New ATV trail at Jim Creek broadens recreation prospects in the Valley

A website popular with off-road ATV riders lists a dozen popular off-road trails in Southcentral Alaska. Last week, a new option opened up, perhaps the most expensive of the bunch.

The new 3-mile, three-loop $87,000 ATV trail at Jim Creek christened Wednesday was largely funded by a federal grant passed through the state to the Mat-Su Borough via the Recreation and Trails Grant Program. The borough contributed $18,000.

"There's an elaborate network of trails out there," said Jacques Boutet, whose firm, The Boutet Company, designed the route. "And a wide range of users. This one is oriented towards the beginner and intermediate-level crowd."

Trail designers managed that by plotting a narrow 5-to-6-foot-wide trail with tight turns that retained most natural vegetation. One aim was to keep drivers' speed less than 10 mph.

"We designed this course … (for) folks who maybe do not have high abilities. It allows them to do low-speed technical riding in a safe, controlled environment," said Hugh Leslie, the Mat-Su recreation and library services manager.

"There's absolutely no way to get lost. There are 200 orange arrows on the trees. There's roundabouts to bail out if you feel the course is getting too challenging.

"I am sure it will be a big attraction … for years to come."

The Jim Creek area has long been a Mat-Su attraction, and not just for its salmon fishing. It's a place that has had garbage dumping, vehicle and wooden pallet burnings, vandalism, litter, reckless target shooting and more. Consequently, many families steered clear.

But the civilization of the sometimes lawless and rugged recreation destination began with creation of the Knik River Public Use Area with legislation in 2006, followed by a management plan in 2008.

A shooting ban on the lower Knik and at Jim Creek was offset with the creation of a nearly $1 million shooting range.

The public-use area remains a still-wild playground within an hour of Anchorage. It straddles the glacial Knik River tucked between high Chugach peaks and draws a mix of locals, military, visitors from Anchorage and international tourists to hunt, fish, go off-roading, airboat to the Knik Glacier or take horse and ATV tours. Birders, boaters, anglers and hunters frequent a sprawling, wetland-and-lakes complex on the north side of the river.

"This is a turning point for us, especially in this area, to get users and families out here, to kind of change the tone and feeling of this area," Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Steve Colligan said at the ATV trail opening.

Added Mat-Su public information officer Patty Sullivan: "It's a little order in an area that has been described in past years as Mad Max."

Steve Neal, Alaska Department of Natural Resources grants administrator, said his department has increased the money directed to motorized trails to $100,000, "and that opened the door for this to become a reality.

"We're very very happy to have motorized trails built. We hope to see more."

To find the trail, take the Old Glenn Highway south and turn left on E. Sullivan Ave. before heading east for about a mile. Look for borough signs on the right.