing trails to sustainable standards the state will save money in the long run.”

“Trails that are well maintained are used by the community and visitors from across the nation,” said Asta Spurgis, executive director of the Eagle River Nature Center. “Guide books and websites attract hikers to Alaska. It is important that these trails are maintained for their enjoyment and safety. Alaskans, in turn, also reap the benefits. Good trails attract locals, whereas outstanding trails attract everyone.”

The 495,000-acre CSP currently includes 280 miles of trails, three field offices, 20 trail heads and three large campgrounds.

“It is the back yard and playground for southcentral Alaska, home to half the state’s population. In 2012, an estimated 1.3 million people used the Park — the vast majority of which are Alaska residents,” says Panarese.

In addition to endorsements from local user groups and scores of private citizens, support for the project was advanced through resolutions by the Municipality of Anchorage’s (MOA) Watershed and Natural Resources Advisory Commission and Commissioners of MOA Parks and Recreation Committee.

“My confidence is growing that this relatively modest capital appropriation will be approved in the 2013 legislative session,” says Panarese. “There is general agreement among Alaskans that trails are a valuable asset that needs to be protected and maintained. If done in incremental stages and with the help of volunteers, we can minimize the costs and still have esthetically pleasing, safe and sustainable trails that will be around for our children, their children and beyond.”

For more information about the CSP Access and Trail Rehabilitation Project contact Pete Panarese at [email protected], and if you wish to convey support for the project, contact these state legislators: Senators Fred Dyson and Anna Fairclough; and Representatives Dan Saddler, Lora Reinbold, Bill Stoltze and Mike Hawker.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank: [email protected].

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