Businesses, residents would feel parks loss most

Posted: Sunday, March 24, 2002

Recreational users and business owners will likely be the groups most affected if the Legislature goes ahead with a proposal to cut more than a million dollars from the state parks budget.

Chris Degernes, Kenai area superintendent for Alaska State Parks, believes if the parks are closed, community members will see the impact immediately.

"There's a lot of indirect impacts of closures. Captain Cook has a huge recreational use. Businesses in Kenai and North Kenai would be affected. It ripples," she said.

She said the area parks that would close -- Captain Cook, Johnson Lake, Clam Gulch and Anchor River state recreation areas and Kasilof River and Stariski Creek state recreation sites -- are generally quiet places peninsula people use for camping and outdoor recreation.

The most immediate impacts user groups would see at the sites is a lack of facilities in park areas.

"We'd go in and remove picnic tables and other facilities," Degernes said.

Those other facilities would include such things as restrooms and fire pits, according to Degernes. The cuts would also force State Parks to stop removing litter from the areas.

"The trash would pile up," she said.

One person concerned about the removal of restroom facilities is Kasilof business owner Mary Lamb. Lamb, who owns Kasilof Mercantile, located across the river from the Kasilof recreational site, says if restrooms in the parks are closed, people will turn to her facilities.

"The number one thing would be restroom use. That doesn't necessarily mean increased business," Lamb said, noting the increased burden placed on her septic system would cost her money.

Lamb is also concerned that if the parks are closed, people will be allowed to harm the environment and private property near the parks.

"As a private landowner, I'm going to be very impacted," she said.

Lamb fears that without management at the parks, people will trespass on private property and further damage the existing vegetation, both on her land and on Parks land.

This isn't the first time people have had to face the prospect of parks closures. However, due to the state's current fiscal problems, the threat is being taken seriously.

"We're treating this as a bona fide threat to close (the parks)," Degernes said.

Anchor River Inn owner John Clutts has seen this all before. He fears the loss of recreational traffic would be substantial enough to hurt his business.

"Two years ago they tried the same thing. It's the same thing they've pulled year after year. We'd be open, but it would affect our business, sure," Clutts said.

Degernes says users would either be forced out of the parks, or simply choose to stay away. Either way, the result will likely be a less gratifying experience for people hoping to enjoy the parks, she said.

"We'd have to put up gates where we have them. It would just devastate the parks system," she said.

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