Chugach National Forest: Comments on Non-motorized/Motorized Issues

December 21, 2012
Shannon Donovan, Assistant Professor
Geography & Environmental Studies
Beatrice McDonald Hall, Room 213
3211 Providence Drive
Anchorage, AK 99508-4614

Dear Professor Donovan:

The purpose of this letter is to offer the comments of the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) on various non-motorized/motorized issues in the Chugach National Forest (CNF) as part of the current planning effort to revise the 2002 Revised CNF Land & Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan). We are aware of the online mapping tool for such comments, but believe our comments exceed the space provided so have chosen to provide them in this form. A copy has been emailed to you so an electronic version of this letter is available.

AQRC is a state-wide, non-profit organization the mission of which is to maintain and restore natural sounds and natural quiet in Alaska through advocacy and education for the benefit of people and wildlife. Our objective in regard to recreation is to seek a fair and balanced allocation of Alaska’s public lands for both non-motorized and motorized recreational uses. AQRC was heavily involved in the development of the current Forest Plan, from the very beginnings through the 2002 revision. We are not eager to make that kind of time commitment again for what we felt was a minimal return, in regard to the allocation of non-motorized winter recreation opportunities in the Forest. It is our hope that the new planning rule will make our participation less of a time commitment, but still allow our interests for quiet recreational opportunities to be heard, valued and fairly recognized in the new Forest Plan.

These comments are in three parts: what we believe is working in the current Plan; what needs change and potential future activities which we oppose.

A) What is working in the current plan:

The Turnagain Pass split use area with skiers on the east side and motorized on the west side. The area needs some enforcement of seasonal closures, especially during the early season when there is very little snow cover. Every year, several snowmachines jump the gun and are scarring low tundra and crushing low brush in the valley floor.

The Resurrection Pass year on/year off seems to be working well though non-motorized users have complained of running into multiple snowmachiners in a non-motorized year: for example, State Troopers on a “joy ride”; a snowmachiner, accompanied by a young man on another machine, who appeared at a cabin and claimed he was a subsistence user though apparently was just showing his son the new cabin.

The Bear Valley (near Portage) is nice as a non-motorized valley, although access during low-snow winters is tricky even for skiers and snowshoeing.

The Railroad whistle stops seem to be working.

The grooming provided by the Cooper Landing and Seward ski organizations is wonderful.

B) What needs tweaking from current plan:

The Lost Lake non-motorized access from the south side is only a theory. Although two trails may alleviate safety concerns for skiers climbing up to Lost Lake, the reality is that backcountry skiers have been almost completely driven from this entire region. Motorized use is so pervasive throughout the plateau/valleys from Lost Lake to Cooper Lake that skiers no longer use that area. The snow is packed so hard by machines that it is just a bumpy skittering epic, and the noise and smells of snowmachines render the area a very unpleasant experience. So don’t consider this a “multi-use” area. It is exclusively motorized. How about sharing it with a year on/year off motorized/non/motorized ?
Likewise, the Snow River, which shows non-motorized except the motorized access corridor to the Nellie Juan Lake country. The Snow River is so steep and narrow that a access corridor effectively makes the whole valley motorized. Again, issues of noise, odors, and hard packed/hummocky trail.

Skiers are avoiding Crescent Lake due to confusion as to whether the lake is open or closed to snowmachining.

The Divide Creek winter motorized area needs to be extended to encompass the entire watershed of Center Creek. Without on-site enforcement, motorized users freely use the entire valley, since the boundary is hardly more than a little frozen creek along the valley floor. Additionally—there is no quiet “non-motorized” experience available to the skier/snowshoer who travels into that valley.

The Skookum Glacier non-motorized season and area need to be expanded to provide non-motorized area for backcountry touring and skate/crust skiers in the spring. The current April 1-30 closure is too late for snow conditions in the approach swamp and Skookum valley. This closure needs to begin on March 1 and extend through April 30. Otherwise, motorized use gets the good snowcover, and skiers have to contend with deep soft trenches left by the snowmachines tracks, no snow bridges and big wet lakes on the swamp to the north. Ideally, and practically, the railroad tracks should demarcate the motorized/nonmotorized areas from the Portage Road/Placer River pullouts south to the Spencer Glacier.

Potential future activities AQRC opposes:

AQRC is adamantly opposed to the Manitoba “Restoration” Project proposed by the Mountain Riders Alliance. The Summit non-motorized area is currently the ONLY truly quiet backcountry telemark country available for a day’s skiing in southcentral Alaska. To even consider mechanical lifts, groomers, warming huts, and all the motorized logistics associated with even a small ski area is contrary to the intent of the area. To say the “motorized” closure only applies to snowmachines and helicopters is disingenuous and disappointing.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

Sincerely yours,

Brian Okonek, President
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition
PO Box 202592
Anchorage, AK 99520

cc: Terri Marceron, Supervisor
Chugach National Forest
161 East 1st Ave.
Door 8
Anchorage, AK 99501