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.

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