The public needs Native corporation permits to do anything but drive the Klutina Lake Road, a 25-mile track that accesses salmon fishing and hunting areas near Copper Center.
The Alaska Supreme Court in an opinion last week upheld lower court rulings granting the state right of way along the road itself but also limiting that right of way to travel on the road only.
That means the public can’t park, camp or launch boats from the roadside without paying Ahtna Inc. for permits.
The road — officially it’s called Brenwick-Craig Road — runs from the Richardson Highway across Ahtna lands in the Copper River Valley to the lake ringed by the Chugach Mountains. Visitors park along the road, put in boats on the Klutina River or make use of a small public access at the lake.
In 2007, the state cleared a swath of land along the road and removed an Ahtna fee station, according to the opinion. The next year Ahtna, the Glennallen-based regional Alaska Native corporation with roughly 2,100 shareholders, sued to remove state authority over the road.
The state argued a 100-foot public easement established by a federal mining law from the 1800s provided free pullouts, camping and some river access for non-Ahtna shareholders. Ahtna contended another federal provision provided only a 60-foot easement and barred any stops other than for emergencies without paying a Native corporation access fee that starts at $15 a day.
The two sides reached a settlement agreement in 2019 granting a 100-foot right of way along the length of the road from the Richardson Highway to Klutina Lake. But there was no agreement reached on what public activities would be allowed.
State officials at the time urged the public to go through the permit process until the Supreme Court made a decision on whether the public could use the right of way to camp, launch boats and park.
In the March 12 opinion, the justices found the state’s 2007 action of clearing the full, 100-foot width “was not reasonable use.”
State attorneys misinterpreted applicable case law when they found the historic mining law allowed travel including boat launches, camping and day use, they found.
On Thursday, an Alaska Department of Law spokesperson said the state is deciding whether to ask the court to reconsider parts of the decision.
Ahtna officials in a statement called the decision a welcome end to years of litigation and praised the affirmation that only ingress and egress are allowed along the right of way.
But they expressed disappointment the court rejected their defense that “aboriginal title” granted before the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act precluded the right of way.
“The Ahtna Athabascan people have used and occupied the land for thousands of years,” the statement said.
Ahtna land use permits are available at ahtna.com/land-permits for overnight camping and day-use activities such as parking, fishing and boat launching.