Chugach State Park began construction this week on an expansion of the Glen Alps parking lot meant to alleviate chronic overcrowding at the most used trail head in Anchorage.
The new gravel parking lot, expected to add 50 spaces to the existing 150, will be built on about 1.5 acres behind the caretaker's cabin on what is now a wildflower meadow and stand of hemlock trees.
The project will cost about $700,000, said park superintendent Tom Harrison. Construction is expected to be done by late May 2013.
Some, like James Meier, a state park caretaker at the Glen Alps trail head, say the new spots will barely begin to address the demand for parking at the city's most popular jumping off point to the front and backcountry of Chugach State Park. An estimated 135,000 people use the Glen Alps trail access each year, according to the park.
"They're putting in 50, they need 100," Meier said.
At noon Wednesday, the Glen Alps parking lot was full.
By evening, when Anchorage residents get off work and head for the mountains to take advantage of precious sunshine, drivers would likely be shoehorned into illegal spots on nearby Toilsome Hill Drive-Glen Alps Road, Meier said.
Not everyone is happy about the expansion of the parking lot. Critics have complained that while Glen Alps clearly needs more parking, the placement of the proposed lot is inappropriate and would destroy accessible and valuable natural habitat.
No one from the Chugach State Park Citizen Advisory Board was available to comment on the parking lot expansion Wednesday.
Parking at Glen Alps has been a problem for decades, Harrison said.
"The 1980 master plan discusses (expanding parking)," he said.
On sunny weekdays, supply outstrips demand. Sunny summer weekends are even worse.
"Anyone who has been up there on a busy day can attest to it," he said.
The park has tried installing a webcam that allows visitors to check parking availability before making the drive up the hill.
Glen Alps users range from paragliders to backpackers to, Meier says, the occasional crew of partying teenagers. The path to Flattop, Alaska's most-climbed peak at 3,510 feet, starts at the parking lot.
Providing, or at least improving, access for all users is the idea, said Harrison.
Money for the project comes from a 2011 state capital budget appropriation, he said.
The lot will connect to existing trails and feature two new toilets and an orientation kiosk, he said. The expansion is not designed to accommodate large tour buses or RVs, Harrison said.
Upgrades to a city overlook point adjacent to the existing lot will happen simultaneously.
There will be fewer places to park at Glen Alps while construction is under way, Harrison said. At some time later in the fall the parking lot may be closed while heavy equipment is moved in. The park will not charge the $5 day-use fee at the nearby Upper Huffman trail access parking lot during that time, he said. That lot also provides access to hillside trails.
The project's contractor, Ancor Inc., will work through the fall, stop for the winter and finish in the spring, Harrison said.
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