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Compass: Our beloved Chugach trails need some work

Chugach State Park's trails are badly in need of repair, and they are badly in need of funding - more than what is in the governor's budget. But you can help. The Chugach State Park Citizen's Advisory Board has compiled a list of worthy trail projects based on public input. You can support our request to get an appropriation from the Legislature so that locals and visitors alike can use and enjoy the park's trails for generations to come.

Chugach State Park is valued by all who see and use it. The park is visited an estimated 1.3 million times annually. It provides substantial economic benefit to the state through use of local tour operators, via outdoor equipment and clothing sales, and as a result of associated travel and accommodation revenue. In 2012, the Outdoor Industry Association found outdoor recreation in Alaska has resulted in a cumulative total of $9.5 billion in consumer spending, 92,000 jobs, and $711 million in state and local revenues.

Hiking and biking the trails in the park often leaves one feeling invigorated but muddy and wet. The debris that ends up caked on your boots and pants comes from negotiating streams that run down the middle of trails, from slipping in areas that are a little too steep, or from slogging over saturated terrain. Sometimes from all of these.

Many trails in the park were created by someone pioneering a route up a valley or making a beeline to a peak. While these "social" trails provide access, generally they are created with little thought of sustainability. Sustainable trails are well-routed and well- designed. Sustainable trails are hardened, not excessively steep, hazard-free, and they require little maintenance. Social trails become increasingly eroded and unpleasant, and funding for them is perennially deferred.

The public demand for well maintained, sustainable trails exists, as does the park's will to design and build them. What is in short supply is funding. Chugach State Park's annual operating budget is never enough to catch up with deferred maintenance - much less build new trails - even though the need is known.

The Mt. Baldy trail in Eagle River is a perfect example of a social trail gone bad. Known as Eagle River's "Flattop," it is the second most climbed mountain in the Chugach. Heavy traffic has created a slick route that is growing increasingly dangerous. The trail is extremely steep in sections, and hikers attempting to skirt sketchy spots create an ever-widening scar and a bigger hazard by exposing rocks.

Other trails in the Eagle River area need immediate repair and access. The Mile High social trail into Meadow Creek is steep and muddy. Access to beautiful Ram Valley near the Nature Center has been blocked by private property. An alternative, sustainable, public route into Ram Valley would open up spectacular country to alpine hikers and hunters.

As much as trails have deteriorated in the Eagle River area, the need for restoration is as great if not greater in the Hillside area and along Turnagain Arm. The Crow Pass Trail has overgrown and muddy portions. An unplanned network of social trails climbing nearly 2,000 feet to the summit on the back side of Flattop is in desperate need of repair. A single, sustainable route - made to withstand high use - would provide improved access to Flattop and enhance commercial opportunity, public safety and user enjoyment. It also allows rehabilitation of existing erosion.

The list of high-priority trail projects will be submitted for legislative consideration. Some can be done for less than $20,000. But they are unlikely to be funded without active support from local residents and businesses. The price tag to complete our list is roughly $329,000. This represents 0.07 percent, or 1/1,400th, of the unrestricted general fund revenues available for appropriation.

If you value Chugach State Park, contact your legislators today. They have an obligation to provide adequate funding for park projects and to serve as responsible stewards of these remarkable assets.

Judy Caminer chairs the Chugach State Park Citizens' Advisory Board and is a former National Park Service manager. For more information on the board's priority projects, email cspvolunteers@gmail.com



By JUDY CAMINER