Seldovia split by fight over ATVs

Posted: Monday, October 23, 2000

SELDOVIA (AP) -- This Kachemak Bay town is bitterly split over a decision by the Seldovia Native Association to close the Seldovia Valley to all-terrain vehicles.

Many Seldovia residents say they are responsible four-wheeler riders who want to roll through the valley to reach hunting grounds in the rugged state-owned high country beyond.

But the Seldovia Native Association owns the entire valley. The village corporation sees it as culturally sacred place and, one day, a quiet destination for eco-tourists. It wants to bar ATVs.

State and federal land agencies have told Seldovia to solve its own problem. But they've set an ultimatum: Find a solution by next summer or a motorized route will be marked through the valley that will make virtually no one happy.

''It's a mess,'' said Michael Beal, chief executive of the Native association. ''Not only that, it's dividing this city. There are problems going on in Seldovia because we can't settle the easements.''

The rift has divided people who grew up together, said Seldovia Mayor Sue Hecks. ''We want to solve it before it becomes irreparable,'' she said.

The Native corporation closed its valley land in 1995 to anybody but hikers, closing motorized access to the state land beyond.

''Hunting, camping, berry picking, watching game, killing game -- all of those things are how we want to use the state land,'' said Jere Murray, a longtime Seldovia resident, at a community meeting last month.

But Crystal Collier, said hunters would ravage the valley and its historic fishing site with their four-wheelers. ''It means something to us,'' she said. ''It's beautiful, gorgeous land.''

A couple of years ago, George Oliveira, an avid hunter who has lived in Seldovia since 1989, ferreted out a clause in the Native corporation's federal land deed guaranteeing a public motorized route across the valley to reach state land.

But the route marked out on the map doesn't seem environmentally wise, since it skirts the Seldovia River and lake. And it blazes across untouched land even through there are existing logging roads and trails.

The Bureau of Land Management has threatened to send crews to mark that trail next summer if the Seldovia Native Association and ATV users can't reach a deal.

Stuart Hirsh, the BLM's realty manager in Alaska, said the agency can't arbitrarily reroute the trail. But it will support a local compromise.

The Native Association has offered an alternative that calls for a 20- to 30-mile detour.

Oliveira dismisses that alternative as impractical. Residents should be able to scoot about seven miles up the valley to reach the hillsides, he said.

The Seldovia City Council has assigned a task force led by Mayor Hecks to tackle the issue.

''We all agree the Seldovia Valley is a beautiful place. We all agree that none of us want to cause harm to that valley. And we would like to find an alternate route that allows us access to state lands,'' Hecks said. ''Whether all parties can agree, I can't answer that. But all I can do is try.''

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