Kenai Winter Access Plan (Response to New Changes)

December 15, 2006

Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition
P.O. Box 202592
Anchorage, AK 99520

Mr. Joe Meade
Forest Supervisor
Chugach National Forest
3301 C Street
Anchorage, Alaska 99508

Dear Mr. Meade,

The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC ) is dedicated to protecting the rights of Alaskans to quiet places for the benefit of public land users, private property owners, communities, businesses, wildlife, visitors and future generations.  For the past eight years, through the long process of the Chugach Forest Plan and many iterations of the Kenai Winter Access (KWA) Plan, AQRC has patiently and steadfastly participated in collaborative meetings, workshops and open houses, multiple letter writings and public comment periods and ID team meetings.  AQRC has been joined by hundreds of concerned backcountry users, wilderness advocates, wildlife biologists, property owners and quiet recreationists in expressing the fundamental need for natural quiet and separate use areas for motorized and non-motorized recreationists.  As we all approach the end of this lengthy process, we find that these fundamental requirements still are not accommodated in the KWA plan.

AQRC is deeply concerned that the preferred alternative of the Kenai Winter Access SIES preferred alternative does not provide ANY reasonable opportunities for the quiet recreationist on the Seward District of the Chugach National Forest.  When viewed cumulatively with the remainder of the western Chugach Forest, Chugach State Park, surrounding state lands and the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, there are no opportunities for motorized free recreation for a day outing from the communities of South Central Alaska.  The preferred alternative map proports to create “more” non-motorized area than was available in the earlier alternatives of the DIES.  However, these non-motorized areas are trangressed with motorized “corridors” that render the non-motorized areas at best noisy, and realistically, subject to uncontrolled and difficult to enforcement,  incursions by motorized users.

The expanded motorized use area on the east side of the Seward Hiway brings additional motorized traffic into prime touring and telemark terrain east of both Summit Lakes.  If the southern boundary of the Summit non-motorized unit is moved south to incorporate the Butcher and Tenderfoot Creek bowls above state land, this provides great terrain for both user groups.  This provides a clear boundary (the state land is surveyed with a clear survey line through the hemlock, continuing up the ridgeline to the 5000′ peak and south along the divide to the pass above Mills Creek. We recognize that the Summit Lake Lodge catered to motorized users during the period it was open during the winter in the late 1980’s.  Motorized users have the entire valley floor through Forest and State land from the Tern Lake Y to north of the state gravel pits.  Additionally, they have high marking opportunities on Tenderfoot Peak, John’s Peak and the intervening valleys.  Non-motorized users seeking quiet, safety and unmarked snow would enjoy the gentle and steeper terrain above the valley floor on the east side of the highway, including prime ridges and bowls of Tenderfoot and Butcher Creek, Ravens Ridge, Sugar Mountain, Manitoba Mountain and north.

The motorized corridor from Summit Lakes north to the Hope Y along the powerline is a mapmaker’s fantasy and completely unrealistic on the ground.  The powerline crosses several deep steep canyons that are completely impassible by snowmachines (Fresno, Pass and Frenchy Creeks).  Motorized users attempting this route would have to descend to the highway, follow the barpit for several miles, and then go up to rejoin the powerline near the Y.  Another entirely suitable and frequently traveled route exists along the Iditarod trail on Trail Lake and Johnson Pass.  This is already a motorized corridor, which can be accessed from Moose Pass, the properties near Tern Lake and Cooper Landing.  Another corridor transgressing a non-motorized area is not necessary, and in this terrain, is unfeasible.

AQRC appreciates the effort to recreate a non-motorized area through annual switches of the Resurrection unit.  However, during motorized years, the non-motorized users are excluded from any long tours with cabins.  Another unit needs to be switched with the Resurrection unit so that both types of users have opportunities during every winter.  The most likely candidates for annual switching would be the Carter/Crescent and Russian units, thus providing a long tour and cabins for both user groups during every winter.  Although those two units combined only provide four cabins to the Resurrection eight cabins, at least there would be some parity that is missing from the current alternative.

Which brings us to the Snow River unit, the prime reason for the SEIS to the KWA.  AQRC appreciates the effort of the ID team to create non-motorized country close to Moose Pass and Seward.  However, putting a motorized corridor along the bottom of an incredibly steep and narrow valley completely invalidates the non-motorized designation.  There is only one access route up the South Fork of the Snow River.  The exact location varies from year to year due to vagaries of freeze up, open water and ice bridges and avalanches.  But everyone going up that valley must use the same thread of ground.  The statement in the Supplement to the DEIS that “the expanded terrain for non-motorized uses would provide an opportunity to recreate away from the shared area and experience no encounters” at best reflects ignorance of the country and at worst is disingenuous and false.  The “expanded terrain” is steep and directly above the motorized corridor, doing nothing to provide “no encounters”.  Again, there is an alternative motorized corridor to the Nellie Juan country up Trail Creek that is used by snowmachiners due to more reliable snow conditions.

The above comments are summarized on the attached map, which AQRC prepared in cooperation with the Alaska Center for the Environment and numerous non-motorized users.  AQRC earnestly requests that these suggestions be incorporated into the Record of Decision for the KWA.  These suggestions help provide a balanced recreation spectrum on the Seward District that minimizes conflicts between the motorized and non-motorized user groups and greatly simplifies enforcement and management for the Chugach National Forest staff.

Respectfully submitted

Trisha Herminghaus
President, AQRC