The rows of chairs in front of the city’s planning commission were noticeably packed, filled with residents repping buttons and shirts advocating for the proposed off-road vehicle riding park at 35 Mile which was up for permit consideration.
After multiple rounds of public testimony from an audience substantially livelier and larger than the ordinary audience of a Tuesday night planning commission meeting, the commission unanimously voted to allow for a conditional use permit for the project, something that has been more than 20 years in the works.
“I’m excited and it’s a good thing for the future of the community,” said Darrin Crapo, president of the Juneau Off-Road Association to the Empire after the conditional use permit was approved.
The newly OK’d off-road vehicle riding park is permitted to be located at 35 Mile, a former logging area during the 1950s-1960s, and is out on Glacier Highway just beyond Sunshine Cove.
In its first phase of development, the park will consist of five miles of trails through approximately 175 acres of CBJ-owned land and will be open to ATVs, Jeeps and dirtbikes during daylight hours during spring, summer and fall seasons. The location will also include a gated entrance, parking area, picnic area and a caretaker RV among other amenities outlined in the proposal.
The permit proposal, which received nearly 300 public comments in favor of its approval prior to the meeting, comes with 23 conditions attached to it such as noise, parking, environmental and hours of usage regulations. All were OK’d by the CBJ Parks and Recreation Department and the JORA which for over a year have collaborated to create the proposal.
The original proposal also included an additional condition which required all motorized trail development to not be allowed within 200 feet of Cowee Creek and Bridget Cove Creek, however, it was voted off the permit after discussion that it was unnecessary as the vehicles could not likely get that close.
Since negotiations for developing a proposal began in late February of last year after approval by the Assembly, the two parties have worked with multiple local, state, and federal agencies and organizations to review the site and OK it as an appropriate riding park location. In 2013, CBJ studied the 35 mile property to be considered as a riding park as it was considered one of the most promising options for ORV riding in Juneau.
Michelle Elfers, deputy director of CBJ Parks and Recreation Department, said the initial phase for the project will likely take multiple years before it is open to the public, but emphasized it has been a community want for decades and something she thinks can be a valuable asset to the Juneau community.
“I think something that is important is sustainability, we are focusing on sustainability from a social perspective, management perspective, environmental perspective and economic as well,” Elfers said. “We’re trying to create a site that can sustain itself in a partnership in the community and with the city for many years.”
Over the past few decades, various locations in Juneau that allowed for off-road vehicle riding slowly dwindled down over time due to closures, something which sparked disappointment among many in Juneau who wish to recreate with off-road vehicles.
Elfers said the location at 35 Mile l was chosen to be the preferred option for a proposal after less remote sites such as Montana Creek generated vehement opposition in recent years.
“We went with the one that made the most sense and was most likely developable,” Elfers said.
There are still a handful of steps for the project to take before boots can hit the ground on development including creating an official partnership between JORA and CBJ for the development, operation and management of the park which will need to be OK’d by the Assembly. The project will also need wetland permit approval by the Army Corps of Engineers, along with creating a design for the parking lot and entry area and contracting for construction.
Elfers said CBJ has received grant money to fund the planning work, and other grant opportunities are in the works to further fund the project. Crapo said the park plans to require permits for riders to both ensure their vehicles meet regulations along with using the funds toward paying for park amenities.
During the meeting around seven people gave testimony, all speaking in favor of the approval. There was no public opposition expressed during the meeting, and according to Elfers, she has not heard much pushback to the project since the 35 Mile site was chosen as the preferred location.
“I just want to express how much this would mean to the community because I have gone my whole life being an advocate for offroading — I have driven a four-wheeler since I could walk — and not once has it been legal,” said Calvin Boddy, a Juneau resident and board member of JORA, laughing. “I think it’s good for us to have an actual training area, and it would promote safe riding and promote responsibility.”
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.