The sun shines over the Montana Creek area Saturday afternoon. Earlier this week, the City and Borough of Juneau released the final draft of the Montana Creek Draft master plan, which is now open for public comment until March. 29. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

The sun shines over the Montana Creek area Saturday afternoon. Earlier this week, the City and Borough of Juneau released the final draft of the Montana Creek Draft master plan, which is now open for public comment until March. 29. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

City releases final draft of Montana Creek master plan

Residents have until the end of March to submit comments

A 10-year master plan for a popular Mendenhall Valley recreation area is nearing completion after more than a year of public input.

Earlier this week, the final draft of the Montana Creek Draft master plan was released by the City and Borough of Juneau and residents have until the end of March to offer comments on the draft before it is finalized in late spring.

Over the years there has been much discussion on the topic of the Montana Creek area’s future. Michele Elfers, the deputy director of CBJ Parks and Recreation, said the final draft discusses the common themes for what people have expressed a desire to see in the area. It also lays the groundwork for potentially making management changes people have requested.

The planning of the project has been done in a collaborative effort including members of CBJ Parks and Recreation, United States Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation and Trail Mix Inc. staff, all of which contribute to the management of the area.

The draft included more than 10 priorities for the plan including:

— Reconstruct existing trails from Montana Creek Road to Windfall Lake Access Road/Herbert River Road.

— Construct a new Mendenhall Glacier Area Access Trail to connect to Montana Creek Rd.

— Construct University- Auke Lake – Auke Bay Elementary – Spaulding Meadows community connector trail.

— Construct new Montana Creek Road to Lake Creek/Spaulding Meadows connector trail.

—​​ Construct a new Auke Nu – Spaulding Meadows – Lake Creek connector loop trail.

— Construct a new John Muir Cabin to Peterson Lake Cabin connector trail.

— Construct a new Peterson Lake Trail to a new cabin to the Montana Creek Trail connector.

— Construct a trail extending from 25 Mile Road to connect to the new cabin.

— Extending Lake Creek Road.

— Extending 25 Mile Road.

Elfers said there were a couple of changes in the new plan compared to the previous plan, including the removal of a proposed new trail northeast side of Montana Creek, which was decided after public comments expressed concerns about its impact on nearby fish habitat.

During the previous draft’s comment period, which ended in late December, multiple people and entities also shared planning suggestions, expressing both support for and opposition to elements of the plan. This included organizations like the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition.

A letter written by the coalition’s executive director, Rob Cadmus shared various comments and suggestion-sharing priorities including the idea to close Montana Creek Road upstream of the multi-use bridge crossing and replace it with a new trail built on a bench above the existing road, arguing motorized vehicles have used the road to gain access to wetlands, streams, and forest areas, which has caused severe damaged over time.

He also recommended trails being developed should be designed to make a minimal impact to allow for hiking and skiing use, arguing larger trails could create cumulative loss of habitat to construct.

Kate Slotnick, secretary of the Juneau Nordic Ski Club, wrote as an individual and criticized the draft, arguing the improved access for winter motorized use through the trail at 25 Mile would lead to the destruction of the areas surrounding it.

“This second draft seems to have paid little heed to the many Juneau residents who commented on the first draft, and who expressed the need for increased cross‐country ski opportunities and protection of fragile habitat from the damage from motorized vehicles,’ she said. “The current draft of the Montana Creek Plan threatens the physical integrity of the area and does not meet the needs of Juneau residents.”

Several comments shared opposing views and argued that motorized users are unfairly targeted for restrictions and expressed support for the expansion of motorized opportunities.

Garrett Paul’s letter summarized the concern.

“There are two to three locations to operate motorized off‐road vehicles in Juneau, while there are hundreds of areas to walk, run, hike, bike and ski,” he said. “Montana Creek is an ideal location for winter motorized use, additional motorized opportunities and access are necessary in the area.”

Darrin Crapo, president of the Juneau Off-Road Association, agreed.

“I have some serious concerns about the proposed draft. It clearly expands non-motorized use and appears to do so at the detriment of motorized users,” he said. “Honestly this draft appears discriminatory and non-motorized agenda driven. This needs to be revisited and all user groups represented.”

Elfers said the next steps after the draft is released include coordinating among the management agencies to request funding for cabin and access trails along with collaborating on signage, education and enforcement.

She said DOT and CBJ are collaborating on an application for grant funding to replace the Montana Creek Bridge. Under d the current proposal, the move would transfer bridge and road management to CBJ upon completion of the new bridge installation.

Elfers encouraged residents to send in comments before the draft’s comment period closes and said the final draft will likely be released in late April or early May. Public comments and written comments regarding the final will be accepted plan at Parks.Rec@juneau.org until 5 p.m. March. 29.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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