Winter wrangling

Skiers, snowmachiners search for solutions in planning use of Chugach National Forest

Posted: Monday, April 04, 2005


  Tony Doyle of Soldotna and Rebecca Talbott, Chugach National Forest public relations officer, discuss winter access options in the Carter-Crescent lakes area during a community workshop at the Soldotna Sports Center last week. Photo by Joseph Robertia

Tony Doyle of Soldotna and Rebecca Talbott, Chugach National Forest public relations officer, discuss winter access options in the Carter-Crescent lakes area during a community workshop at the Soldotna Sports Center last week.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

After reading an announcement in the Peninsula Clarion and hearing about it elsewhere, nearly 100 people took part in a workshop held at the Soldotna Sports Center on Thursday afternoon to give their ideas on the subject of winter access to Chugach National Forest Systems lands.

"These workshops provide people with the opportunities to contribute meaningfully to the Forest Service planning process," said Gregg Walker, a collaborative learning consultant and one of two facilitators for the workshop.

"Participants from different communities and with different interests can roll up their sleeves, write down their ideas, draw lines on maps and develop management scenarios that the Forest Service can analyze during the spring and summer," Walker added.

The Soldotna workshop focused heavily on the Carter-Crescent lakes area, which is bounded to the south by Kenai Lake, to the west and north by the Sterling Highway, and to the east by the Seward Highway.

In regard to this area, Walker made an analogy to a game of chess. "You can't just look at Carter-Crescent area as an individual piece, you have to see the whole chess board. You've got to be thinking about the connection between all users, the areas and the opportunities available," he said.

This may sound like a simple endeavor, but getting all the different user groups to agree on solutions that are mutually beneficial to all parties involved isn't always easy.

"Access to public lands in winter time is a tough issue," said Joe Meade, forest supervisor.

The bulk of the problems related to this area revolve around two often conflicting user groups: nonmotorized and motorized recreationalists, or to put it more simply — skiers and snowmachiners.

Forest Service planning staff officer Sharon Randall encapsulated some of the desires of the two user groups.

She said skiers want areas where they can recreate safely, without worrying about being hit or having high markers tempting avalanches in areas above where they are skiing.

Skiers' complaints also included trails being chewed up by snowmachines and that the sounds and smells associated with motorized vehicles take away from their outdoor experience.

Snowmachiners want areas where they don't have to ride slowly and cautiously in an effort to look out for skiers. Also, many snowmachiners felt that since they represent the largest user group, they should have exclusive access to the area, or at least priority access.

"The (Carter-Crescent) area should be open to motorized use because the majority of users are snowmachiners. I hardly ever see skiers up there," said Randy Brooks of Soldotna.

"It's part of a plan. They're trying to take areas away from snowmachiners a little bit at a time," said George Kevorkian of Soldotna in regard to the Forest Service.

His mother, Gwender Kev-orkian of Soldotna, also said the area should be opened to motorized use, but she argued along economical lines.

"Snowmachining brings a lot of money to the business and towns along the highway," she said.

"I'm not against skiers. They're entitled to the land, too. I just think they should be able to get along," she added.

Nonmotorized user group participants at the workshop offered diplomatic insight and voiced their concern.

"I saw this as an opportunity to share what I know," said Amy Miller of Anchorage.

Another member of the non-motorist group, Page Spencer of Anchorage, said she attended in an effort to get back what she's lost over the years.

"I've been displaced from a lot of this country, so to me it's not about trying to kick somebody out, it's about trying to reclaim what I had," she said.

Regardless of their differences, the two user groups offered suggestions to solve their problems.

"We're really happy with the people that turned out and their willingness to work together," said Rebecca Talbott, Forest Service public affairs officer.

"This brings more people together to think about the issue and generate ideas. Also, it's got people talking to each other, rather than talking through the Forest Service. That's exactly what we were looking for," she added.

Many ideas were suggested during the workshop, and there seemed to be a lot of overlap between the user groups' suggestions.

Split-season allocation — also known as timesharing — was discussed. This plan is utilized in the Resurrection Pass area to separate activities perceived as incompatible and to spread out user groups over time to reduce congestion.

However, in regard to the Carter-Crescent area, this was not as favored an idea as providing additional access opportunities.

Both user groups seemed supportive of reopening the area to all user groups, including motorized users, and creating an alternate trail that would be designated for non-motorized users only.

Creating alternate access trails, or if two already exist, designating one for each user group, was also suggested for the Lost Lake and Resurrection Pass areas.

"Wherever we can separate trails, we should," said motorized user group participant Rollin Braden of Funny River.

Other ideas for additional access to existing areas included creating a parking lot at the end of Snug Harbor Road; utilizing the parking area at the end of Exit Glacier Road; opening a corridor to Lower Russian Lake for all user groups, but designating the area to Upper Russian Lake non-motorized; and opening trails to Grayling and Meridian Lakes for all users groups.

There was also discussion about opening the area north of Fresno Creek to all user groups, but the area, on both sides of Seward Highway south of the creek down to the Sterling Highway, could become closed to motorized users with the exception of a travel corridor through the valley floor. Also, the Devil's Creek Trail could be open to motorized users for access to the Resurrection Pass area.

Talbott said the Forest Service will take the ideas generated from the Soldotna workshop and add them to ideas generated in similar workshops to create a management plan that will become an amendment to the Forest Service Management Plan.

"We'll make sure a decision is implemented by next winter," she said.

The Soldotna workshop was the second in a series of three. The first was in Anchorage on Wednesday and the third was in Seward on Saturday.

Several participants representing the motorized user group stated that they felt the meeting was purposefully scheduled when "Most snowmachiners wouldn't be able to come because they have to work for a living."

Walker disagreed.

"We selected three communities to hold workshops in so that if people missed one, they could drive a reasonable distance to attend another and still contribute," he said.

For those who could not attend any of the meetings, the Forest Service is accepting ideas by fax at (907) 743-9476 and by e-mail at comments-alaska-chugach

Comment letters can be sent to Kenai Winter Access, Attn: Bill Jackson, 3301 C. St., Suite 300, Anchorage, AK. 99503.

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