Allison Smith, a member of Juneau Nordic Ski Club, oasses another Nordic skiier on her way back toward the Montana Creek Trail trailhead on Dec. 29, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Allison Smith, a member of Juneau Nordic Ski Club, oasses another Nordic skiier on her way back toward the Montana Creek Trail trailhead on Dec. 29, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Proposed trail from Montana Creek Trail would create problems

“The current proposal would create safety concerns and displace existing non-motorized users.”

  • Friday, April 16, 2021 10:29am
  • Opinion

Frankie Pillifant

The Juneau Nordic Ski Club is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Our goal is to create recreational opportunities for all ages and abilities through maintaining groomed Nordic ski trails for the public during the winter. The JNSC supports recreational opportunities for all in Juneau. It is important that all ages and all abilities are able to access and enjoy the beautiful natural environment of Juneau. However, we believe the recent proposal put forth by the Juneau Off-Road Association’s to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for a public easement to create a 25-foot wide trail from the current, narrower (8-10 feet) Montana Creek Trail to access Spaulding Meadows is problematic.

The current proposal would create safety concerns and displace existing non-motorized users. Infrastructure in the area is lacking to support increased use, and the proposal as written would be inconsistent with the current management structure of the Montana Creek Upper Watershed. As an alternative to rushing a decision to approve, the JNSC supports developing an interagency master plan to develop this area wisely and carefully in collaboration with all stakeholders.

For nearly two decades, the JNSC has helped CBJ, DNR, and the Forest Service restore the Montana Creek Upper Watershed to a welcoming, safe, clean and popular natural area. We have also been grooming Montana Creek Trail for Nordic skiing for the past 20 winters. This arrangement has worked so well that there are now thousands of walkers, joggers, dog walkers and skiers that use the trail JNSC grooms in the winter. The ski club trains over 100 youth skiers, from elementary to high school, as part of the Juneau Nordic Ski Team. Montana Creek Trail is an essential trail for the success of these programs because the snow is more consistent and lasts longer than any other trail in town, due to shaded terrain and a “refrigerator” effect from the Juneau Ice Field. The JNSC has grown to nearly 1,000 members. Many, who are not part of JNSC membership, also recreate on this groomed trail regularly. The JNSC is concerned that the new JORA trails will come at the expense of the current non-motorized users.

If the proposed easement is allowed it would increase motorized traffic on the predominantly non-motorized access trail, creating serious safety concerns. The current Montana Creek trail has already presented safety concerns because the existing trail is narrow and meanders back and forth along the creek. Blind corners and narrow trails make non-motorized users especially vulnerable when a fast-moving motor vehicle unexpectedly comes around a bend. This winter, we documented several instances where non-motorized users felt their safety was threatened by motorized vehicles. Motorized vehicles also leave deep grooves and ruts in the groomed trail that are hard to ski over and around. This can especially be a problem for beginning, intermediate and elderly skiers. JNSC grooming is done by an all-volunteer crew. Overall, existing motorized use on the Montana Creek Trail has created an unpredictable and unsafe environment during the winter that will be exacerbated by this proposal.

Our concerns around safety and capacity show the urgency for a comprehensive master plan of the Montana Creek upper watershed area as an alternative to a rushed development for a single user group. We believe that the way forward is an interagency planning process with JORA, JNSC and all interested community user groups coming to the table to implement a plan for balanced development of the area. The existing Montana Creek trail is unique because it crosses multiple land management boundaries. All three agencies — DNR, USFS, and CBJ — share a direct responsibility for managing the basin for resource protection and providing and protecting safe community recreational opportunities. JNSC looks forward to working with a well-coordinated interagency Master Plan in the near future to collectively develop the Montana Creek upper watershed area to safely meet the needs of all existing user groups.

• Frankie Pillifant is Juneau Nordic Ski Club Board president and avid Nordic skier for multiple decades. This My Turn was submitted on behalf of the JNSC Board. Pillifant 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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