HOMER — The last time the Alaska Department of Natural Resources updated its Kachemak Bay State Park and Wilderness Park Management Plan, the parks had gone through some major impacts, including the March 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, and adding 50,000 acres to the parks in 1989 and buying back 23,000 acres of private lands in 1993 to prevent logging. Those events prompted a 1995 update of the management plan.
While nothing as drastic has happened in the past 18 years, there have been some proposed park uses that have prompted a review, such as permitting helicopter skiing and opening the park to bicycling and personal watercraft, also called Jet skis.
Besides, it’s time, said Shawana Guzenski, project manager with the DNR for Kachemak Bay State Park planning.
“A lot’s happened since 1995. It’s something we aim to do every 20 years,” she said.
The Alaska Legislature created Kachemak Bay State Park in 1970, Alaska’s first state park, and Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park in 1972. Together they’re 380,000 acres, about half the size of Rhode Island. From Bear Cove at the head of the bay to Tutka Bay, up smaller coves and rivers, it’s about half the south shore of the bay.
The wilderness park goes across the mountains to the south coast of the Kenai Peninsula, including Port Dick. The state park also includes part of the outer coast along Nuka Island. The state park also includes land on the Homer side in the Cottonwood and Eastland Creek area.
The management plan update started earlier this month with an open house in Homer. The management plan will include areas not officially in the park, but managed by the Alaska Division of Parks and Recreation, including the Diamond Creek State Recreation Site. People noted that, Guzenski said.
“That’s great,” she said. “Part of the comments we’ve received have been ‘That’s not part of the park. Why are you asking that?’”
Over the winter and spring, DNR will be working on the first two steps in the planning process, identifying issues and gathering information. The deadline for what DNR calls the scoping period is Jan. 31, but comments will be taken after that.
Park users can fill out a recreational use and access questionnaire that asks for information on visits to the parks, areas visited, activities done and activities people both want and don’t want in the park.
The Homer Cycling Club is one user group that has expressed interest in expanding recreational use, Guzenski said. Another issue might be expanding or restricting float plane use.
“Is this something we need to look at?” she said. “Are we able to allow disabled people access to the park? These are all things that may not have been addressed in the 1995 plan, but that we hope to address throughout the process.”
One hot-button issue has been allowing personal watercraft in Kachemak Bay State Park. In 2011, the Personal Watercraft Club of Alaska went before the Kachemak Bay State Park Citizens Advisory Board to get support for allowing personal watercraft in the bay. The board rejected that idea.
In 2000, Gov. Tony Knowles and then State Parks Division Director Jim Stratton issued orders banning personal watercraft in the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area and Kachemak Bay State Park.
Guzenski pointed out that most of Kachemak Bay is managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“It’s not something we could unilaterally change,” she said of allowing personal watercraft. “If it was deemed an appropriate activity, we would have to work with Fish and Game.”
Not that DNR and the Alaska Division of Parks have made any decisions. That’s one misconception some people have, Guzenski said.
“That’s not the case at all. We come into this with a blank slate,” she said.
Any changes in a management plan would have to be done in accordance with the Alaska Statutes that created both parks.
The point of the open house held earlier in November was to get people aware of the planning process. Meetings also will be held in south-shore bay and lower Cook Inlet communities, including Halibut Cove, Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham, as well as Anchorage. The planning group will be at future events like next May’s Kachemak Shorebird Festival.
“Right now we want to hear from the public,” Guzenski said. “We want to know what your issues are, what your concerns are — how you use the park, how you would like to use the park.”