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Story Last modified at 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Park plan gets OK
Residents, politicians praise process

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:News

A musher travels down the trail during the Chugiak Dog Mushers Association Businessperson's Race last winter on the dog mushing trails at Beach Lake recreation area. The Anchorage Assembly last week approved a new master plan for the 1,750-acre park near Chugiak High School off of South Birchwood Loop.
STAR PHOTO by matt tunseth

It's a plan.

On July 12, the Anchorage Assembly unanimously approved the revised Beach Lake Master Plan, a document that hadn't been updated in more than three decades.

"I've been waiting 39 years for this day," said Chugiak's Bobbi Wells.

Wells was one of several locals who traveled to Anchorage to testify in support of the revised plan, which she said was created with input from all user groups within the 1,750-acre park.

"Everyone got a say," she said.

Speaking on behalf of the Birchwood Community Council, Jill Flanders Crosby said a multitude of stakeholders – from skiers and hikers to mushers and neighbors – were able to have input as the plan was put together during a public process that began in the spring of 2009.

"This master plan was very well vetted by the community," said Flanders Crosby, who was flanked by a large group of fellow Birchwood residents at the meeting.

The original Beach Lake plan was written in 1973, and park users said it was woefully out-of-date and not in keeping with current uses within the park.

Primarily used for cross country skiing and dog mushing, the park is a haven for low-impact outdoor recreation, Wells said.

"We cross country ski and dog mush, we have always done that and we continue to build on that," she said.

Wells said the updated plan recognizes the activities that currently take place in the park and makes it clear that those are what the area is primarily for.

"The plan itself emphasizes quiet and passive recreation. Those are our cross country skiers, the mushers, walking, hiking, horseback riding and fishing," she said.

Chugiak Dog Mushers Association president Val Jokela said she found the process to be rewarding because of the level of dialogue that took place to ensure that everyone could live with the final plan.

"I found the process to be absolutely collaborative (and) cooperative among all the stakeholders, and everybody compromised. Did everybody get what they wanted? No. But I think this plan is absolutely excellent."

A detailed plan can be found by clicking on a link posted on the Municipality of Anchorage's Web site at www.muni.org/departments/erparks.

Assembly member Bill Starr, who represents Eagle River, commended those who worked on the revised plan for their ability to work together to draft a document that was acceptable to all involved.

"It was a group that came together and said, 'We can share these resources appropriately,'" Starr said.

Starr said coming up with a revised plan was important because Beach Lake has grown into one of the Chugiak-Eagle River area's premier recreation destinations.

"It's our Kincaid, if you will," he said.

The plan went into effect immediately upon its adoption.

Although there were no voices in opposition to the revised master plan, most who testified took time to urge the municipality to include a 10-acre section of the park (known as the northwest corner of section 25) in the park's boundaries. Flanders Crosby said the land was originally selected as a possible school site, but has since been passed over.

"It has always been the community's desire that all of section 25 be included in the park," she said.

The inclusion of the additional lands, she said, would really help tie the whole area together.

"It is the gem of section 25," she said.

The assembly took no action on the request to amend the plan to include the 10 acre parcel. But a representative from Eklutna, Inc., which owns extensive private lands adjacent to the park, said the company supports the inclusion into the recreation area.

Starr said he plans to discuss the idea with the mayor's office.

In the meantime, skiers, mushers, hikers and others who use the heavily-wooded park located off South Birchwood Loop can rest easy that their playground will likely remain much the way it is now for the foreseeable future.

That's exactly what Chugiak's June Takagi said she hopes for. As a mother of two children who have grown up using the park's extensive trails, Takagi said her biggest hope for Beach Lake is that others have the same experience with Beach Lake as her family has.

"I would like for other parents to have the opportunity for their children to have these trails for the wonderful opportunities that only Alaska offers," she said.

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.