A proposal by the Juneau Off-Road Association to build a hardened trail and campground in the Montana Creek area generated 280 public comments. The majority of comments submitted to the state opposed the plan. A sign marks the end of the road in the area on June 17, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Proposed Montana Creek Access Road generates almost 500 pages of comments

Users of the Montana Creek area have a lot to say.

Users of the Montana Creek area have a lot to say about a recent application by the Juneau Off-Road Association to build a hardened trail and campground in the area to make it easier for people to operate all-terrain vehicles.

During a recent public comment period — which was extended 30 days past the original deadline based on a request from adjacent landowners — users submitted 280 comments, creating a 495-page record of opinions on the plan.

Of the comments submitted to the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mining, Land and Water, Southeast Regional Land Office, 71 voiced support for the proposal, 201 opposed it, and two posed questions about the project, based on a review of the material conducted by the Empire.

A new road ahead: There’s a proposal for an access road at Montana Creek

Build the trail

Supporters of the plan submitted several letters pointing out that Juneau lacks sufficient recreation opportunities for motorized sports and said that opportunities had diminished over the years.

“Southeast has few options for public use for ATV, UTV, dirt bikes, snowmobiles,” read a letter from Zach and Alisha “Mutt” Decker, who run Glacier Guides, Inc. from Glacier Bay.

The letter continued, “Logging roads over time are placed into inventory and let go back to alders and are unusable to the public sector. As a hunting guide outfitter in Southeast our operation, Glacier Guides, Inc., we look for ways to support this project with labor and financial support as best we can.”

Letter writer Dave Hanna said that the trail should be available for motorized users.

“As long as precautions are used to protect the fish habitat on Montana Creek, we should do whatever we can to provide an area for the off-road folks to recreate. They have been gradually moved out of almost every area in Juneau, and this has resulted in illegal riding, which helps no one,” he said in his letter.

Fellow supporter Brad Rider agreed.

“Please put me down as a strong supporter of the proposed motorized use development for Montana Creek. I enjoy a nice quiet hike as much as anyone and have used this area for over 50 years for just that. But the fact is, Juneau has hundreds of places to go for a quiet hike, yet the kids (and adults) have been blocked at every turn since the 1970s for activities such as this,” his letter read.

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire 
This photo shows the view from Montana Creek Trail on June 17, 2021. Many of the letters opposing the Juneau Off-Road Association’s plan to create an area for motorized recreation in the Montana Creek area cited concern about the sensitive fish habitat in the area.

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire This photo shows the view from Montana Creek Trail on June 17, 2021. Many of the letters opposing the Juneau Off-Road Association’s plan to create an area for motorized recreation in the Montana Creek area cited concern about the sensitive fish habitat in the area.

Rider suggested that concerns about the project are overblown.

“There is literally no place in the Juneau area where this could be proposed without people screaming that the world is nearing the end. This would be a wonderful place for this activity, benefiting many,” he said.

Several supporters said that motorized users are unfairly targeted for restrictions. Garrett Paul’s letter summarized the concern.

“For decades now, the motorized community has been penalized and discriminated against by the upper echelon of the non-motorized community. It has become a ‘one-way street’ where more and more areas are shut down to motorized use. This has happened to the extent that there are only two small areas for summertime motorized users and really only two small areas for wintertime (snow) motorized users. It is my belief and opinion that the motorized users in Juneau are being repeatedly punished for perceptions of the past and a reluctance to have REAL shared use areas in our community. This has to become a two-way street,” Paul’s letter read.

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Not so fast

Opponents of the plan primarily cited concerns about the impact of motorized traffic on fish habitat, overall environmental degradation and the safety of non-motorized activities when motorized vehicles are present. Many letters cited a lack of detail in the submitted plan and limited parking as areas of concern.

About 100 letters mentioned the area’s popularity with skiers.

“There are 1,000+ members of the Juneau Nordic Ski Club including people of all ages. The Montana Creek Trail is one of the most popular Nordic ski trails in town due to its interesting climate, which holds snow while the lower elevations are not as dependable,” said Annie Albrecht in her letter.

Several letters came from members of the Nordic Ski Club along with one signed by the group’s board of directors.

“The current proposal would create safety concerns and likely displace existing users (e.g., skiers, dog-walkers, hikers, snowshoers, and other non-motorized user groups), which makes it impossible at this time for the JNSC to voice our support,” read a letter signed by the club’s board of directors. “There is a lack of infrastructure in the area to support increased use, and the proposal as written would be inconsistent with the current management structure of the Montana Creek Upper Watershed.”

Members of the Nordic Ski Club provide volunteers to groom the trails for skiers each winter.

In addition to individual letters, several groups submitted opposition letters, including The Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition, Trout Unlimited, the Raincountry Flyfishers, the United States Forest Service District Ranger, the Juneau Nordic Ski Club and the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Tristan Knutson-Lombardo voiced the concerns of two dozen youth sport coaches who use the area for team training. Several self-identified biologists and fisheries specialists registered objections to the plan along with the City and Borough of Juneau’s Parks and Recreation Department.

George Schaaf, director of CBJ’s Parks and Recreation Department, asked DNR to “pause adjudication of this easement application so that DNR can work together toward a cooperative management agreement for this area, as recommended in the Juneau State Land Plan.”

His letter addresses additional concerns.

“We are concerned about potential impacts to these CBJ lands and facilities resulting from the proposed use. These include increased costs to CBJ for trash removal, disposal of human waste, and increased vehicle congestion due to limited parking. We are also concerned that the proposed easement on state land could worsen existing conflicts between motorized users and non-motorized users accessing state lands from Montana Creek Road. These conflicts have proven difficult to manage because the area is a patchwork of city, state, and federal jurisdictions. Decisions made by one agency unavoidably affect the others.”

About the project

The Juneau Off-Road Association submitted a request to build a hardened trail in the Montana Creek area, making it easier for people to operate all-terrain vehicles. Originally, the proposed trail was approximately 6,800 feet long and 25 feet wide, containing about 3.90 acres and an additional quarter acre for a campsite. However, the plans were subsequently updated to reflect a trail that is 8 feet wide.

According to the petition filed with the state, the trail would be made of hardened gravel and suitable for multi-modal use.

“The requested campsite area is approximately ¼ acre. The total area requested under this easement application is 4.15 acres,” the document reads.

The request continues, “the trail will be constructed off Montana Creek Road (beyond the Hank Harmon Rifle Range) and will climb up to the 1,200-foot level to the southwest, terminating at the end of DMLW-owned, state-managed land bordering United States Forest Service (USFS) land. Where the trail terminates, the applicant proposes to clear and level up to a ¼ acre aggregate area to establish a terraced series of hardened campsites (up to 6), each suitable for equipment parking, tents, and a firepit. The applicant proposes to clear trees and brush only as required in the immediate camp space.”

According to the DNR website, the issue is under review and “after review and adjudication, we may issue an authorization with stipulations for the activity. The activity may be modified during the review and adjudication process.”

According to Megan Hillgartner, a DNR natural resources specialist who managed the comment process, the next step is to draft a decision document.

“The decision document describes why we are or why we are not authorizing the request and whether the requested activity is in the State’s interest. The decision document discusses the proposed activity, environmental/economic considerations, and details any changes that are required and why. It also may state additional requirements that the applicant needs to meet before the easement is issued,” she said in an email to the Empire.

She said that a time frame for a decision has not been established.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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