Group sues on behalf of Pilgrim family

Posted: Tuesday, November 04, 2003

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A legal foundation has sued the National Park Service on behalf of a family that wants road access to its backcountry property within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

The Pacific Legal Foundation on Monday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on behalf of members of the Pilgrim family, who have been unsuccessful in getting a Park Service permit to use a 14-mile mining road leading to their back country cabin.

Papa Pilgrim, who changed his name from Bobby Hale, and his family bought a 410-acre parcel in the spring of 2002 and moved into a miner's house on the property. The house burned in April and the family wants to use the road to bring in supplies to rebuild a structure.

"What we are trying for is access to our home," Pilgrim said in a telephone interview Monday.

The Pilgrims - Papa, 62, and his wife, Country Rose, 45, - have 15 children.

The Park Service closed the road to motorized vehicles earlier this year after Pilgrim used a bulldozer to clear brush and make the road more passable. The road crisscrosses a salmon stream called McCarthy Creek.

The road remained open to horses and foot traffic, but the Pilgrims have been unable to move in windows, roofing material, insulation and other large or bulky quantities of supplies.

The 13.2 million-acre national park begins about 170 miles east of Anchorage and stretches to the Canadian border.

Pilgrim said he believes the family has enough food, delivered with help from volunteer pilots.

But even if the road opened immediately, Pilgrim said, he's not sure construction materials could be brought in this year. The road crosses mountain passes that have glaciated, he said, and ice would have to be cleared by bulldozer for the road to be made safe.

Park Service spokesman John Quinley said Monday the agency had not had time to study the lawsuit or respond to it, but he was confident that the government would prevail.

"We believe that the court will find that we have followed both the letter and the spirit of the laws that cover access across national parks," Quinley said.

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