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Story Last modified at 9:09 p.m. on Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Final review out on Chugach park plan
Public-comment meeting set for June 14 in Eagle River

For the Star

A third and final public review period for the draft Chugach State Park Management Plan will help determine the extent of future upgrades to park facilities and increase backcountry access points.

The Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has lengthened its comment period to September and will hold forums in Indian, Anchorage and Eagle River in June to discuss the details of the plan.

An open house will be held 6:30-8:30 p.m. June 14 at the Eagle River Town Center Community Room, 12001 Business Blvd., to give residents a chance to make suggestions to help improve the draft.

The new draft will replace the aging 1980 Master Plan and 1986 Trails Plan that have governed park improvements for more than two decades. Park officials have been developing the draft in stages, starting with the trail draft in 2008. Public comment has ended for the Access and State Park Trail Management stages of the plan, but will remain open for the overall management plan until Sept. 9.

"We're giving people a lot of time, more than the standard 30 days, to get some good input," said Monica Alvarez, project manager.

The plan includes a number of upgrades to the Eagle River and Eklutna/Peters Creek regions of the nearly 500,000-acre park. Public comments have named improved access to Ram Valley, increased access along the Eagle River green belt, and new facilities for the Eagle River Nature Center as the three top priorities for the regions, according to Alvarez.

Hunting and trapping regulations within park boundaries will continue to be set by the state Department of Fish and Game, and will be unaffected by the draft, Alvarez said. However, the draft does include language that will enable the division to have some say in hunting and trapping in its parks.

"One of the things that we address in this plan is working with Fish and Game to coordinate management of the park," she said.

The Eagle River region of the park encompasses about 138,100 acres, of which about 6,200 acres is private land, according to the draft.

Legal access to state park lands has been a contentious issue throughout the planning process, particularly in areas where hikers are cutting through private property to access popular destinations, Alvarez said.

Reaching the alpine Ram Valley currently involves a lengthy route from Eagle River Road, which is difficult to negotiate for a day trip, Alvarez said.

Another such site off Skyline Drive, acquired by the Municipality of Anchorage, seeks to develop a secure trailhead for hiking Mount Baldy. If plans are approved for that, State Parks could build latrines, a kiosk and improve parking there.

Other proposals for the area include establishing a Mount POW trailhead with a small vehicle pullout near Mile 5 of Eklutna Lake Road to accommodate hikers who summit the peak each Veterans Day.

Eklutna Lake Campground is also slated for improvement, including new picnic pavilions, a cooking area, redesigned camp sites and animal-resistant trash containers.

Although the draft is a step in the right direction, implementing improvements may still be a ways off, said Tom Harrison, Chugach State Park superintendent.

Projects highlighted in the draft plan will be prioritized and completed based on state funding each year, support from grants, and a number of other factors, Harrison said.

"It's got some momentum," Harrison said of the draft. "We want to do it right, so we don't want to take any shortcuts."

After the Sept. 9 deadline, planning officials will consider comments and determine all park needs before a revised plan is submitted to the Commissioner of DNR for approval, said Alvarez.

To view the draft, go to Mail comments to Chugach State Park Planning, 550 W. Seventh Ave., Suite 1050 Anchorage AK 99501. They must be received before 4:30 p.m. Sept. 9.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 1, 2011.