A first-of-its-kind easement across university-held land in Clam Gulch is giving snowmachiners free and clear access into the popular Caribou Hills.
The agreement, between the University of Alaska and the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, was signed in Clam Gulch on Friday.
"As Alaska grows and develops, we are losing our existing trail network all over the state," said Jim Stratton, Parks director. "This is the first of what we hope are many trail easements Parks will secure to guarantee legal access for public recreation."
University officials were equally optimistic.
"The University of Alaska is pleased to cooperate with the state's Trails and Recreation Access for Alaska program," said Mari Montgomery, Land Management Office director for the university. "Easements of this nature make it easier for Alaskans to enjoy public recreation."
The head of the trail to the Caribou Hills crosses two miles of university land, and while the university has never strung a chain across it, every snowmachiner who has traveled it was trespassing.
"This is extremely important," said Howard Davis, a member of the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers snowmachine club. "It is one of the most popular trails, (since) it's the first trail you come to when you're coming out of Soldotna."
The Clam Gulch Trail is directly across the Sterling Highway from the Clam Gulch wayside, which is Parks land.
"For day riders, it's the easiest thing to do, drive to Clam Gulch, park, jump on your snowmachine and ride for the day," Davis said. "Now we don't have to worry about somebody putting a chain across the trail."
Davis said he's counted more than 50 vehicles parked at the wayside at one time.
He did caution snowmachiners that the parking is not secure, and there have been instances of vandalism.
"In essence, you're parking on the side of the road," he said.
The winter public recreation trail easement, as it's called, is the first trail acquired by Parks through its Trail Easement Recording Project. The project works to protect existing recreational trails throughout Alaska by clarifying legal access through the acquisition of public recreational trail easements, Stratton said. Securing easements to protect existing public-use trails is a priority of Gov. Tony Knowles' Trails and Recreation Access for Alaska (TRAAK) program and was a principal recommendation in the Alaska Trails Plan.
In the works is a similar agreement to provide access across state-owned land near Big Lake, along the Crooked Lake Trail.
Stratton said after his department processes a number of these easements, landowners will become familiar with the process and be more willing to conduct similar agreements with local governments or private organizations, such as the Cabin Hoppers.
"We tried on our own to get an easement but were not successful," said Davis. "But Jim Renkert ... successfully picked up the ball and ran with it."
Renkert is the project manager for the Trails Easement Recording Project.
Davis said he hopes that as time goes by other easements can be secured, such as the Power Line, 126, and False Creek trails, all which cross university property.
"In my opinion, if we can work together on one, we can carry on with other trails into the Caribou Hills," Davis said.
Previously, easements were secured from Cook Inlet Region Inc. and the Ninilchik Native Association, and acquiring them from all the landowners along the Clam Gulch Trail will ensure that the public has legal access to the trail, Stratton said.
"These easement acquisitions protect the trail from any future actions that could extinguish the trail."
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