Locals to face quiz on trails

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2000

Every Juneau household can expect to get quizzed in February about which of the city's trails should get how much commercial use in the future.

The multi-agency Trails Working Group is putting together a multiple-choice questionnaire that gives residents options ranging from high commercial use -- ``Group Size of 20-40, two or more times daily'' -- to no permitted commercial use at all. Respondents will be asked to apply their preferences to some 60 Juneau trails.

The group convened in November to guide commercial use of trails, to reduce conflicts between commercial and non-commercial users and to minimize natural resource degradation.

The panel is chaired by Juneau Assembly member Cathy Munoz and comprises staff from the state Department of Natural Resources, state Parks and Outdoor Recreation, city Parks and Recreation, the city Tourism Advisory Council, the U.S. Forest Service, the citizen group Trail Mix, and private companies Gastineau Guiding and Alaska Discovery Tours.

``The purpose of the group is to make recommendations to the assembly about which areas should be commercially used and which not,'' Munoz said.

The group has winnowed about 60 trails for consideration - from a list of 90, ranging from the end of the road to Thane to North Douglas. The survey list will include eight ridge routes that are not designated trails but are used frequently by hikers and mountaineers.

``The term `commercial use' is pretty broad,'' Munoz said. ``It ranges from guided trail use to horse tours to bicycle tours and could even include hotels or developments like that of Mount Roberts.''

At its meeting Tuesday, the group edged around discussion of helicopter-aided hiking or skiing on Juneau's ridges, opting instead to leave the definition and enumeration of commercial uses open until after survey results are in.

The Eaglecrest Ski Area board in June tabled a proposal to open up the city-owned ski area to a hut system that would accommodate tourists who would have been helicoptered in. The board was motivated by a boisterous crowd of 50 that roundly condemned the notion.

``I don't have a particular goal as to what the percentage of trails (with commercial use) should be,'' said Alaska Discovery Wilderness Tours' spokesman Ken Leghorn, a Trails Advisory Group member. ``But we have an opportunity to plan for what will work as far as the commercial uses of trails.''

Planning ahead makes it more possible to plan in agreement, Leghorn said.

The definition of commercial use can depend on the agency or on what the populace thinks is allowable.

``What we have now is kayak tours, hiking tours, horseback riding,'' said city Parks and Recreation Director Kim Kiefer. ``The Forest Service includes helicopter landings on the ice field. (In the future) the city could include helicopter skiing and helicopter hiking, as well as commercial diving operations.''

The trails group will send out surveys on Feb. 1 and has established a deadline for their return of Feb. 25. A community meeting will be held to consider public opinion and to discuss survey results on March 23 at Centennial Hall. The trail group's recommendations and comments from the public will then be forwarded to the Juneau Assembly for possible implementation during the next round of trails permitting.

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