Trespass by Denali National Park crew angers hunters in Cantwell

Posted: Monday, August 11, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Cantwell residents upset over limited access into Denali National Park and Preserve say there should be repercussions for a park trail crew that trespassed on private property.

The trail crew got two off-road vehicles stuck on a muddy, privately owned trail, an incident described by assistant park superintendent Philip Hooge as minor and "a mud hole made bigger."

The crew should not have been on the trail and should not have been using off-road vehicles, he said. The Park Service apologized to the landowner, Ahtna Native Corp., and offered to repair damage and pay restitution.

"It was an isolated incident, but one we took full responsibility for," Hooge said.

Katheryn Martin, vice president of land and resources for Ahtna, said the Native corporation was "upset" about the trespassing incident but was not necessarily interested in making a big issue out of it.

"They contacted us, admitted to the mistake they made and basically said it won't happen again," Martin said.

But residents of Cantwell, a community of 183 about 150 miles south of Fairbanks, say they would not have gotten off so easily if they had damaged the park.

Many remain bitter over haggling about access with the Park Service for the better part of 30 years following passage of Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which expanded Denali Park and Preserve from two to six million acres.

"If I go off the trail and break a dwarf birch, I'm facing a $1,000 fine," said longtime resident Gordon Carlson, one of a handful of federally qualified subsistence users who can drive all-terrain vehicles into the park to hunt. "If we (trespass), we're facing fines. They'll send a botanist out there to look at the ground. They'll spend thousands of dollars to prosecute us."

Carlson noted the case of Jeff King, the four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog champion from Denali Park who was charged earlier this year with illegally shooting a moose and driving an all-terrain vehicle just inside the park boundary during hunting season. King is set to go to trial on Aug. 18.

"For me, it's like, wait a second, sorry don't quite get it," Carlson said. "It's just the principle of it."

Marty Caress, another longtime Cantwell resident, agreed.

"I think whatever penalties would apply to us should apply to them," Caress said.

The trail crew was marking a boundary along an easement trail through Ahtna property just outside a residential area on the north edge of Cantwell when they left the trail and got the ORVs stuck on a connector trail they were not supposed to be on, Hooge said.

The crew was putting up signs where the trail leaves the easement trail to denote that it is closed.

"That's the irony," Hooge said.

Hooge and park superintendent Paul Anderson said they understand why some Cantwell residents are "crying hypocrisy," as Hooge put it, considering how vigilant the Park Service is about trespass issues in the park. They said the park service has done all it can do unless Ahtna files a trespass complaint with Alaska State Troopers.

He declined to specify the disciplinary action taken other than to say that nobody lost a job.

Carlson and Caress would like to see the Park Service loosen off-road vehicle restrictions on subsistence users from Cantwell. Getting access into the park for hunting has been "a constant 30-year ongoing battle," Carlson said.

Subsistence hunters on ORVs are restricted to four established trails and the Cantwell Creek flood plain in a southern portion of the park that was added as a result of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980.

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