Story last updated at 6:14 p.m. Thursday, December 26, 2002

Park snowmachine ban, hunting issues discussed
By Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

The growing pains of an ever-expanding outdoor recreation constituency were clearly audible in the library of McNeil Canyon Elementary School when the Kachemak Bay State Park advisory board met last month.

New lines of potential conflict are drawn into two well-worn battle grounds as board members and members of the great outdoor public discussed snowmachine access and hunting on park lands.

During the Nov. 20 meeting, people weighed in on both sides of the two issues.

First came the announcement that State Parks' newest south peninsula property -- an 80-acre parcel 13 miles out East End Road now called Eveline State Recreation Area -- was donated last year on the stipulation that it be kept off limits to motorized vehicles, including snowmachines.

According to District Ranger Roger MacCampbell, with budget woes continuing to force belt-tightening, the only way State Parks would agree to accept the gift was if a third-party organization would step in and manage it. Enter the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club.

Dave Brann, ski club volunteer, said the club would gladly help with the development of the new park, as it could eventually become a skiing and hiking area that would connect to the nearby McNeil Canyon trails. Brann stressed that the concept of no snowmachines came solely from owner Edmund Schuster, who wanted to establish the park in the memory of his wife Eveline. Brann added that the property hadn't been posted with "no snowmachine" signs last spring because he thought it was important to meet with neighbors to explain how the new park had come about.

Several snowmachine enthusiasts who live near the new park vehemently objected to the notion that they would be forced to find a new route out to the Caribou Lake area.

Debate swirled back and forth over the idea that private property owners could legally keep snowmachiners out.

Several people brought up the legal battle over the seismic line trail across Tom Price's East End Road property. Price battled the Snowmad Snowmachine Club in court and lost, as Judge Harold Brown ruled last spring that the trail had seen historical use and could not be closed.

Brann and MacCampbell both said they thought there could be a viable way to divert any snowmachine traffic around the new park land.

Snowmachine enthusiasts were skeptical that such a plan would be acceptable.

"The only way to avoid a nasty fight is to provide a corridor (through the park)," said East End Road resident Brian Howard.

Brann and MacCampbell both were doubtful that Schuster would change his mind on the no snowmachine stipulation.

MacCampbell said he would be happy to take any comments on the new park and its rules.

Once the dust had settled on snowmachine debate, the advisory board floated several ideas it would consider for draft proposals on hunting in the park.

The most controversial of those ideas -- a plan that would eliminate hunting in large portions of the park's northern or Kachemak Bay side -- came under immediate fire from hunters.

MacCampbell explained that because of the growing use of the park as a destination for wildlife viewing, the board is considering the idea of no-hunt zones in Sadie Cove and Tutka Bay.

Following strong protests from the hunters in the room, MacCampbell said he was sure there was room for compromise.

MacCampbell said that at the core of the new hunting proposals is the fact that the park "will continue to experience more local and out-of-state tourists, including the shoulder seasons."

"Commercial businesses have expanded dramatically over the last 10 years, also," MacCampbell said. "We recognize and appreciate that hunting in the park is a viable and appropriate recreational activity.

"These proposals are mainly in regard to safety issues and potential and real conflicts between user groups. Although the conflict is not serious, it can be emotional and philosophical."

The proposals on closures that he and the board later discussed only included total closure of a smaller portion of the north side of Sadie Cove, approximately 2,000 acres.

"That's not a lot out of 400,000 acres," MacCampbell said.

Other game proposals for Kachemak Bay State Park include:

* A ban on the baiting of black bears in the park;

* A requirement that hunters salvage black-bear meat and move carcass remains at least 200 yards away from trails;

* Closing the Kachemak Bay side of the park to hunting during peak tourist season, June 1 to Aug. 15.

The response of hunters at the meeting was positive regarding proposals to ban bear baiting and force hunters to salvage bear meat.

The response to closures of any areas to hunting was another story. All of the half dozen or more hunters in the room denounced the concept.

Tom Hopkins, an avid hunter who lives on the south side of Kachemak Bay, said he and other hunters see the commercial users of the park attempting to protect their commercial interests at the expense of other park users.

"Hunters see lodge owners in (the park), and now that they've got themselves in there, they want to shut the door behind them," Hopkins said.

MacCampbell said he thought these proposals, which were approved by the Division of Natural Resources this month, could be brought before the Board of Game as soon as next spring.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer