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New snowmobile trail gains support

Assembly considers Blackerby Ridge for access improvements

Posted: Monday, February 15, 2010

A snowmobile access trail in Lemon Creek cleared a hurdle last week with a city committee on land use.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The trail on Blackerby Ridge would provide snowmobile riders a third large riding area in Juneau, and be open for hiking and biking in the summer.

The Assembly Lands Committee approved the idea Wednesday, but the trail still faces multiple rounds of review before it could be built.

Snowmobilers can ride in the Dan Moller basin on Douglas Island and in Spaulding Meadows north of the Mendenhall Valley. Additional areas would meet the needs of growing numbers of riders, former Juneau Snowmobile Club President Ray Howard said.

"It would offer another opportunity and take some of the pressure off the other two areas," Howard said.

Good riding conditions bring crowded parking lots and trails at existing areas, he said.

More than two years ago, snowmobilers failed at an attempt to gain access to terrain at Eaglecrest Ski Area. The proposal pitted snowmobilers against skiers and created a rift in the community.

After the ski area board declined access, the Alpine Working Group formed with members from both sides that agreed to work together to look for an alternative location.

The Blackerby Ridge proposal resulted, and so far has avoided widespread opposition.

Howard said one reason is that the trail would provide access for multiple kinds of users.

In the summer, hikers and bikers could get to Lemon and Ptarmigan glaciers. In winter, skiers could drop in to the Salmon Creek drainage to the south of the ridge, he said.

The trail would not provide summertime motorized access.

About two miles long, the trail would climb to an elevation of 2,000 feet to 2,500 feet, where good winter riding terrain is located in Sawmill Creek and Canyon Creek basins. One of the drainages offers double the amount of riding terrain as the Dan Moller area, Howard said.

About 6 feet to 12 feet wide, the trail would start on city property at the gravel pit next to Home Depot and cross state and federal lands going along a route already prescribed by the existing Lemon Creek trail.

The project already received support from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

Next it will go in front of Trail Mix. Snowmobilers hope the trail advocacy group will accept it as a project, Howard said.

The board, which has 10 public members and three land agency representatives, is not yet scheduled to vote on the project, Board President Mike McKrill said.

Not a snowmobiler himself, McKrill said he personally likes the trail proposal since it would provide summertime hiking access.

Concerns outlined at a city Parks and Rec meeting include the safety of riders in dangerous terrain, as well as impacts to mountain goat habitat, Board Member Alice Rarig said.

Rarig's main concern is keeping all-terrain vehicles off the trail in the summer.

"That would exacerbate the conflict with other users many times over," she said, and "open up the alpine zone to abuse."

The project cost has not been established.

Howard said it would be paid for with grants and other fundraising efforts, which would take place over the next three to five years.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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