State sues to open camp gate

Land owner says he blocked trail access because of trespassers

Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2000

The state has filed suit to stop Channel Construction from blocking a road to public land near Eagle Beach.

Controversy erupted in October when Channel Construction, owned by William "Shorty" Tonsgard, put a gate across Boy Scout Camp Road. The road accesses 147 acres owned by Tonsgard, as well as a public trail, public waterfront land and a 200-acre Boy Scout camp.

Tonsgard provided a key to the Boy Scouts, but has denied the public access to the trail and the publicly held waterfront. Tonsgard contends he owns the right of way used by the road because it wasn't maintained and isn't used for its original purpose. The state says it's a public easement.

The state attorney general's office asked Juneau Superior Court on Tuesday for a preliminary injunction to open or remove the gate, and to block Channel Construction from restricting access until the lawsuit is resolved. The lawsuit seeks a similar permanent injunction and a declaration that the easement is valid.

The state's complaint says the Boy Scout Camp Road is subject to a 1935 federal easement that passed to the state on Dec. 4 of this year.

That easement and another one on the Herbert River Truck Road have been maintained and are used by the public to reach 6 acres of U.S. Forest Service land and a popular local trailhead, the lawsuit says.

Channel Construction's attorney, Daniel Hickey of Anchorage, was unavailable for comment this morning on the suit.

In an interview last week, Tonsgard said he realizes the gate denies access to a public trail, but he's frustrated with people trespassing on his property. He said he plans to build a home for his family on the site.

"Everybody's driving down there and the way I have my house out there, they can drive along the whole property. The people I've been running into down there have been obnoxious and rude, and I'm not going to put up with it," Tonsgard said.

"A lot of people are wandering around down there even though it's posted," he said. "I don't know if people care that it's private."

The Boy Scout camp itself also is often mistakenly considered to be public land, said Lane Stumme, scout executive for the Southeast Alaska Area Council, Boy Scouts of America.

"It is privately owned," Stumme said. "The beachfront land between the waterline and the mean high tide line is considered to be public land. The main trail going into the camp is public. They can hike out there and walk the beach around the camp."

Stumme said the land is posted to address property ownership and liability issues, but the public has been welcome in the past to hike the area if they ask permission.

"It's common courtesy to property owners," he said.

Tonsgard said he owns 147 acres of land along the Herbert River between Glacier Highway and the Boy Scout Camp, with city property bordering as well.

Some hikers were upset in April to discover 6 acres had been clearcut along the road accessing Boy Scout Camp Trail. Some thought the logged land was public, but Tonsgard owns it and had state permission to harvest up to 14 acres.

Earlier this year, Channel Construction unsuccessfully tried to change the logged parcel's zoning from a rural reserve to an industrial area. Last month Tonsgard applied for permission from the city Community Development Department to mine gravel along the Herbert River. Gravel had been mined in the past in the area, and there is a gravel pit on his property.

"Shorty wants to pull gravel off his land, and it's zoned for that and you can't fault him for that," Stumme said.

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