Anchorage — Is there anyplace left in Anchorage for snowmachines?
Anchorage snowmobilers want a place close to home to ride and teach their children to ride but conflicts with skiers and neighbors are complicating the process at the one place identified so far -- the motocross area of Kincaid Park.
Snowmachine riders and their families, skiers, Sand Lake residents and others overflowed the Spenard Recreation Center meeting room Thursday night to talk about the possibility of allowing snowmachines into the motocross area.
City parks director John Rodda, who estimated the crowd at the city Parks and Recreation Commission meeting at 210 people, said a public hearing on the issue will continue at the next commission meeting Feb. 14. The commission got about halfway through a list of about 60 people who wanted to speak.
The Alaska State Sno-X Lions Club presented a proposal for about 15 acres in the Jodhpur area in the southeast corner of Kincaid to be opened to snowmobiling for certain hours from Wednesday to Sunday in winter. Kincaid Park is about 1,500 acres altogether, and in winter, groomed cross-country ski trails are the main attraction.
Sno-X Lions Club representatives said they would operate similarly to the way another Lions group, the Anchorage Racing Lions, manages motocross events in summer. On race days, the club would manage the activity and be responsible for safety, noise levels and the like.
Snowmobiling fans outnumbered others at the hearing. And the Sno-X Club brought a packet of letters of support, including one from "Todd & Sarah Palin, and family."
Rodda said the Parks Department has been bombarded with emails and as of Thursday afternoon they totaled 196 opposed to snowmachines in the park and 14 for.
The Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage is among the opponents.
Noise seems to be one of the biggest concerns.
Snowmachines can operate within city noise limits, snowmachiners said.
But Rodda questioned how much noise several machines operating at once would make.
"Ski trails are very close in the proximity," he said Friday. "There's just a lot of what-ifs."
Dane Ferguson, an X-Games gold medalist snowmobiler and Sno-X Lions president, said Jodhpur isn't the ideal spot for snowmachine races -- it's too small.
"It's just a temporary solution to a bigger problem," Ferguson told the Parks and Recreation Commission. He said the Lions Club would like a five-year lease while it works with other snowmobile clubs to find a better place. About 150 acres would be better than 15, he said.
Snowmobilers and the skiers and residents at the meeting didn't agree about a lot but a common theme on both sides was that snowmobilers need a place to ride in Anchorage.
"There is not an inch of motorized-use-only space in Anchorage," said Kevin Hite, president of the Alaska State Snowmobile Association, which in a letter voiced "overwhelming support" for the Sno-X Lions' efforts.
"The municipality is ... negligent in finding a place for motorized sports," said Jim Burkholder, a skier and Jodhpur Street resident. He doesn't want snowmachines in Kincaid, though.
"Jodhpur's not the place," said Keith Halsey. "It's too close to the neighborhood. We've got to get them their own place."
Nordic Skiing Association of Alaska board president Jeff Scott said in a letter of opposition that when snowmobiles operated in the motocross area in years past, "There were repeated problems with the riders leaving the motocross area to ride their machines on the trails within the park."
The association is against snowmachine use in the motocross area on grounds of safety, noise and the damage snowmachines can do to trails, Scott said.
Someone mentioned the idea of using reclaimed parts of the Hiland Road landfill in Eagle River for motor sports.
"That was new information; we've never talked about it," Rodda said on Friday. Rodda said that at the end of the public hearing, he encouraged the Sno-X Club leaders to look at Hiland and elsewhere in Anchorage.
"I said, 'I'd be more than happy to put you in touch with the right people,' " Rodda said. The municipality might take a look at Hiland as a possibility too, Rodda said.
Ferguson said the club didn't see any other prospects that could happen quickly and didn't know at the time it began exploring the Jodhpur area that there would be such controversy about using it.
"We thought we would be in Jodphur last year, prove ourselves as a responsible user group and then look at the big picture," Ferguson said.
Rodda said the city hasn't taken any position yet.