Rain drizzles on a sign Wednesday morning at a trailhead leading into the Montana Creek Wetlands area. A public meeting was held Wednesday evening presenting a revised Montana Creek draft master plan. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Rain drizzles on a sign Wednesday morning at a trailhead leading into the Montana Creek Wetlands area. A public meeting was held Wednesday evening presenting a revised Montana Creek draft master plan. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Residents get a new view of the Montana Creek draft master plan

It proposes projects like new public use cabins, trails and maintenance.

A popular recreation area in Juneau took another step toward developing a cohesive master plan for the next 10 years using resident comments and suggestions to gauge what the Juneau community would like to see for the area.

[Montana Creek’s draft master plan takes another step forward]

A revised Montana Creek draft master plan was presented at a public meeting Wednesday evening by the project’s planning committee — made up of members of CBJ Parks and Recreation, United States Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation and Trail Mix staff, all of which contribute to the management of the area — and around 50 people attended the community meeting to hear more about the second revised draft of the master plan, which addressed issues or suggestions from commenters about the previous draft shared in late August.

The goal of the plan, according to the project website, is “to create a master planning document through a public process that identifies recreational facilities in the Montana Creek Recreation Area with a planning horizon of ten years.”

Over the years, there has been much discussion on the topic of the Montana Creek area’s future fate, most notable last summer when the Juneau Off-Road Association applied to build a hardened trail and campground in the area to make it easier for people to operate all-terrain vehicles, which in turn spurred nearly 300 public comments, with the majority voicing opposition to the request.

Although the Juneau Off-Road Association ultimately decided to pull its request just one month after applying, discussion of Montana Creek’s fate was ignited again when CBJ which issued a news release about its intentions to send out an informal survey to residents to look at the current recreational uses, ideas for improvements and future projects which led to the process to begin the steps to build a master plan, starting in August of 2021.

“It’s an infrastructure plan — that’s what we’re working towards,” said Michele Elfers, the deputy director of City and Borough of Juneau’s Parks and Recreation Department. “I think we’re at a good place now where we really tried to capture what the community wants and the usage of the area for the next 10 years.”

On Wednesday, the presentation outlined 10 specific action items and proposed projects — among other recommendations — including:

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

— Consider developing either the existing Lake Creek Trail or 25 Mile Road to the primary access for winter motorized use to Spaulding Meadows.

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

— Construct a new trail on the northeast side of Montana Creek.

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

—​​ Construct a new John Muir- Auke Nu – 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.

— Construct University- Auke Lake – Auke Bay Elementary – Auke Nu Community connector trail.

This image shows the plan currently released to the public and is open for comments until Dec. 21 at 5 p.m. (Courtesy / CBJ Parks and Recreation)
This image shows the plan currently released to the public and is open for comments until Dec. 21 at 5 p.m. (Courtesy / CBJ Parks and Recreation)

The second revised draft master plan is currently open for public comment and written comments will be accepted on draft plan at Parks.Rec@juneau.org until Dec. 21 at 5 p.m.

During the initial draft’s comment period, multiple people and entities shared their suggestions, including the Juneau Nordic Ski Club. The ski club outlined 10 pages worth of comments and suggestion-sharing priorities such as identifying funding for the new projects, creating additional parking and finding a permanent solution for the Montana Creek Bridge, which is still currently closed off to all traffic due to substructure damage sustained during weather events in late September.

“The top priority should be to define and publish a roadmap for completion of the Master Plan process, complete with supporting materials and background information,” the comment said. “The roadmap should also include timelines, approximate dates for public meetings and comment periods, and most importantly, who will make the decisions on what to include and exclude from the plan, and what the decision process will be based on.”

Corey Baxter, the president of the Juneau Snowmobile Club, said in a comment the JSC is supportive of adding cabins to the Spaulding Meadows area, access to 25 Mile Road, as well as the addition of a new parking lot at the lake creek trailhead area.

Jon Heifetz, president of the Tongass Chapter of Trout Unlimited, commented that the plan did not alleviate his organizations concerns about the impacts of off-road ATV use in the watershed upstream of the Montana Creek Bridge and recommended the plan be modified to close the trails above the bridge to ATV use and only allow foot and bicycle traffic.

Ryan O’Shaughnessy, the executive director at Trail Mix, said the plan is an opportunity for agencies to collaboratively develop recreation infrastructure and have a basis for future management decisions.

“I think the sentiment that came from the public was that generally people were generally excited about the action items,” O’Shaughnessy said. “What we are trying to do as a community is to collaborate on how we want to move forward in the Montana Creek area.”

Once the public comment period closes, the plan will still need to go through a revision process and a committee review before it is completed, which is estimated to be around late May 2023. Elfers said from there the managing agencies can start looking at ways to fund the projects outlined in the presentation, and she emphasized that “this is the first step.”

O’Shaughnessy said he encourages residents to share what action plans they’d like to see happen first during the public comment period that runs until Dec. 21 so that the planning committee can have a clearer view of what the public wants to see happen first.

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

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