By Carey Restino
Those interested in the future of the Kachemak Bay State Park and the Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park may be surprised to see words like “jet skis” and “heli skiing” on a survey currently being conducted by the state on what recreational uses people might think are appropriate. Many people might think jet skis are off the table after the controversial process banning them in Kachemak Bay more than a decade ago. And heli skiing in the park?
“Those are certainly the two biggest hot-button issues, but they are not necessarily the basis for doing the planning effort,” said Shawana Guzenski, project manager with the Department of Natural Resources for Kachemak Bay State Park planning.Guzenski said those two questions should not overshadow the many other decisions at stake, like whether biking trails should be created, or handicap accessible trails established, or new facilities built or mooring buoys installed.
“It’s not just about those two issues,” she said. “It’s important to discuss these other issues and we don’t want this process to just hone in on those two issues. There are other things out there we want to know about.” No one is exactly sure how many more people use the Kachemak Bay State Park and the Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park than did when the community last went through the management plan in 1995, park Ranger Rodger MacCampbell said it’s an “exponential increase.” Visitors from all over the world and every state in the country come to the park trails by the thousands each summer. The last time the plan was done, it was probably for only a few hundred annual visitors, he estimated.
Now, with more than 80 miles of trails, camping platforms and sites, public use cabins, public mooring buoys and even a dock or two, the park infrastructure has increased considerably. It has also become a large part of the local economy, supporting several water taxi operations, not to mention guided kayak, flight seeing and other outdoor programs for visitors looking for adventure. How the park looks and serves the public in the future will be determined by this process, MacCampbell noted, and he hopes the community gets involved and provides the state agency with lots of feedback.
“I think this an opportunity to define what wilderness means to the community and to Alaskans in terms of state parks, and to look at adjusting regulations and making them match those definitions more clearly,” he said. MacCampbell said people have expressed disapproval that personal watercraft are even on the list of activities people participating in an initial survey can check as far as what they would like to see in the future at the park. But he said it doesn’t mean that they will be allowed. “It doesn’t mean we have an agenda,” he said. “We are allowing people to voice everything and not cut one usergroup off.”
The personal watercraft issue came up in 2011 when the Personal Watercraft Club of Alaska proposed allowing the use of “jet skis” in the park. The park’s advisory board turned the proposal down. Heli skiing — chartering a helicopter to take skiers to the top of mountain ranges in the park — is the same sort of thing, he said. The state will need to determine what impacts any type of access will have on the parks, from human pollution to disturbance to the wildlife to other scenic values. Or maybe, he said, it isn’t that big a deal in the wintertime when there aren’t many other usergroups in the park. But when the idea was flown last year, a decision on the proposed activity was delayed until after the new park management plan was completed. At the time, Ben Ellis, Director of the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, said the division had received a broad range of comments, many passionate, making it an issue that requires “careful and thorough evaluation.”
MacCampbell noted the park planning also included some input-gathering on how to manage other state park lands in the Homer area, including the popular Diamond Creek Trail area, where a twisting path to the beach continues to erode despite trail maintenance efforts. Hikers sometimes camp in the area near the beach, despite a lack of facilities. Guzenski said as planners begin what will likely be a two-year process or longer, they start with a “blank slate” when it comes to the planning process.
“At first, we want to know where people are going, how they are using the park, when they are using the park and what things they think are appropriate and not appropriate for the park,” she said. “People have the common misconception that the plan is already created and that’s not the case at all.” The survey, as well as news about the planning process is available online at dnr.alaska.gov/parks/plans/kbay/kbayplan.htm. This round of public comments is open until Jan. 31, but there will be many other opportunities to comment. The survey can be sent any way the user wishes, from mailing it in an envelope to attaching it to an email.
After information is received from the first round of comments, the state will analyze the comments and proceed forward with a series of meetings in not only the Homer area but in the communities bordering the park, such as Seldovia, Halibut Cove and Nanwalek as well as Anchorage. Guzenski said planners would also be on hand during the May shorebird festival. MacCampbell said he encouraged the community to participate in the planning process for the parks and make sure their opinions are known. “I think this is a good opportunity for people to make positive changes and be involved in the process and put your voice in,” he said.
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