Offering views described as "really spectacular," a new Mat-Su park bordering Settlers Bay Golf Course is expected to be finalized early next year and quickly attract hikers, skiers, birdwatchers, anglers and others.
Great Land Trust, a private nonprofit organization, is in the final phase of raising the $1.4 million needed to buy the 295-acre parcel on Knik Arm from the owners of the golf course. It will then donate the land, called Settlers Bay Coastal Park, to the Mat-Su Borough to be managed for recreation and habitat.
The land, along the southern boundary of the golf course, extends to Knik Arm through wetlands and a salt marsh that attract more than 150 species of migratory birds. Uplands feature spruce, birch and poplar forests. Two creeks with silver salmon runs, Crocker and Lucy, bisect the property.
"The views are really spectacular," said Kim Sollien, the Mat-Su program director of Great Land Trust. "Valley residents don't think of themselves as a coastal community, but Knik Arm is the ocean. Because of the salt marsh, you can walk down to the water year-round. It's pretty solid ground," except during the highest tides.
"The wildlife, trails and open spaces are part of what makes the Mat-Su so incredibly special," she added.
Views of the Chugach Mountains, Knik Glacier, Pioneer Peak and Twin Peaks dot the horizon.
Founded in 1995, Great Land Trust aims to preserve Alaska land and waterways. In 22 years, the organization has purchased 49,000 acres of land for conservation, plus 40 miles of salmon streams and 13,000 acres of wetland.
Some $40,000 remains to be raised, and Great Land Trust will host a fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the golf course with food, drinks and music planned.
"We've had a number of community members approach us, and we've had a few donors who pledged in advance," Sollien said, "so we're feeling really good."
Many are acquainted with the terrain. Small social trails that cross rolling terrain on the property may be improved — if that's what residents of the Knik Fairview community want to see.
The project began to take shape about five years ago after Great Land Trust bought a 1,000-acre tract of land that served to expand the north side of the 28,800-acre Palmer Hayflats State Game Refuge, which abuts the forthcoming Settlers Bay Coastal Park.
"It's all the same type of coastal habitat," said Joe Meehan of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Once that happened, Bob Ackles, managing member of Settlers Bay Golf Course LLC, approached Great Land Trust about selling some of the golf course's property for conservation.
"For a developer to reach out is just terrific," Sollien said.
But for Ackles, it was an easy decision.
"Sure we could have subdivided our property to create more opportunity for houses, but thinking about the future of this community and what kind of legacy we want to leave, selling the land for conservation seemed like a win-win. It's just beautiful parkland."
"It's the very last piece of land connected to the hayflats," Ackles said. "A lot of people know about it and a lot of people are very happy about the idea there's going to be a park."
Great Land Trust Projects completed in 2017
— 40-acre Butte Summit in Mat-Su
— 70-acre Sweetman easement in Fishhook
— 140-acre bear walk easement on Afognak Island, north of Kodiak
— 65-acre Triplets Islands in Kodiak
— 1,000-acre Termination Point easement in Kodiak
-—36,000-acre northern Afognak acquisition