Maclaren Summit Trail Extension-Phase II

Dear Candice:

The following are the comments of the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) on the proposed Maclaren Summit Trail Extension-Phase II.

Founded in 1996, AQRC’s mission is to maintain and restore natural sounds and natural quiet in Alaska through advocacy and education for the benefit of people and wildlife; protecting wildlife, of course, requires protecting it not only from disturbing mechanical noise but also from the more obvious habitat damage done by poorly regulated ATVs, snowmachines, airboats, etc.  More particularly, we’re dedicated to protecting the rights of Alaskans to quiet places for the benefit of public land users, home and cabin owners, communities, businesses, visitors, future generations, and wildlife.  We believe that natural sounds and natural quiet should receive the same consideration given to other ecological values, such as clean air and water, fish, wildlife, soils, vegetation, scenic beauty, and wilderness character.  Although there are many places in Alaska that look the same as they did 100 or more years ago, very few sound as they did just 10 or 20 years ago.

In addition to protecting ecological values like the ones listed above, one of AQRC’s specific goals is a fair and equitable overall balance on the public lands between those managed for motorized recreation, and those managed for quiet, truly traditional forms of recreation like hiking, canoeing, kayaking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing.

The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition is strongly opposed to the proposed further extension of the Maclaren Summit Trail.

There are very few hiking trails on State public domain land in Southcentral Alaska, certainly including the Denali Highway region. The characterization of many trails as “multi-use” is very misleading.  On so-called multi-use trails the motorized use is clearly dominant, and the great majority of non-motorized users seeking a high quality recreational experience, as opposed to one with numerous conflicts and impacts, are displaced.  The trail becomes, de facto, a motorized trail.  This gross, and grossly unfair, imbalance, needs to be righted.  Responsible land managers should seek to provide a high quality recreational experience for all types of uses, not just–ironically–those uses that create the greatest conflicts and impacts, the motorized uses.

Another irony is that the Maclaren Summit Trail, while open to motorized use, was–and hopefully still is, in spite of DNR’s previous extension–a de facto non-motorized trail, probably because it is too short to be attractive to most motorized users. Consequently, since it has spectacular views and is mostly dry and level, it receives a substantial amount of hiking use from both Alaska residents and visitors.  We’ve met a number of Outside independent visitors on the trail, as well as a busload of visitors traveling with a commercial operation.  Extending the trail will undoubtedly make it far more attractive to motorized users.  Hikers will be displaced and will lose one of the best of the very few existing quality trail opportunities–in spite of the fact that motorized users already have a lengthy, additional motorized trail just across the highway, accessed from the same parking area as the Maclaren trail.

There are certainly places off of the Denali Highway where a hiker can travel without a trail.  In many places, however, the lower elevation scrub makes this quite difficult.  Perhaps most importantly, though, the great majority of visitors, especially perhaps those from Outside, are uncomfortable and lack the confidence to hike off trail.  There is no reason why this large number of potential hikers should not be accommodated.

Additionally, we’re concerned that DNR doesn’t have the capability to monitor use on this–or on other–motorized trails in the region. It’s the rare constructed motorized trail that doesn’t end up with unauthorized, so-called “social,” off shoots or extensions that create unplanned damage (including of course habitat loss) and conflicts.  We would be delighted to hear that we are wrong, and that you are able to have a DNR presence on the ground adequate to prevent social trails from developing.

We continue to be puzzled, and frustrated, by the amount of time and money DNR puts into motorized trails.  At far less expense, it could be helping to right the existing trail imbalance by developing additional non-motorized trails.    We certainly appreciate the Rusty Lake trail, but it’s discouraging to see that many years after its creation there is still no signage on the highway alerting visitors to its existence. What are DNR’s plans for creating more hiking trails?  We would be happy to sit down with you and brainstorm possible new non-motorized trail opportunities or enhancements.

We urge the Department to fall back on basic elements of both fairness and land stewardship and reject this proposal in favor of increasing, rather than reducing, quality opportunities for quiet, contemplative, appreciative recreation.


Brian Okonek
President, Board of Directors
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition

cc: Clark Cox, DMLW Southcentral Region Manager
     Ed Fogels, Deputy Commissioner