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Eaglecrest Master Plan necessary to spur discussion about ski area

Posted: March 24, 2012 - 11:05pm

A few weeks ago the Eaglecrest Ski Area Board of Directors released a draft Master Plan for this much-beloved community asset. This document is meant to help us all debate and then choose some concrete, long-term goals for the capital city’s community-owned ski area. Many Juneau residents have no doubt participated in so-called “strategic planning” exercises in the context of their job, church, or a non-profit group with which they’re affiliated. To some, the idea of formally mapping future goals and specific objectives may sound unappealing bureaucratic. In reality, the only responsible way to chart a good course toward the future is to look at the past and its failures and accomplishments, then turn to present operations and opportunities, before setting realistic desires and ways to accomplish them in the future.

The Eaglecrest Master Plan process is a year-long effort that began last September, saw a first public meeting last November, and will see a next public meeting on Wednesday. It has included several rounds of public-opinion gathering in more and less structured formats. Master planning has been subdivided to include analysis of the particular virtues and challenges of the physical site, the level of support for existing services, desired amenities that are currently not available, the economics of a publicly-owned ski area, and possibilities for leveraging more revenue without undermining the cherished facility that is so thoroughly enjoyed by its current user base. After the public meeting this week, the Master Plan will be further refined by the Eaglecrest Board and then forwarded to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly for it to adopt, amend, or perhaps remand for more work.

The draft Master Plan introduces itself by stating its goal of identifying, “… multi‐season recreation and commercial uses that are potentially feasible for the area and meet the community’s vision for compatible uses at the mountain.”

Clearly we need to think about more than just wintertime, and expand our thought processes to include money-making uses above and beyond the current definition of recreation. Essentially, whatever is done in the future ought to be driven by a shared vision of members of the community, recognizing that different people think differently about what Eaglecrest should be.

Any given change to the status quo has as much chance of annoying or infuriating some people at the same time that it delights and satisfies others. The relative costs (monetary, experiential, or opportunistic) of any course of action must be weighed against the purported benefits. The draft Master Plan doesn’t shy away from recognizing that Juneau’s population is not growing, and that improvements are going to be made in relatively small steps. At the same time, the draft Master Plan clarifies some of the options that have arisen historically in discussions about what Eaglecrest should be tomorrow, and how the future may differ from the present.

Eaglecrest only generates 70 percent of what it costs to run, and as our community accepts and embraces this reality we’re in a better position to plan successfully for the future. Specific upgrades of the existing mountain, such as a full-scale terrain park and lighting on various lifts or runs to allow for night skiing, may be worth doing, but how and when are unknowns. The current buildings are full to capacity, and there are different ways new building space could be built to accommodate different levels of future demands. The panoply of summer-use options is enticing and perplexing, because while many Juneau residents express an interest in renting a cabin to camp or using an expanded trail network to bicycle or hike, it seems unlikely that charges for these off-season activities could even approach the winter-use cost-recovery rate. While it is tempting to try to tap into a million-person summer visitor clientele, logistics and competition with private enterprise are sources of concern.

One of the biggest issues is whether to change the food and beverage operations at Eaglecrest so as to serve more people and increase revenues. Service of beer and wine could completely alter the revenue picture for Eaglecrest, but many fear that this change would be unhealthy for a public asset so widely used by families.

In the overall context of the way the City and Borough of Juneau is governed, Eaglecrest stands out as a model of the way we can come together to get things done as a community. By way of comparison, consider the clock at the corner or Franklin and Front streets which was broken and stopped (all four faces) for a ridiculously long time. Thanks to Peter Freer’s willingness to step in and serve out the remainder of an unexpired Assembly term (and his wisdom and ability from service many years before) the clock is now working again. Let’s hope the same spirit of getting things done will continue to inform the work of the Eaglecrest Board of Directors, staff, and the people of Juneau across our community to make things better up on the mountain.

• Brown is an attorney who lives in Juneau.

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