A gate blocks off the entrance to West Douglas’ Pioneer Road Saturday afternoon. Monday evening the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted to reject a proposal from a local company that sought to gain access to provide electric-assisted bicycle tours on the city-owned gravel road. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

A gate blocks off the entrance to West Douglas’ Pioneer Road Saturday afternoon. Monday evening the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted to reject a proposal from a local company that sought to gain access to provide electric-assisted bicycle tours on the city-owned gravel road. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Opinion: Let’s save the Pioneer Road for local users

This application is a prime example of an activity crying out for pre-planning…

  • By Linda Kruger
  • Friday, April 21, 2023 12:02pm
  • Opinion

First, I appreciated Gregg Erikson’s My Turn and enthusiastically support The Juneau Empire. I count on the Empire to keep me informed with factual, balanced reporting. We have been fortunate to have the Empire as a partner in our community and I for one will be sorry to see print publication drop to only two days a week. I appreciate coverage of local news and

events.

However, I was disappointed in the front page, one-sided coverage of the Pioneer e-bike tours decision at the recent CBJ Assembly meeting that appeared on April 19. There were several quotes from co-owners of the e-bike company and no comments from those testifying or writing in opposition. To readers, trying to understand the impacts of another tourism business focused on local trails, this proposal may seem insignificant. Assembly member Wade Bryson, who called for reconsideration on the vote that turned down the application, is the one Assembly member who could financially benefit from the lease. I’m concerned because based on Bryson’s reference to this matter in two different meetings there appears to be a conflict of interest.

The applicant had been asked to provide additional information so the Assembly could make a more informed decision. They were never guaranteed that a lease would be granted. It was an application process and additional information was needed to totally understand what was being planned by the applicants. No trust was broken as suggested by Bryson in his interview with the Empire. He has been on the Assembly long enough to understand the process. Three of the four owners of the e-bike company were each allowed to testify at the meeting providing ample time for them to get their points across. (To me it seemed like stuffing the ballot box!) In her comments, Erin Willis, one of the co-owners, stated, “… we are tiny and our impact won’t be felt.” She obviously wasn’t listening, or at least wasn’t open to hearing, the concerns being expressed by current users of the road. As a frequent user of the road (we were out there again last night) I can definitely say that there will be an impact on dedicated users like us.

I thought it was insulting for Bryson to insinuate that his fellow members of the Assembly based their votes on “feelings” rather than concerns for public health, safety and the best interests of local users. I watched the meeting online and thought the questions asked by and comments made by Assembly members regarding their votes were sincere and tried to balance potential opportunity for a “tiny” (according to owners) tourism business with local interests and concerns. I appreciate the time and thoughtful consideration the Assembly has taken to understand and weigh all interests and concerns. I wish the Empire could have provided more balanced coverage on this topic. A larger, more in-depth article could be planned that discusses the need to address tourism in Juneau. At the Assembly meeting, Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs and other Assembly members acknowledged the need for comprehensive planning and taking a time-out from grandfathering in new businesses until decisions are made about expanding tourism. This application is a prime example of an activity crying out for pre-planning so the applicant understands upfront possible on commercial tourism activities. I appreciate the Assembly taking a balanced approach as they consider this application. It isn’t good for the community to disperse tourists and tourism impacts across the borough without a policy framework that has vetted potential impacts with the community. We are already seeing backlash from not having a framework and policies to manage these ever-growing impacts. Let’s save the Pioneer Road for local users. It won’t be long until the road is improved and the opportunity we have now will be gone when it becomes the access road for planned development on the back-side of Douglas Island.

• In the 1980s, Linda Kruger was Southeast Regional Manager for Alaska State Parks and managed several popular local trails. She understands managing recreation resources for competing uses. Kruger retired in 2019 after 28 years with the U.S. Forest Service working with communities across Washington, Oregon and Alaska on recreation and tourism, community engagement and collaboration, firesafe/firewise practices in Washington and Oregon, and adaptation and mitigation efforts related to impacts of climate change, focused on working with Tribes and rural communities. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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