Story last updated at 3:34 p.m. Friday, April 12, 2002

Ski historian leaves his tracks on Baycrest
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer<

photo: news
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Dave Brann takes a momentary break from grooming at the Baycrest Sterling Highway trailhead.  
Dave Brann's world has become an intersection of trails.

As a member of the Kachemak Bay Nordic Ski Club, he grooms and skis them.

As a champion of the Homer Demonstration Forest, he injects them with educational purpose.

As a ski historian, he has traced the routes that were tracked by the first skiers in North America.

And, as an Alaskan with a saw, a shovel and an eye to hike, bike or ski from one end of Kachemak Bay to the other, Brann is dreaming of a grander trail system.

A man quintessentially low key and typically dressed in working clothes, the gray-haired Brann doesn't appear to be a politically driven man. But with his wry smile and the woodsy Maine crimp in his speech, Brann is leading an unofficial grass-roots campaign.

"I think the most important thing is to get people using the trails, to build a constituency of regular trail users," Brann said. "I hope that if we can get enough people using the trails for year-around recreation, private land owners and the state and borough" will be more likely to respect the trail right of ways.

It is fitting that 20 years ago Brann built his home on Baycrest Hill, where it presides over a forest that is now home to Kachemak Bay's most extensive set of ski trails. And just as naturally, one of those trails begins at his door.

Brann moved to Homer in 1980, in time to join the Kachemak Bay Nordic Ski Club in its infancy, when the only groomed skiing was at Lookout Mountain. In the years that followed the club has overseen the expansion of its Nordic skiing areas, with groomed trails at Baycrest and McNeil Canyon, as well as Lookout Mountain, now maintained by a posse of volunteers riding an impressive fleet of mostly newer snowmachines.

Not long before last month's Sea to Ski Triathlon, Brann rode into the lower Baycrest trails on a prehistoric-looking SkiDoo Alpine snowmachine, with its single ski in front and a grooming drag behind. Brann said he likes the old machine because it is powerful enough to pull the heaviest groomer.

As he went along a trail called Headwaters Highway, Brann explained how a single corridor, cut into 360 acres of state-owned spruce, has grown to become the cornerstone of the Baycrest trails, which now encompass more than 25 kilometers of trails looping through state, borough and private land. That 360-acre parcel of land is now called the Homer Demonstration Forest.

Between grooming and skiing in the winter and working on trails and other Demonstration Forest projects in the summer, Brann is in the woods more often than not.

Brann's wife Molly said her husbands' obsession with the trails in and around the Demonstration Forest was tied to his work ethic.

"He'd rather be out doing it than sitting in a meeting talking about it," she said before explaining that Brann was opting out of a summer trip to Italy because it conflicted with Homer Trails Day.

The list of Demonstration Forest projects Brann has a hand in is long <> the arboretum, the moose browse exclosure, interpretive trails, and wildlife studies of all kinds. The list of future projects for the forest is even longer.

A retired middle school teacher and member of the Demonstration Forrest steering committee, Brann is more than happy to talk about the projects with visiting school groups and individual citizens, he said.

"There's a lot of work to do out here, but I like it," Brann said as he fixed the trailhead sign on Rogers Loop. "Getting out here in this forest is my exercise."

Leaving the Demonstration Forest, the Baycrest trails run north up to Diamond Ridge and west down the Diamond Creek drainage and in both directions they move onto private land. And that is where the future of the Baycrest trails gets a little muddy.

With possible subdivisions slated for more than 300 acres of private land adjoining the Demonstration Forest, the country surrounding that section of the Diamond Creek watershed could well look quite different down the road, even though the developers have promised to adopt the trails in some fashion.

With many conservation advocates and skiers pushing to keep the area just as it is today, Brann said he prefers to keep a low profile in the debate because he values both the conservation ethic and the rights of land owners.

"I think the primary goal is to protect the integrity of the Demonstration Forest and the ski trails," he said. "On the sunny blue sky days, I'm optimistic that it'll eventually work out to be a win-win for everybody."

In January, Brann took a path of a more intellectual nature when he and Molly attended an international gathering of ski historians in Utah. At the conference, Brann presented a paper in which he documented that the Russian trappers in Alaska first donned skis in the 1790s, more than 50 years before the Scandinavian farmers of the upper Midwest.

In his paper Brann concluded that despite the first North American skiers' utilitarian needs and primitive equipment. He wrote: "This writer likes to imagine an occasional smile on the face of these early skiers, as they made an exciting downhill run or gazed over a sun-splashed, snow-blanketed valley."

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