Out Glacier Highway and on the trail

Parks advisers seek north-south trail from Amalga Harbor to Eagle Beach

Posted: Sunday, December 08, 2002

Someday when Juneau residents talk about going "out the road" it may be to go on the trail.

A subcommittee of state and city park advisers, and other residents, talked Saturday at the University of Alaska Southeast about how to enhance recreation in the green area from about Peterson Creek to the Eagle and Herbert rivers.

It's a quilt of city, state and private land mostly west of Glacier Highway that includes Boy Scout and church camps, a harbor used by anglers, some homes, a state recreation area to the north, and trailheads leading to national forest land to the east.

"Today we see this as a unit," said Jim King, a retired federal biologist. "But others see it as spots of opportunity. It's important to encourage the view of the whole thing as a mega-park that provides something for everyone."

A developer might want to build a hotel next to a pond in the area and it would need only the approval of most Juneau Assembly members, King said. "So we need to have a constituency that is using the area."

Attendees Saturday focused on a main trail that would stretch from Peterson Creek to the Herbert and Eagle rivers, with smaller trails looping from it. But they also talked about avoiding habitat that is important to wildlife, from otters in the ocean to bears in the meadows.

Karla Hart, of the Juneau state parks advisory board, said separate areas should be identified that would be managed for more intensive human use, such as with cabins or campgrounds; easily accessible backcountry experiences such as on less-developed trails; and wildlife.

"We should protect it for wildlife first," she said.

"It would be a wonderful statement if we made a trail that takes wildlife into account. It's almost never done," said Richard Carstensen of Discovery Southeast, a nature educational organization.

Residents, agency managers and area landowners last year identified sensitive wildlife areas as the confluence of the Herbert and Eagle rivers, a pond near Amalga Harbor that is fed by salt and fresh water, wetlands east of Amalga, and the Amalga Meadows. Nancy Waterman, a city parks advisor, added Saturday that stream corridors are sensitive areas.

The group's work comes at a time when some recreational areas out the road have been built up and others are slated for work. Those developments are likely to draw more people to the area.

State Parks unveiled new shelters, rest rooms, barbecues and paved trails at Eagle Beach State Recreation Area this summer. The state Department of Fish and Game plans to add parking at Amalga Harbor, add a kayak launch, and dredge the harbor basin so boats can be launched at low tide. The state Department of Transportation is considering widening Glacier Highway in the area and paving or expanding trailhead parking lots.

Improvements provide more opportunities for recreation - and for conflicts among different kinds of users and for abuse of the land, attendees noted.

The Boy Scouts would welcome an improved access road to its camp so it could offer a supervised mountain bike program, said Lane Stumme of the Scouts. But the road also would carry unsupervised cyclists to the wetlands, where bikes could tear up the land.

"A lot of that control can come through education," said James King, executive director of the trail maintenance organization Trail Mix and the son of Jim King.

Carstensen warned that pet dogs on trails are the enemy of wildlife.

"We have a very clear inverse relation of dogs to everything else" near trails, he said. "The most important thing we can do to protect wildlife is think about where dogs go."

The subcommittee is expected to meet in January and February. The group's discussions could lead to recommendations to the public by spring.

Eric Fry can be reached at fry@juneauempire.com.

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