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Settlement clears way for Midtown lake to become city park

Nathaniel Herz

An out-of-court settlement this month has cleared the way for a disputed Midtown property to become a city park. It follows years of legal wrangling between the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alaska and a woman who married into the family that originally owned the land.

The settlement allows the city to buy the 17-acre tract known as Waldron Lake from the Boys and Girls Clubs. The parcel was sold to the clubs at a steep discount in 1972 by a woman named Marcie Trent, with the intent that the land would be preserved. Trent, an avid runner, was later killed in a bear attack on the McHugh Creek Trail.

While details of the city's acquisition still need to be worked out, the settlement spares property from development -- a relief for neighborhood residents who long feared that the cash-strapped Boys and Girls Clubs would sell the land to a commercial interest.

"We didn't want this to be bought up and turned into a set of lakeside condominiums," said Cherie Northon, a local community organizer who lives in a nearby subdivision. "We were sweating bullets -- everyone was."

The property is tucked between subdivisions near the intersection of Tudor Road and the Seward Highway. There's a small lake surrounded by playing fields, and the Campbell Creek Trail runs just to the south.

Northon takes her dog there for regular walks, she said.

"This is like this little gem," she said.

The settlement comes after a lawsuit from Lioudmila Trent, the widow of John Trent, Marcie Trent's second husband. The case reached the state Supreme Court.

According to court filings, Lioudmila Trent, who moved to the United States from Russia in 1994 and speaks limited English, alleged the Boys and Girls Clubs had duped her into signing away her claim to the property, which stemmed from her husband's will.

A lower court ruled in favor of the Boys and Girls Clubs last year, but the organization was ultimately forced to settle after Lioudmila Trent appealed.

Details of the settlement were confidential, said Alana Humphrey, the Boys and Girls Clubs' CEO, though she added it gives her organization clear title to the land. Phillip Weidner, Trent's attorney, declined to comment.

One of Marcie Trent's children, Steve Waldron, 66, said he was frustrated to hear that the case had proceeded so far, given that his mother would have wanted the lake transferred to the city for preservation.

"None of us Waldron children and none of John Trent's children had anything to do with that lawsuit, or supported it in any way. We were all against it," he said. "I'm sorry that the plaintiffs got anything. But I'm glad that it's resolved."

The tract was once part of a 160-acre property that Marcie Trent homesteaded with her first husband, Roger Waldron, before he was killed in a plane crash in the Alaska Range in 1962. The lake was originally a gravel pit.

Various chunks of the original homestead were sold off over time, Steve Waldron said. And in 1972, Marcie Trent sold the lake property to the Boys' Club for $10,000 -- a fraction of the $160,000 that it was worth, according to court filings.

In the decades that followed, the land and lake was used by the Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as by dog agility clubs, birdwatchers, and as a practice area for the Anchorage Fire Department's water rescue team. That use continued through the 1990s and 2000s, even after Marcie Trent, then 77, and her son Larry Waldron, 45, were killed in a bear attack in 1995 on the McHugh Trail.

In 2011, after nearly 40 years owning the land, the Boys and Girls Clubs, reeling from federal budget cuts, made plans to sell the property to the city.

"Funding has been a challenge for us," said Humphrey, the organization's CEO.

Neighbors and community leaders, working with the Boys and Girls Clubs, had convinced the state Legislature to approve a $4 million earmark in the capital budget that would have allowed the city to buy the parcel and keep it as a park.

But Gov. Sean Parnell vetoed the money, which left the property up for public sale by the Boys and Girls Clubs and set off an outcry from neighbors.

Ultimately, the money came through in a subsequent capital budget. But meanwhile, Lioudmila Trent had filed suit, accusing the Boys and Girls Clubs of "misrepresentation and fraud" after what her attorneys described as a request by the organization for her to "sign away her rights for no consideration via a document she did not understand, and that was not in her native language."

The lawsuit claimed that Marcie Trent had wanted the Waldron Lake property to revert to her family if the Boys and Girls Clubs stopped using it, or if it were put up for sale for development -- which, Lioudmila Trent's attorneys argued, was still a risk if the parcel was turned over to the city.

Steve Waldron maintained that his mother would have accepted the lake's transfer to the city, and that Marcie and John Trent's wills had made no mention of any lingering rights to the lake property. Since the lawsuit was filed, Waldron said he hasn't spoken to Lioudmila Trent, and he asserted that the claims from Trent and her family were legal technicalities.

"Morally, I just don't see how there's any possible way they could see they had any claim to that land," Waldron said. "I couldn't believe they'd sue a nonprofit and try to get money out of a piece of property that my mother basically donated."

The Boys and Girls Clubs must still negotiate the park's transfer to the city. In an interview this week, Parks and Recreation Director John Rodda said that he had been busy with other projects and hadn't had time to review the new status of Waldron Lake.

"Next week, I'll open the file," he said.

The transfer is contingent on the Boys and Girls Clubs' commitment to maintaining the park for as long as 20 years under "mutually acceptable terms," said Humphrey, the organization's CEO.

"That 'mutually acceptable terms' is what has to be ironed out," she added.

The state money will ultimately go into the Boys and Girls Clubs' reserves, though it's not quite clear yet how exactly it will be used, Humphrey said.

"You try not to budget for things until you actually have them," she said.

Northon, 65, the community organizer, was out for a walk Tuesday near the lake with her dog and her husband.

"Marcie Trent wanted this to be recreational land for the public," Northon said. "She prevailed."

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

 


By NATHANIEL HERZ
nherz@adn.com