Proposed closures spark controversy

Snowmachiners, skiers focus on access to Lost Lake Trail near Seward

Posted: Tuesday, November 14, 2000

The Lost Lake Trail near Seward is the center of a controversy over snowmachine access to trails in Chugach National Forest.

Skiers say there should be some trails where they need not fear collisions with speeding snowmachines or put up with screaming engines and exhaust. The draft Chugach National Forest management plan, now up for public comment, would close several new areas to snowmachines. The greatest controversy is over the Lost Lake Trail, where snowmachines would be allowed only from Dec. 1 through March 31. The rest of the year, the trail would be reserved for skiers.

"It's looking at an issue of parity for cross-country skiers," said Mike Kania, Seward District ranger. "We have close to 1 million acres in the Seward District and only 1,000 acres are closed season-long to snowmachiners. I was getting lots of comments that there needs to be some quiet place to recreate."

Skiers have trouble on trails snowmachines have packed into icy ruts, he said, and many fear being hit.

The seasonal closure would not affect the route from Snug Harbor Road to Lost Lake, which snowmachiners could use year-round, Kania said. He also proposes opening other areas to snowmachines by building 76 miles of new trails, new parking and five new back-country cabins. However, that has not quelled controversy over the Lost Lake Trail.

"If they close the Seward end, all the people are going to go to the Snug Harbor side," said Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers member Christine Crouse of Soldotna. "It's a public access, but you have to go through a residential area to get to it. Everyone gets a little testy when that road is chocked full of snowmachine trailers.

"I have a real problem with them taking a designated snowmachine trail and closing it in the middle of the season so that a handful of skiers can use it, when it was a trail made by snowmachiners. Our season starts in January and goes to May, and they close it in the middle."

Not even God could find a solution that makes both sides happy, said Gary Lehnhausen, planning team leader at Chugach National Forest headquarters in Anchorage.

"But we need to come up with some options everyone can live with that share the most popular areas," he said.

The Forest Service has been working for several years to revise the 1984 management plan for Chugach National Forest, which spans 5.5 million acres from Cooper Landing to Seward, Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta.

The draft plan proposes closing several areas to snowmachines, including the Seattle Creek area in eastern Turnagain Arm, part of the Quartz Creek drainage by the Sterling Highway Y, an area by Primrose at the southeast end of Kenai Lake, and an area by Tiehack Mountain six miles north of Seward. The 20-Mile River area near Portage would be closed to snowmachines every second year.

The present snowmachine closure at Manitoba Mountain, along the east side of the Seward Highway north of Summit, would be expanded into the back country. Turnagain Pass would remain closed to snowmachines east of the Seward Highway. The Resur-rection Pass Trail would remain closed to snowmachines before Dec. 1 and after Feb. 15. Snow-machines would be allowed on the Primrose Trail only from Dec. 1 to March 31, and on the Swan Lake Winter Route and Trout Lake Trail only from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15.

Kania said confusion has resulted from errors in Appendix C of the plan, a table that designates allowable uses on specific roads and trails. The plan would not close the Devil's Pass Trail and the Snow River Winter Route to snowmachines.

"We don't want any new areas closed to snowmachines," said Cabin Hoppers treasurer Howard Davis of Kasilof. "They're taking it bit by bit until someday there won't be anything left."

The Forest Service plans public meetings on the plan tonight from 6 to 8 at the Cooper Landing Community Center, Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Hope School and Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Building in Soldotna. It already has held meetings in several other communities.

There was plenty of controversy at the meeting in Moose Pass, where Crouse said there were about 25 snowmachiners and three cross-country skiers, of which only one was bold enough to speak.

"I was one of a whole bunch of people who walked out because most of the people who were yelling and shouting weren't from Moose Pass," said skier Ann Whitmore-Painter of Moose Pass.

The Lost Lake Trail is too steep and narrow for skiers and snowmachiners to use together safely, she said. There is too much risk of collisions. She said the best solution would be a new trail just for skiers. She questioned leaving the Snug Harbor trail open if the one near Seward is closed.

"The Forest Service either has to close all the entrances or find another area for skiers -- maybe Carter Lake -- and have it nonmotorized," she said.

Or, if snowmachiners want the trail in April, she said, let the skiers have it in December.

"The snowmachiners can't have it all their way," she said.

Lehnhausen said there have been lots of creative suggestions.

Kevin Hite, president of the Alaska State Snowmobile Asso-ciation, suggested adding parking space by Hope so more snowmachines could use trails there, he said.

"The people who use these areas and have used them for years, and it's their passion -- they're the ones who come up with these creative solutions," he said. "I don't know if they realize we're listening to them."

Lehnhausen said the public meetings are a good place to learn and make suggestions. However, formal comments must be in writing. Those are due by Dec. 14 to Chugach National Forest, 3301 C Street, Suite 300, Anchorage, AK 99520.

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