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ANCHORAGE - A lake along one of Alaska's most popular highways could be transformed into a "world class" viewing area under a U.S. Forest Service proposal.
Tern Lake is about 80 miles south of Anchorage, south of the Y junction of the Seward and Sterling highways. It attracts a menagerie of birds, mammals and fish within easy viewing of thousands of people traveling between Anchorage and the Kenai River-Seward recreation corridor every summer.
"It probably has the potential to become the premier road-accessible wildlife viewing spot in the state, and it's definitely world class," said Seward district ranger Mike Kania.
The Tern Lake project is part of a broader push to expand recreational opportunities in the Chugach National Forest, Kania said. He said the plan includes 10 to 15 new cabins on the Peninsula and 130 miles of new trails.
Other projects in the works include rebuilding a portion of the Iditarod Trail between Seward and Kenai Lake, plus a new hut-to-hut trail system linking the Ptarmigan Lake-Snow River areas, sponsored by the Alaska Mountains and Wilderness Huts Association.
The 55-acre Tern Lake and wetland draws nesting loons, gulls, ducks and terns, king, sockeye and coho salmon, black and brown bears, moose, beavers and swans.
Forest Service planners say the surrounding slopes may offer the best chance on the road system to see mountain goats, plus the more common Dall sheep.
Nearly 5,000 vehicles per day pass the Sterling-Seward Y, according to state traffic counts in 2001.
"We want to get people out of their cars and out onto the national forest," Kania said.
Under the proposal, the agency would build a fish-viewing bridge, about 1.2 miles of new trails and 1,420 feet of new boardwalks. There could be a visitor cabin, interpretative signs and spotting scopes at eight sites. A 10-foot-tall observation tower, modeled on an old-time forest service fire lookout, might be built on an accessible knob. Visitors could climb up for a new view.
The facility would offer restrooms at the picnic area, plus access to a seven-mile biking and hiking trail that would be brushed out along what used to be the old Sterling Highway toward Quartz Creek.
A detailed description of the project, with charts, can be found online or obtained from the Chugach National Forest. The agency wants comments by May 2.