Palmer Hayflats Refuge: ATVs on Cottonwood Creek Trail

Joe Meehan
Statewide Refuge Coordinator
RE: Cottonwood Creek Trail Comments
Dear Mr. Meehan,
On November 3, 2015, ADFG held a scoping meeting at Mat-Su College to solicit comments regarding the management of Cottonwood Creek Trail. The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition would like to pass on our thoughts concerning management issues.
While there are already numerous locations and conditions that favor ATV use, the wetlands of the Palmer Hayflats Refuge during hunting season on the Cottonwood Creek Trail aren’t one of them. The trail was originally allowed provisionally subject to future review. What we have seen as a result of years of use, despite attempts to minimize damage, is a trail that is a continuous mudhole in the fall, which encourages trail widening and tidal gut formations.
While tidal guts can develop naturally, they are greatly accelerated by ATV traffic’s trenching and channeling water. Because draining wetlands changes the favorable wildlife habitat to drier sedge, allowing continued ATV use does not contribute to protecting and preserving habitat and wildlife— key management goals and duties.
If there were reasonable, affordable solutions, maybe this would be different. However, there aren’t. ADFG is to be commended for trying for years to reduce the negative effects of ATV traffic, but the simpler and more effective answer is to stop allowing more trail damage. 
Ending ATV use on the Cottonwood Creek Trail isn’t as restrictive to the public as some claim. The trail is restrictive itself due to being difficult to navigate without getting stuck. Its bad condition deters many users already. Of those users, according to the 2013 survey, most were on foot. Even of the hunters, 75% hunted on foot. Other access points provide boat access. 
In summary, because of the negative impacts of ATV use, the better management solution is to cease allowing the continued degradation of the trail by finally ending ATV  use in the Fall.
Brian Okonek
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition, President