Trails wrecked by snowmachines causing Nikiski skiers frustration

Posted: Tuesday, February 22, 2000

A groomed trail is a passion for both snowmachiners and cross-county skiers. Unfortunately, one trail cannot be shared by all.

Dale Bakk, cross-country ski coach at Nikiski High School for four years, said he has been having trouble keeping snowmachines off the Nikiski Community Trails behind the school. The trails do have signs posted warning that snowmachines are prohibited.

The trails, approximately 6 kilometers in length, run between the high school and the bluff. The ski team has only used them for the past six years, they were previously taken care of by the cross country running team and volunteers.

In 1999, the North Peninsula Recreational Service Area took over managing and maintaining the trails. Bakk was hired to keep the trails maintained.

"They put a lot of work in upgrading the trails this (past) summer and fall," Bakk said.

The trails have many easy accessible points, he said, and signs are posted at all of them.

His ski team, consisting this season of 14 students, uses the trails on a daily basis during the winter when practicing. Many individuals use the trails to ski, too, he said.

Even after the ski season, the trails have been known to be used well into May.

Bakk's job, originally to groom the trails after a snowfall, recently has turned into a daily task because of the snowmachine use.

The machines cause ruts and trenches in the trails. The only way to remove them, Bakk said, is to go over the whole trail and groom it flat again.

He uses a large grooming snowmachine with a grooming sled pulled behind it and then a 5-foot-wide roller to pack down the snow.

Howard Davis with the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers said his group grooms 200 miles of trails in the Caribou Hills.

"It bothers me that someone would maliciously ruin a trail," he said.

The issue does not simply involve the trails, the welfare of the ski team and community is another factor.

"It is definitely a safety issue," Bakk said.

Sometime in January, he said, his team was practicing when a snowmachine approached them on the trail.

"They (the team) had to jump off the trail to get out of the way," Bakk said.

Bakk has suspicions that there are three culprits causing most of the damage.

"They seem to have a 'you can't catch me' attitude," he said.

Alaska State Trooper Jeff Laughlin said trespassing is actively enforced if it is reported.

For the most part, he said, skiers and snowmachiners usually don't have problems, but there are some rogue snowmachiners who do not see the signs or simply disregard them.

Mike Eastham, trails chairman and vice president of the Snomads snowmachine group in Homer, said his club offers safety classes in schools. One important issue they always cover, he said, is trespassing.

"We educate our club members about responsibilities with meetings and newsletters."

Eastham said he has noticed the biggest group of offenders are between the ages of 13 and 16.

"It is up to the clubs to educate about safety," he said.

Bakk said the trails and the potential of new trails are a jewel of the community. There always has been a little bit of a problem in past years, he said.

"Basically, it is going to be an uphill battle," Bakk said. "I am afraid someone is going to get hurt."

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