Mike and Til Wallace staked their Chugiak homesteads in 1959. Between 1972 and 1983 they started residential development but by 1984, after a dozen years of development costs and trials, they realized, as Til said, "I really didn't want to see houses on the mountain."
These 320 acres of inholdings within Chugach State Park, at the top of the Skyline Drive road system, below Mount Baldy and above Eagle River, are already partially platted and developed for homes on a municipally approved private road. If this program goes forward, houses will come, and public access will be cut off, which has led the Wallaces and their investors to offer to sell the properties for inclusion into the park.
Chugach State Park, a third the size of the state of Delaware, extending from Turnagain Arm to the Knik River, is often called the crown jewel the of the Alaska park system. Formed by the state from federal land received at statehood, the park is impressive on paper, but state park planning shows lack of access and usability to be serious problems and expected to get worse yearly as the city grows, surrounding homesteads are subdivided and user expectations evolve.
The problem is rooted in federal efforts to get land into private hands through homesteading, which took off after World War II. Homesteaders preceded statehood, staking anything marginally usable or accessible, from Girdwood to Eklutna. Unclaimed lands were steep, rocky and inaccessible. The federal government, which hadn't anticipated this problem, solved it by giving these lands to the state.
Poor access in the eastern "wilderness zone" and central "natural environment zones" probably meets legislative intent. However, the "recreation development zone" on the western periphery does need real accessibility. Recreation also requires lands suitable to meet the broad use needs of the community, which are simply not in the park inventory today. Hikers can roam the park wilderness like mountain goats, but the rest of us need gentler terrain for our scenic overlooks, nature strolls and berry picking.
The need to broaden the park's user base, as well as to support the tourism industry, is also a real and growing concern. Limiting park users limits the number of taxpayers interested in funding park operation and maintenance. And many tourists don't "mountain goat" because of physical or time constraints. Today, most tourists probably come to Anchorage having never heard of Chugach State Park, and many no doubt leave in the same condition, which is a shame.
The fix can't come from within the park's legislated boundaries because the good land went to homesteaders. Imagine your wealthy uncle deciding to give you his car because he's headed south. Unfortunately, he's such a giving guy that, before he even thought about you, he gave the tires to somebody else. The options are simple. You can let your car sit on blocks, or you can go out and get tires. We've already started this process by buying homestead land for the park's successful Eagle River Visitor Center.
The Wallace homesteads are a similar opportunity. The site is usable for a broad range of public activities in addition to providing improved access into the heart of the park for skiers, campers, runners and equestrians. Joined with municipal and Eklutna holdings, it connects the park to the Old Glenn Highway. And it comes with an artesian well.
Mayor Dan Sullivan and Assembly members Bill Starr and Debbie Ossiander have asked the Legislature to fund this reacquisition as a municipal capital improvement project. We concur. This will be great for park users and is a fiscally prudent investment in an asset that will benefit our community and our state far into the future.
William Tucker is a land surveyor, planner and investor in the Wallace properties. He lives in Eagle River.