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The city has $400,000 to do something to the Fish Creek area, a popular sport fishing and recreation site on North Douglas. But nearby residents want to be sure the city doesn't attract tourists, RV campers and more users in general.
The city is starting to create a master plan for the Fish Creek area, which is designated a park in the Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan. The funds come from the two-year 1 percent sales tax for parks and harbors that voters passed in 1998.
"A master plan doesn't mean developing this area," Parks and Recreation Director Kim Kiefer told about 30 interested citizens Thursday night at the downtown library. "It could mean we don't want to touch this area."
North Douglas resident Greg Cook cautioned the city to "touch" the area slowly and gently.
"One of the things we cherish is wildlife," he said. "We like living close to wildlife. We like living with wildlife."
Residents walk their dogs, hike, gather plants, fish, ski and skate there. They said they see otters, owls, waterfowl, deer and bears. But they also see trash, trails muddy from use and pond banks eroded by fishermen.
The city owns about 85 acres of mostly muskeg around the state-owned estuary that leads to Fish Creek. Two ponds were created when gravel was dredged to build North Douglas Highway. One pond, with a dike breached in a storm years ago, holds king salmon-rearing pens in a state-funded stocking program. The creek also has natural runs of pink, chum and coho salmon and Dolly Varden.
Resident Steve Zimmerman said the trails have been walked to death and the pond banks eroded by people sliding down them to go fishing.
"The impact of benign neglect in the face of an awful lot of usage is deterioration of the area," he said.
Residents talked about closing the breached dike in the south pond, which would eliminate its usefulness for stocking king salmon. But an angler said the fishery is a critical use of Fish Creek.
At a time of tight quotas and fishing restrictions for natural runs of kings, the terminal fishery for stocked kings provides extra fish with looser catch restrictions. The waters outside the estuary have become a popular boat fishery as well, said state sport fish biologist Mark Schwan.
The site also holds a gravel parking lot north of the creek. The city is considering building a pedestrian bridge over the creek so people don't park along the highway south of the creek.
Diane Antaya, a naturalist with Discovery Southeast, said the nonprofit organization uses Fish Creek as an outdoor classroom in winter for students from Harborview and Gastineau elementary schools. A small bridge would improve safety, she said, because the children now have to walk along the highway.
The city expects to hold further public meetings this winter and hopes to have a master plan done by spring.