Alaska editorial: Upkeep funding gives parks a needed boost

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2007

The people at the state Division of Parks were happily stunned at the beginning of the Palin administration when they were told that they might be able to get $1 million for deferred maintenance.

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"That was almost unheard-of for us," said Chris Degernes, chief of field operations for state parks. "We hear right? That many zeroes? Us?"

She heard right, and it's about time state parks had such good news.

When the capital budget was finally signed into law, it included the $1 million in deferred maintenance, along with $400,000 for emergency repairs. That's more than twice the previous year's budget for maintenance and repairs, and the biggest such allocation since the 1986 oil crash.

In addition, $880,000 will go to finish overhauls of popular, old state campgrounds at Harding Lake south of Fairbanks, Johnson Lake on the Kenai Peninsula and Nancy Lake near Willow. The face-lifts will include improved restrooms (some of the state's facilities are much the worse for wear and vandals), wider roads and sites tailored to modern RVs, as well as tent sites. The Nancy Lake plan also includes public-use cabins.

Repair money will go to mend ice dam damage to Kenai River walkways, bridges damaged by snowloads and deteriorating trails.

Close to Anchorage, one of the biggest items on the deferred maintenance list is the Upper Huffman trail head into Chugach State Park. There, $170,000 likely will buy a modern concrete restroom that's easy to maintain and vandal-resistant, along with expanded parking, which will be especially helpful to snowmobile riders. All told, the parks division has more than $2.5 million in capital money this year.

And this fall, with money appropriated last year, work will begin on a caretaker cabin/rescue cache at the Glen Alps trail head along with parking lot paving and restroom replacement. Degernes said a year-round volunteer caretaker will be appointed to provide help to park users and be the division's "eyes and ears" against vandals and other bad actors. This is a great addition for the most popular trail head in Chugach State Park.

Gov. Sarah Palin has said she wants Alaska's state parks in better shape. With a backlog of $50 million in deferred maintenance, shaping up will take more than a few years. The parks won't catch up overnight. But as recently appointed director James King said, "it's a great step in the right direction for us."

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