Pit may turn into ATV park

City eyes rock quarry for off-roaders

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2001

Off-road riders denied a playground since 1997 might get a break next year.

The city is considering a plan to turn its rock quarry about a half-mile up North Douglas' Fish Creek Road into a park for off-road vehicles, giving the banished riders a legal recreational area for the first time in years. A local trail group Wednesday received a grant to develop the project, which could open by 2002.

"This is an area that's already disturbed by rock removal activities," said Steve Gilbertson, city land and resources manager. "Off-road vehicle use can't do much damage to the quarry site."

"I think it's a wonderful idea," said Gail Niemi, of the Southeast Alaska Off-Road Riders Association. "It pleases me that they're trying to fix this problem."

The Forest Service banned off-road riders from the federal Dredge Lakes area in the Mendenhall Valley four years ago, saying they were illegally straying beyond the 200 acres open to them and harming the environment. Residents haven't had a legal place to ride all-terrain vehicles since, although they're allowed onto Mendenhall Lake when it freezes in winter.

The Forest Service recently launched an effort with the city and state to find an area that's comparable to Dredge Lakes for the displaced riders. Gilbertson said the proposed 20-acre park at the rock quarry would help that effort but not resolve the issue because it replaces only a fraction of the land riders have lost. Niemi, the off-road rider, agreed.

"It's not going to solve the ATV problem," Niemi said. "But it's a step in the right direction."

The quarry is one of two city-owned rock pits off Fish Creek Road - the road leading to Eaglecrest Ski Area. The city owns one quarry near the Eaglecrest parking lot, but the quarry in question is near the bottom of Fish Creek Road - roughly half a mile up from North Douglas Highway and at the end of a side road about a quarter of a mile long. The city plans to mine rock from both pits for a Douglas Harbor expansion project, but after that work the lower pit could be turned into an off-road vehicle park, said Gilbertson, adding "this is one of the few sites on city land that would be suitable."

The first step is to determine whether riders and other people who use the area support the idea, said James King of Trail Mix, a local nonprofit group that works on trails. The organization received a $30,000 state grant Wednesday to advance the proposal.

King said he believes some people go to the quarry to walk dogs and shoot guns but he's not aware of a large number of people using the area. If the public supports the idea, Trail Mix will meet with off-road riders and draw a plan for the project, which could include jumps, vehicle trails and a parking lot, King said. Then the plan would go to the Juneau Planning Commission for approval.

"If the decision is made to turn it into an off-road vehicle park, we hope to be actively making those improvements as they (the city) are cleaning up and moving machinery out of there from having removed the rock," said King. "Hopefully in the summer of 2002."

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.

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