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Parking a hassle as bridge to popular Reed Lakes trailhead closed

A bridge connecting hikers to one of the more popular trails in the Matanuska Valley was closed indefinitely Tuesday.

Last week, the Alaska Department of Transportation found that the wooden bridge that spans Archangel Creek on Archangel Road was no longer safe for vehicles. Logs supporting parts of the bridge have "sufficiently rotated," according to DOT spokeswoman Jill Reese, forcing engineers to deem the bridge impassable to all but pedestrian traffic. The bridge is approximately 100 yards from the popular Reed Lakes trailhead in Hatcher Pass.

The bridge, built in 1995, is at the end of its expected 20-year lifespan, Reese said. There have been three bridges crossing the creek on the road, which was built in the 1940s for mining access.

Reese said a 2012 assessment found the current bridge was able to handle less than a quarter of the weight it was designed for. The latest assessment found it could no longer handle even that.

"It's just been heavily used over the years and has come to end of its life," she said.

For hikers heading to the Reed Lakes trail -- a 9-mile round trip to two scenic, glacially fed lakes in the Talkeetna Mountains -- the bridge closure won't add much distance. But Wayne Biessel, Alaska State Parks area superintendent for the Mat-Su and Copper Basin region, said the bridge closure has led to a tricky parking situation.

With access to the trailhead closed, hikers have lost approximately 50 parking spaces in the parking lot and on the roadside south of the bridge.

Cramped parking is nothing new for the trailhead, he said, which can see over 100 cars on a nice weekend. But he said the loss of the spots has created gridlock, jamming the road near the bridge. He said last weekend one man ended up waiting five hours for hikers to return after his car was blocked in.

Biessel said they've closed off parking on one side of the road in order to allow emergency vehicles in and to try to alleviate congestion. Managers of the area are looking at several spots along the road that could be adapted for parking, he said, but that won't happen any time soon. Biessel encouraged users of the trail to carpool and be conscientious when parking off-road. Trailers and recreational vehicles are discouraged.

Reese said while parts of the bridge remain in good condition, there is no funding currently available to cover rebuilding the bridge and it remains unclear when it would reopen.

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