Teresa Paquet April 13, 2015
Glacier Ranger District, Chugach National Forest
PO Box 129 Girdwood, AK 99587
Dear Ms. Paquet: The purpose of this letter is to offer the comments of the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) on the Spencer Whistle Stop Outfitter and Guide Opportunities Draft EA.
As you are aware, AQRC has commented over the years on many occasions concerning various plans and permits affecting the Chugach National Forest (CNF). We believe that public land managers, like those managing CNF, must protect and preserve the natural resources of the forest, including natural sounds and natural quiet. Accordingly, we further believe that land managers have a responsibility to set aside, in a fair and equitable manner, separate areas and trails for the use of non-motorized recreationists as well as for motorized recreationists. We fully support the FS in its decision that the commercial summer recreational activities under discussion in this EA are all non-motorized.
We are pleased that many of the scoping comments we submitted in January, 2014, are reflected in this Draft EA. Our comments expressed concern that the proposed high number of participants allowed per commercial recreational activity would overwhelm the underlying experience which was the purpose of the Spencer Whistle Stop. However, we still maintain that the daily authorizations now proposed, though reduced, of even one 100-person group boating on Spencer Lake* or a similarly-sized group rafting on the Placer River, defeats any hint of a remote experience for the participant and for any other visitor who sees such groups. We do realize that these are maximums set forth in the Forest Plan and unlikely to occur frequently. However, we would argue that their very existence invites the industrialized tourism industry to designate the whistle stop as “one” of their activities. Once so tagged the FS will be pressured to add more such activities to accommodate large tour groups.
We note that in Table 2 reference is made to helicopter travel (no more than 3 groups of 30 each) to Spencer Glacier for climbing and hiking. We strongly oppose any possibility of helicopter staging in and around Spencer Whistle Stop for the very adverse effects such noise, activity and very presence would have on every person in the area. We suggest that allowing helicopter staging transforms the Whistle Stop experience from one of a sense of exploration in a remote area to simply another opportunity to engage in industrialized tourism.
To preserve the experience of Spencer Whistle Stop and future whistle stops for tourists and “locals” alike, we would urge the Forest Service not to adopt at the present time the numbers proposed, but first to carefully monitor the ability of the commercial guide services to offer the recreational experience advertised as larger groups are served and to survey participants’ satisfaction with their (costly) experience. Higher numbers can then be gradually allowed over the ten year permit up to the maximums proposed rather than allowing large numbers before the experience can be evaluated. After all, the recreational experience being purchased is not just boating on a lake but boating on a glacial lake in a remote area. Can one have that experience with 99 other folks plus guides all doing that same activity in the same place at the same time ?
We support the various mitigation measures proposed under alternative 2-Modified Proposed Action, such as screening with vegetation so folks arriving are not presented with buses, trucks, cars as their first views at the Whistle Stop. Also, we support developing a base camp facility away from the boat launch area. We believe it inevitable that over the years the commercial pressures to add more activities and concessions will only increase. Accordingly, we urge the FS to seek out and implement all possible ways to screen the organized group activities from the independent day visitor using vegetation and the geographical features of the land. Maybe this should start with seating in separate train cars, directed to go in different directions upon disembarking, using electric vehicles to transport those signed up for specific activities and removing visual evidence of the guide services and equipment.
Thank you for this opportunity to comment.
Sincerely yours, Susan Olsen, member Board of Directors Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition PO Box 202592 Anchorage, AK 99520
* identified as Placer Lake in Table 2, p. 8