Story last updated at 3:07 p.m. Thursday, October 3, 2002

Trail dollars flow from many sources
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

In a state where the mileage of backcountry trails certainly outdistances that of conventional roads, the push to develop new trails and improve existing ones begins at every level from local user groups on up to state and federal agencies.

As a result of these efforts, a vast array of trails projects from Cordova to Kodiak to Nome are lined up for state and federal funding.

As trail users and their ATVs increasingly affect the lands they cross, land managers are eager to include local input to keep the trails and their users from being a threat to the environment and wildlife they are mandated to protect.

Projects under way on the lower Kenai Peninsula, such as the relocation of the ATV trail to Caribou Lake, offer a unique perspective on how a local group can enlist the expertise and financial backing of a variety of sources.

The Caribou Lake project, which is a prototype for a partnership between federal land-use planners and local user groups, will likely seek a number of sources to fund its multi-phase construction agenda, such as:

  • Gov. Tony Knowles' Trails and Recreation Access for Alaska initiative, which offers grants ranging from $1,800 to $30,000 with recipients required to provide at least a 20 percent match. In 2002, 26 projects were funded, including a $10,000 award to the Homer-based Choices for Teens' for its Summer Trails Program;

  • The U.S. Forest Service, which could potentially accept a proposal to grant the group $50,000 to harvest small-diameter and low-value softwoods, such as beetle-killed spruce, which could then be used for the trail's extensive boardwalk system;

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which provides funding to mitigate habitat degradation;

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which also offers financial assistance to projects that seek to protect sensitive wildlife habitat.

    Meanwhile, the Caribou Lake Trail project's community-based support is an example of how the Alaska Department of Fish and Game hopes to initiate its project to assess and mitigate habitat damage from ATVs at stream crossings on Deep Creek and the Anchor River.

    Department habitat biologist Ellen Simpson said the intention of the project is not to limit the public's access to the area's many trails, but to utilize the users' knowledge to help the department define the trails and protect the stream resources.

    "I'd like to have the state provide a forum for users to participate and make the decisions and choose the trails," Simpson said. "Fish and Game and the state would merely provide the opportunity for the people to come together and make these decisions."

    Without that kind of participation, Simpson said, she doubted whether the department could sell any habitat mitigation initiatives to ATV user groups.

    Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer