A sign along Montana Creek Road encourages Juneau residents to wear face masks in public settings on Dec. 29. The (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

A sign along Montana Creek Road encourages Juneau residents to wear face masks in public settings on Dec. 29. The (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Motorized use would disturb Montana Creek area

  • Monday, April 12, 2021 11:47am
  • Opinion

By Mary F. Willson

Montana Creek is a beautiful clear-water stream that originates near the Grandchild Peaks, gains a lot of water from McGinnis Creek off the back slopes of Mount McGinnis, comes into the Mendenhall Valley, and eventually joins the Mendenhall River. The lower reaches of the creek have greatly eroded muddy banks and lots of fallen trees. A bit above the Back Loop highway bridge, the creek has its own valley; the gradient increases and the banks are rockier.

The valley of Montana Creek is a favorite place for me and many others. I studied American Dippers on this stream (and others), locating nests and recording their nesting success, for many years. Kingfishers cruise along the creek, looking for small fish. The creek is productive of fish: in addition to Dolly Varden and some steelhead, there are annual spawning runs of coho. Coho runs vary in size, as estimated by Alaska Department of Fish and Game foot surveys, but usually falling between 400 and 1,200 spawners. When the fish are running, their predators, both human and ursine, come to seek them out. The creek and its tributaries provide excellent rearing habitat with plenty of insect prey and deep pools for juvenile salmonids.

In summer, hikers pass through, over the wooden bridge (just past the rifle range), up the roadway, and onto the trail to Windfall Lake. In winter, that roadway is usually groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The valley keeps its snow well into the spring, and that roadway is a great place for both beginning and experienced skiers. It is usually a pleasant, peaceful place to walk, ski or snowshoe.

In the 30-plus years I’ve lived in Juneau, I’ve noticed several kinds of disturbances in this valley. There are occasional landslides on some of the slopes, especially in certain areas with localized clay-like deposits. Thoughtless humans dump trash in the small parking area by the wooden bridge, and they dump animal carcasses (of at least five species) into the stream. Motorized traffic has been discouraged, but ATVs have gone up the roadway and bashed through the understory in a couple of places, presumably headed up toward Spaulding Meadow. On several occasions, I’ve found established camps at the junction with McGinnis Creek and vehicle tracks crossing the creek to go up the McGinnis drainage. To be legal, such crossings require a special permit.

A major disturbance to the valley is currently proposed by the Juneau Off-Road Association, which plans to build a new road, 25 feet wide, from some point along the present roadway up the slope toward Spaulding Meadow, with a prepared campsite for multiple campers. Erosion along this road is inevitable, and trash and human waste would accumulate at that camping area, but there is no indication in the proposal of how those problems would be avoided. Wildlife habitat would be destroyed there; expanded parking areas would be needed near the wooden bridge, wrecking still more habitat.

Motorized traffic crossing the wooden bridge and going up the present roadway before turning up on the proposed road would inevitably displace the many walkers, skiers, and snowshoers who now use the present roadway; motorized vehicles churn up the snow surface, making it impossible keep it groomed for the varied foot travelers, and the noise and stench of vehicles ruin the peaceful atmosphere. Motorized use is simply not compatible with the current uses of the place.

• Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology. She resides in Juneau. 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.

More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

teaser
Now is the time to improve psychiatric patient care

May is Mental Health Awareness month.

Les Gara is a former state representative and former foster youth. Amanda Metivier is associate director of the Child Welfare Academy, Co-founder of Facing Foster Care in Alaska, a Social Worker, and also a former foster youth. (Courtesy Photo)
Opinion: Alaska is in dire need of caring foster families

COVID has possibly made you more important to foster youth than ever.

teaser
Reports show value of UA workforce development programs

The economic value of training and education is abundantly clear

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Let’s continue the clean-energy conversation

We strongly agree that our energy security and delivering clean, low-cost power is a public interest

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Cruise initiatives are only way toward reasonable change

“It’s not going to happen any other way.”

tease
Opinion: Please don’t sign tourism initiatives

What will happen to our economy if we lose say $200 million in tourism spending?

The MV Matanuska awaits repairs at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal on Thursday as lawmakers at the state Capitol debated whether the Alaska Marine Highway System was actually a highway. A bill that would shape long-term planning for the system passed out of committee. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: The feigning champions of the ferry system

Token improvements aren’t anything to brag about.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: By-mail election decision needs public input

That seems like an important discussion to me.

Most Read