Community sounds off on ATV use at Echo Cove

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2007

Worries about all-terrain vehicle use and abuse at Echo Cove have been reverberating throughout the community in recent weeks.

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Trespassing, vandalism, destruction of property and littering have become so rampant on Goldbelt's property that it periodically has placed security guards on its land near Echo Cove, said Bob Martin, vice president of operations for Goldbelt, Juneau's urban Native corporation.

"It's been getting worse and worse and worse," Martin said.

Landowners, homeowners and city and state officials have been discussing options for and problems with the increasingly popular sport that some people say is damaging the end-of-the-road destination.

Goldbelt owns most of the land in Echo Cove next to the tidelands where ATVs are allowed.

"We've been greatly concerned about the amount of damage and the lack of respect for property and property rights out there," Martin said.

James Tipps, president of the local ATV group Rough Riders AK, said a small minority of users are giving them all a bad name.

Discuss the issues

• What: Neighborhood meeting on proposed North Douglas ATV park.

• When: 7-9 p.m. Aug.8.

• Where: Downtown library.

Web links

For more on Rough Riders Alaska, check out www.roughridersak.org.

Rough Riders AK has been trying to address the issue for a while and even approached Goldbelt and federal, state and local officials for help in minimizing the impacts. The group has pushed for better signs around Echo Cove indicating where riders can and can't recreate. Members also have asked agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, for more areas in which they are allowed to ride.

With the exception of the city, Tipps said there has been little cooperation to find solutions.

"It's kind of frustrating because we try to get the area more organized," he said. "All of a sudden there's this big push to close it."

The problems at Echo Cove are compounded by a lack of enforcement in the area, nearly 40 miles northwest of downtown. Police and Alaska State Troopers spend limited time at Echo Cove and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the state agency designated to manage the tidelands, has limited resources.

The department allows off-road vehicles to operate in the tidelands under certain conditions but does not have the ability to issue citations to violators, said Brady Scott, Southeast land-use authorization manager.

"Unfortunately we have a real problem dealing with these sorts of things because the state lacks resources to proactively manage or enforce these sorts of uses," he said.

The department does have the ability to initiate a special-use designation for Echo Cove to make the tidelands nonmotorized if there is significant land or water-quality damage. But again, the state lacks the money to initiate the process, he said.

"These sorts of local problems that develop like this, we really look to the local municipalities on how to take the lead on these types of things," Scott said.

The city operates the boat launch at Echo Cove, which is the only legal access point to the tidelands for the ATV users. Goldbelt recently approached the Docks and Harbors Board Operations Committee and asked it to consider closing the beach access for motorized vehicles.

The city has been looking at ways to accommodate ATV users while addressing land owners' concerns, Assembly member Merrill Sanford said.

"We're never going to be able to satisfy all of them, but we have to look and try to find places for them to be able to enjoy their sport too," he said.

The city has been working with Rough Riders AK on a proposed 15-acre park at Fish Creek Quarry in North Douglas to help alleviate some of the problems at Echo Cove. A conditional-use permit has been submitted and the plan is expected to come before the Juneau Planning Commission in late August.

Residents of North Douglas are concerned with the proposed park and have begun circulating a petition to voice their opposition. Vance Sanders, who lives near the proposed park location, said the area is already heavily used by runners, hikers, hunters and others.

Sanders and his neighbors are concerned the problems that are occurring at Echo Cove could boil over into their neighborhood, he said.

"I think it's fair to say everywhere ATVs have been, they've trashed it," Sanders said. "We don't want them to trash our neighborhood. It's that simple. Never mind the noise."

The areas around the community where ATV users can recreate have been reduced over the last several decades, but population has grown and more people are getting into the sport, Sanford said.

"There isn't anything that government, either state, federal, or us, city government, has done to accommodate them, so they end up having to break the law and going into areas that they're not supposed to be using," he said.

Tipps of the Rough Riders said he is concerned ATV users will eventually be barred from Echo Cove.

"I think that will probably be the end result," he said. "Without anybody willing to work with us out there, the situation won't be getting any better."

If the area does become nonmotorized and the North Douglas park is denied, the community will be faced with people determined to ride with nowhere to legally recreate, Tipps said. That might compound the problem because the riding areas could spread throughout the community.

Presently ATV use is relatively confined, he said.

"Some people will stop riding all together," he said. "Some people will ride wherever they want."

Martin of Goldbelt said something needs to be done to address the ATV use at Echo Cove because of the potential for problems with people's safety. If the government officials fail to act, they could be subject to legal action if someone gets hurt, he said.

"It's definitely getting out of hand," Martin said.

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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