Our view: A better backyard playground

BOB HALLINEN / Daily News archive 2007

Imagine a bike and ski trail that runs 14 miles from downtown Eagle River to the Eagle River Nature Center, winding alongside the valley's rushing river through the Chugach State Park greenbelt.

Or imagine a paved trail link that extends south from Potter Marsh to connect with the Bird-to-Girdwood trail along the scenic Seward Highway.

Or maybe you'd like to explore the Bird Creek Valley further, with a loop to Penguin Creek, or an extension up the South Fork of Bird Creek.

Those are some of the new trail ideas being considered as the state works on a trails plan for Chugach State Park, Anchorage's backyard wilderness playground. The new trails would make the park, already one of Anchorage's best attractions, even better.

Right now, there is no pipeline of money to build any new trails in the park. In fact, it's a challenge to maintain the existing 250 miles of trails. But Park Superintendent Tom Harrison notes that having a well-planned proposal for new trails will make it easier to seek future funding.

As for maintaining existing trails, Harrison says, "I'd like to think we're starting to get a better handle on it."

Volunteer efforts have been a huge help, he said, from groups such as Bristol Environmental and Engineering Services, REI, the Anchorage snowmobile club and Friends of Chugach State Park.

Part of the plan is to upgrade trails to better standards, so they will be easier to maintain and safer for users. Rerouting some trails around boggy and wet spots will also help, Harrison says.

The trail plan is part of a larger effort to update the park's overall management plan. Another huge issue that will soon get more attention is overcrowding at the park's access points.

Anyone who has gone to Glen Alps on a sunny summer afternoon is familiar with that problem. Cars line both sides of the road for a quarter mile downhill from the park entrance. At South Fork Eagle River, the parking area was just doubled, Harrison says, but it's not enough to handle peak demand.

It doesn't make sense to sacrifice a lot more parkland at these popular spots to make more room for cars. Instead, the state will aim to spread out use of the park across more places.

Harrison encourages the public to speak up now on the trails plan, and watch for future chances to get involved with access questions and updating the park's master plan.

"It's incredible the amount of love, sweat and tears the public has put into the park," Harrison says.

Now it's time to put some of that love into planning how Chugach State Park can be even more of a jewel for Anchorage.

BOTTOM LINE: Chugach State Park is great. Help plan how it can be even better. For information: dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chugach/planning.htm.

Chugach State Park facts

• Established 1970.

• Size: 495,000 acres

• Third-largest state park in the country

• Rated in America’s Top 10 Best State Parks by America’s Best.

• Lakes: 70

• Approximate area covered by glaciers: 10 percent

• 53 percent of Alaska’s population lives within 30-minute drive of the park

• Visitors to Glen Alps, the busiest spot, during 2002: 188,500.

• Highest Point: Bashful Peak, 8,005 feet.

• Wettest spot: 160 inches annual precipitation, southeastern portion

• Driest spot: 12 inches annual precipitation

• Number of full-time park rangers: 4

• Percent of Anchorage’s water supply that comes from watersheds in the park: 90.