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Preserving the view: Conservation trust looks to buy top of Bodenburg Butte

Zaz Hollander
Erik Hill

WASILLA -- A Southcentral conservation trust is raising money to buy the top of Bodenburg Butte, the panoramic yet humble summit of one of the most popular hikes in the Valley, with plans to donate it to the Mat-Su Borough.

The Great Land Trust, an Anchorage-based nonprofit, hopes to raise $187,500 to buy 40 acres at the top of the 886-foot outcrop that survived the grind of glaciers.

The nonprofit then plans to donate the land to the borough with a conservation easement in place to "keep this iconic landscape, this destination hike, in great condition," Trust executive director Phil Shephard said Tuesday.

The land, which is open to the public and has been for decades, is currently owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, a state corporation that operates like a private foundation. Trust land officers manage roughly 1 million acres of land statewide to generate income for Trust beneficiaries: people with mental illnesses, chronic alcoholism, traumatic brain injuries, developmental disabilities and Alzheimer's disease and related dementia.

The Mental Health Trust looked into ways to drum up revenue from the Butte parcel some years ago, after the Mat-Su Borough approached them to talk about trail easements, according to Marcie Menefee, executive director of the Trust Land Office, which manages Alaska Mental Health Trust lands. Ideas like extracting rock or building homes quickly fizzled, given limited access and decades of public use.

Menefee hikes the Butte -- her husband has flown off it in his paraglider -- and says she understands why development can't happen.

"It doesn't work," she said. "It's the top of the Butte. It was a conundrum."

Then the Great Land Trust and Mental Health Trust started talking in late 2012. An idea surfaced: sell the 40-acre parcel to Great Land, acting as a go-between for the borough.

"I jumped at it," Menefee said. "If we can get market value, it's not an asset that will probably ever produce revenue."

The two Trusts arrived at the asking price of $187,500 by agreeing to split two appraisals for $250,000 and $125,000 down the middle, Menefee said. The total cost of the purchase to Great Land is $230,000, including paying for the appraisals and the cost of maintaining the conservation easement, Shephard said.

The Butte draws scores of hikers to the borough's short, occasionally steep West Butte Trail, gaining just under 900 feet in one and a half miles. Hikers who reach the rock-studded summit are rewarded with 360-degree views stretching to the shining snows of Knik Glacier and the glistening waters of Knik Arm, with Chugach and Talkeetna mountain peaks as a frame and a bird's-eye view to Butte farm fields.

"I think it's a great location, especially for family hikes," said Brenda Gumminger, a Wasilla resident for more than years who has taken her now-grown sons on hikes up the Butte at least once a year since they were small. "It's fairly easy and local and doesn't take a full day to do."

Great Land needs to purchase the land by the end of this year and has applied for a number of grants, Shephard said. The Land Trust will hold a fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Palmer Elks Lodge on North Barry Resort Drive, between Palmer and Wasilla.

Every Butte donor gets an "I Helped Buy the Butte!" bumper sticker.

Great Land Trust, founded in 1995, has conserved more than 10,000 acres of land, including 40 miles of salmon streams, 5,000 acres of wetlands, six historic homesteads, seven municipal parks, three projects that provide access to Palmer Hay Flats Game Refuge, three trail development projects, two projects that provide access to Chugach State Park and a historic 80-acre farm in Trapper Creek.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or in Wasilla at (907) 352-6705.

 


By ZAZ HOLLANDER
zhollander@adn.com

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