Fairbanks legislator wants state control of Chena Pump Wayside

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- For almost 100 years the site now known as the Chena Pump Wayside has furnished access to the Tanana River.

Back in gold rush days the town of Chena was located in the area, providing fierce competition for the nearby settlement of Fairbanks in the quest for prospectors' business.

The town of Chena has long since faded into history. But the area is treasured today by boaters, cross country skiers, and snowmachiners -- as well as vehicle vandalizers and drunken partiers.

That plague of less savory uses may soon end. Fairbanks Rep. John Davies has successfully pushed a proposal to buy the 17-acre site and place its management under the state division of parks.

''I first became concerned about the future of the Chena Pump Wayside when I was on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly,'' said the Fairbanks Democrat, who hosted a Tuesday picnic at the site. ''It seemed it was an orphan park for which no one wanted to take responsibility.''

In late September and early October the parks division will hold meetings in Fairbanks to hear what people want for the future of the site.

The plan is to keep the boat launch and the picnic area, but also perhaps to add a small fee campground nearby and a year-round volunteer host who would live in a cabin there.

The host would maintain the area, pick up trash, and also keep an eye out for ne'er-do-wells.

The state Departments of Transportation and Fish and Game will provide funds to upgrade the parking and boat launch areas, according to Davies. He said he is advocating for low or no public access fees.

The wayside is currently managed by the DOT. ''DOT is not in the business of maintaining parks,'' Davies noted. ''It really should be managed more in that vein.''

Davies said he has long had a strong interest in the site because of the wide range of user groups that utilize its access to the Tanana River.

But it became clear that the land belonged to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, which has a mandate to use its properties to generate funds for beneficiaries, including mentally ill and retarded Alaskans.

Davies said he was worried that possible sale of the land to a private entity could end its tradition of public river access. He therefore lobbied his fellow legislators to purchase the site from the mental health trust authority.

This past session the Legislature agreed to fund about $100,000 of the purchase while the federal Land and Water Conservation fund will pay the other half of the appraised price.

In recent weeks the mental health trust officially endorsed the purchase plan -- prompting Davies' celebratory picnic on Tuesday.

About 30 people chatted, munched on hot dogs and enjoyed the sunshine and the river view.

State division of parks chief Jim Stratton, who has held the position about five years, recalled how Davies called him to push the Chena Pump Wayside preservation within a month of his taking the job.

Fellow picnic attendee Mike Mayberry pointed to the roof of the picnic pavilion and noted that there was plenty of room for maintenance. He also was enthusiastic about the idea of a campground and a host, saying that they would lead to a better appreciation of the area's natural beauty.

''I think that these significant improvements are going to bring more and more people into the park,'' he said.

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