Campbell Creek Estuary park plan protects rich habitat

rshinohara@adn.comJanuary 10, 2013 

— A plan for the city-owned Campbell Creek Estuary, 60 acres of uplands and tidal flats near the mouth of Campbell Creek, calls for managing it differently from most parks in Anchorage: as a quiet, protected place for shorebirds, waterfowl and wildlife, but with trails and overlooks where people can enjoy viewing them.

The city Planning and Zoning Commission adopted a master plan for the area on Dec. 10, two years after the city took ownership of the property from the conservation organization Great Land Trust. It is a natural area within the city park system, said city parks superintendent Holly Spoth-Torres.

Great Land Trust has conservation rights to make sure the land is preserved. The conservation documents say the tidal flats area will be managed with the most restrictions, with any trails, fences or gates subject to review. The uplands area adjacent would be a little less restricted -- with mainly signs, trails and fences allowed -- and the area closest to the entrance at Selkirk Drive would be less restricted still, allowing for parking areas, outhouses, fences, bollards, gazebos, interpretive signs and even kiosks.

The estuary, along the coastline south of West Dimond Boulevard, attracts bald eagles, sandhill cranes, pintails, shovelers, grebes, river otters and five species of salmon, among other wildlife.

Campbell Creek winds through the mud and grasses on the flats. Sometimes belugas chase the salmon up the creek, says Great Land Trust director Phil Shephard.

Standing at the edge of the flats, a person can see up and down the coastline.

Some controversy has already surfaced regarding just how developed the estuary should become.

Lori Schanche, non-motorized transportation coordinator for the city, said in written comments for the Planning and Zoning Commission that the master plan should include provision for a future coastal trail, to be consistent with other city plans.

The master planners for the estuary -- a committee with representatives of the Parks Department, Great Land Trust, community councils, federal and state fish and game staff, and others -- decided early on that they didn't want to provide for any future extension of the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail through the estuary, Spoth-Torres said.

The trail now ends in Kincaid Park. The city was actively considering a southern coastal trail extension until 2006, when the idea died.

David Moore, a retired high school teacher who represented Sand Lake Community Council on the planning committee, said the committee didn't even think about setting aside a future coastal trail connection "just because of how fragile" the estuary is.

The coastal trail, Moore said, "is basically a super-highway for bicycles. It's like building a road."

Retired state Fish and Game biologist Rick Sinnott also argued against allowing for a coastal trail connection, saying in written comments that a wide, paved multi-use trail would "destroy the natural resources and habitats that the (estuary natural area) was intended to protect."

In the end, the Planning and Zoning Commission accepted the estuary plan as proposed, without any mention of a coastal trail.

Under the master plan, there also will be no playing fields, bicycles only during winter months, and maybe no dogs allowed either, Spoth-Torres said. The plan recommends no dogs, but enforcing that might require a city code change, Spoth-Torres said.

The city will build a lot with 10 parking spaces likely in June, said Shephard of the Great Land Trust. It will build less than a mile's worth of trails, probably in mid-summer, he said.

In September, when most of the migrating birds that shouldn't be disturbed are gone, workers will build the overlooks -- a main one on the bluff, and two smaller ones off spur trails, he said.

People will be able to walk down to the flats, but will be asked not to walk out onto the flats during sensitive times, Shephard said. The plan calls for access to be discouraged from April through October.

In future winters, people will be able to ski on the flats though. "Winter access is really beautiful," Shephard said.

The park isn't ready for individual visitors yet, he said. There are no signs to keep people on public property, and no place to park. "We'd rather people call me and get a tour," Shephard said.

Under an agreement with the city, Great Land Trust is providing the money to plan and build the trails, parking area and overlooks, and to monitor the park. It also has a special clean-up fund in case old cars get dumped there, homeless campers trash the area or other maintenance problems occur, he said.

Great Land raised about $7.5 million for purchase and development of the estuary from the money that builders pay in mitigation for disturbing wetlands and from the Legislature, foundations and individual donors, Shephard said.

 

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

 

 

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