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Public Works Committee briefed on proposed ATV park

Posted: July 24, 2012 - 1:39am

The City and Borough of Juneau may have finally found a place for all-terrain vehicles to drive, the city’s parks and landscape superintendent told an Assembly committee Monday, but how long it will take to develop it and how much it will cost remain open questions.

George Schaaf gave a brief presentation to the Assembly Public Works and Facilities Committee at its Monday meeting, showing the location of the proposed park for off-highway vehicles near Bridget Cove, some 36 miles from downtown Juneau.

“Altogether, it looks to be about 1,200 acres, just about two square miles,” said Schaaf of the portion of CBJ land being looked at for the park. “It’s about three miles from north to south, and at the widest part, it’s about two-thirds of a mile.”

Schaaf said a number of concerns have to be balanced in the park’s planning and development, including the needs of user groups themselves and the city’s obligation toward cost-efficiency and sustainability.

“We know that Juneau has a longstanding need for an OHV park,” Schaaf added.

The debate over off-roading access in Juneau has gone on for years. Controversy erupted over a proposed ATV park at Fish Creek Quarry on Douglas Island last decade, and the project was ultimately shelved.

Assembly member Randy Wanamaker, who chairs the Public Works and Facilities Committee, said after the meeting that he remembers hearing about dirt bike enthusiasts as far back as the 1980s who wanted dedicated space to ride.

Wanamaker told staff at the meeting that he still gets questions from the public about ATV usage in Juneau.

“From time to time, I get contacted by a member of the community that’s wondering where we are with finding a place for them to ride,” said Wanamaker, who asked staff to whom he should direct public questions about the park.

John Bohan, acting director of the Engineering Department, advised Wanamaker that Schaaf would be the best contact.

Meanwhile, Schaaf has some questions of his own.

“Right now, we really don’t know what we have out there,” Schaaf said of the proposed site. He said requests for proposals were due last Friday on generating an inventory and “resource map” of the area, in order to determine both what areas could be used and what areas should be avoided, like wetlands and cliffs.

Schaaf added, “Hopefully, this RFP’s going to provide us with a really good inventory of what the site currently has, we’re going to have some control points, and we’re going to get a good idea of where we can and cannot place sustainable trails.”

The planning and design phases for trails are set to begin this winter, Schaaf told the committee, and he said after the meeting that he hopes some trailwork can be done next summer. But in response to a question from Assembly member Karen Crane, Schaaf said it is not currently possible to set a timeframe for the project’s completion.

“Until we know what the project scope is, I can’t tell you how much it’ll cost or how long it’ll take,” Schaaf said. “If we’re building 5 kilometers of trail, that’s going to have a price and a construction window that’s going to be different from if we’re building 15 or 20 kilometers.”

Due to the “relatively small area” of the proposed park, Schaaf said, trails would have to provide “challenge without speed.”

“At 40 miles an hour, you can imagine you can traverse a three-mile-long parcel very quickly,” Schaaf said. “So it’s going to be a really important thing to work with user groups to develop interesting elements and challenging features that are going to keep them interested over the long term.”

Schaaf said some businesses and individuals have expressed interest in volunteering to build trails.

“I think it will be a very important thing to have the volunteers,” said Schaaf. “There still will probably still be some material costs, though.”

Wanamaker said after the meeting that while cost is a concern, he recognizes the longstanding desire of the off-roading community for space to drive. He said he is pleased with ATV enthusiasts’ expressed willingness to contribute, remarking, “They’re really willing to pitch in and help, and consider things such as the cost of liability and what they can do to help offset that.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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