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Surveys show support for summer tourism development

Divisions exist on motorized use, alcohol sales

Posted: November 2, 2011 - 11:12pm

Eaglecrest Ski Area is developing of a new master plan, and initial survey results show support for development of summer tourism options and more trails. It also shows a 50-50 split regarding motorized use of the area and alcohol sales.

The results are from a telephone survey conducted in early October. McDowell Group, SE Group and Jan Caufield Consulting contracted with Eaglecrest to form the master plan and that phone survey is one step in it. Ongoing right now is an online survey at www.skijuneau.com. People can also send comments to Jan Caufield at janc@gci.net. The online survey is available until Nov. 30.

The three groups spoke with about 100 people at a public meeting Wednesday night at Centennial Hall.

Claire Humber, with SE Group, went over the market data they’ve collected for what’s feasible and could work in Juneau.

The idea of the master plan is to develop a working document that guides the Eaglecrest board for how to evaluate options that could come up for the ski area. It is also charged with finding ways to boost revenue not only in winter months, but also in the summer. The last master plan was drafted in the 1980s, and projected that by 2000 Juneau would have a population of 50,000 and 12 lifts at the ski area.

“It’s really difficult to make informed short-term decisions if you don’t have a long-term vision,” Humber said. “The last vision of Eaglecrest was done in the 1980s. Their version of the future looks a lot different than the market realities of today.”

Jim Calvin, with McDowell Group, reviewed Juneau’s visitors and residents — 880,000 in 2011 from cruise ships, 100,000 independent visitors and 31,000 residents. He said the average visitor spends $180 per person per day and the average party size is 2.5 people. The average age of cruise ship passengers is 53, while the typical independent visitor is 50.

Calvin said Juneau has developed a reputation in the travel industry as the “adventure destination” and development of Eaglecrest should most likely follow those desires. He said most people coming off the cruise ships have a 4-5 hour window of time to get that “Alaskan adventure” experience, and with a half-hour bus ride each way that leaves for lighter programming.

Some ideas the group is looking at because of early community feedback and market feasibility were brought up. Humber said people from Ketchikan or Sitka may not utilize the ski area because of a lack of affordable, easily accessible lodging.

The Juneau phone survey asked about lodging, and 34 percent favored cabins or hostel lodging. People said they were 64 percent likely or very likely to use such accommodations.

Other ideas include a learning center, improved night lighting, Nordic ski improvements, multi-use trails, cabins or hostels, additional operations buildings, snowmaking improvements, a trail network (connecting upper and lower loops and possible further out like Dan Moller and Hilda Point), mountain biking and related skills park, and Segway tours.

Humber said she realizes the community has designated the area as non-motorized use, but explained Segway machines are becoming very popular at ski areas because a rough-terrain version has been made. She said they allow users to go further and longer than they normally would because they don’t necessarily want to walk. Humber said those would be a gray area for Juneau — as the machines are low noise, battery operated and only go 12 mph.

“The stuff that we’re presenting tonight, we’re not necessarily saying Eaglecrest should do this,” Humber said. “There are questions that remain to be answered. These are things that we’ve been thinking about given what we know about Eaglecrest and are worthy of more discussion.”

She said they are hoping to get more ideas as people comment and complete the online survey.

“The single most important part of this plan is community input,” Calvin said. “We have to know what current users and the community as a whole feel about Eaglecrest.”

Also in the phone survey, 19 percent felt summer tourism development was most important, with 16 percent favoring trails. Thirty-three percent felt summer tourism development was second-most important, thirty-four percent favored trails.

Overall 51 percent supported trail development, 45 percent summer tourism and 34 percent supported cabins.

Sixty-two percent were supportive of low-impact commercial development, 28 percent wanted aggressive development opportunities and 6 percent didn’t want any further commercial development.

The next steps for the study are the conclusion of the online survey at the end of the month. Then they will filter and narrow possibilities for what could be developed at Eaglecrest and where. There will be another public meeting that will focus more on public comment sometime in February.

• Editor's note: This article has been changed to provide a correct email address for Jan Caufield.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com

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