Eklutna Inc. lands protected by conservation easement

PALMER -- More than 1,300 acres of Eklutna Inc. land in Butte and Chugiak are now off-limits to development with an agreement signed recently between the Alaska Native corporation and Great Land Trust.

The two completed the sale of conservation easements on three parcels in late November, according to the trust, an Anchorage-based nonprofit. Neither party would say how much money the easements are worth.

The land remains under Eklutna ownership for traditional use by shareholders. The public can use the lands, including a well-used boat launch at Mud Lake and trail near Burnt Butte, after getting a permit, Eklutna CEO Curtis McQueen said.

The biggest parcel is nearly 800 acres east of Palmer in the Jim, Mud and Swan lakes area accessed by Maud Road. The scenic area is salmon- and wildlife-rich. It's near the state's roughly 260,000-acre Knik River Public Use Area, popular for fishing, hunting and all-season recreation.

Deciding to sign an easement for that parcel was initially a tricky decision, given the development value of the area and the corporation's mission to generate revenue for shareholders, McQueen said. But then board members twice toured the area and decided preservation was the best route.

"At the end of the day, it wasn't as hard as we thought," he said.

Eklutna is the largest private landowner in the Anchorage Bowl and a major developer in Eagle River.

The corporation will have nearly 80,000 mostly road-less acres in the region once the federal land selection process finalizes in February, McQueen said. The land includes accessible areas such as the old Matanuska town site below the Glenn Highway and what he called a "developable" parcel near the old drag strip in Butte.

The other two parcels involved in this week's announcement with Great Land Trust are a conservation project on Mink Creek next to the Glenn Highway near Birchwood and a greenbelt near the mouth of the Eklutna River.

The money is going into a fund accessible by the trust and Eklutna to manage the land, with shareholders to get a hiring priority. The job will involve regular inspections to check for illegal poaching on the easement lands, McQueen said, or "four-wheelers punching in new mud-bogging roads" that others then follow. It will also involve public education or posting signs.