Greetings JNSC Members!
This is a reminder to submit your thoughts/concerns/questions about JORA’s proposal for putting a road in off of the Montana Creek Trail. The public comment period ends at 5pm on April 21st. You can read more about this project here and submit your public comment by contacting:
email@example.com OR Division of Mining, Land and Water
Southeast Regional Land Office
PO Box 111020
Juneau, Alaska 99811
Please feel free to share this information and post on social media. It’s very important to take action today and take full advantage of the public comment period to voice your concerns about this project.
We have included below the public comment submitted by the JNSC board.
See you on the trails,
Your JNSC Board
April 11, 2021
Dear ADNR review committee,
The Juneau Nordic Ski Club (JNSC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Our goal is to create recreational opportunities for all ages and abilities through maintaining groomed Nordic ski trails for the public during the winter. The JNSC supports recreational opportunities for all in Juneau. It is important that all ages and all abilities are able to access and enjoy the beautiful natural environment of Juneau. JNSC supports motorized access for ATVs and ORVs in existing approved riding areas including current development of Lake Creek Trail and CBJ’s efforts to develop the Lemon Creek rock quarry. The Juneau Off-Road Association’s (JORA) public easement proposal (herein referred to as “proposal”) is to create a 25’ wide trail off of the Montana Creek Trail.
The current proposal would create safety concerns and likely displace existing users (e.g.,skiers, dog-walkers, hikers, snow shoers, bikers, and other non-motorized user groups), which makes it impossible at this time for the JNSC to voice our support. There is a lack of infrastructure in the area to support increased use, and the proposal as written would be inconsistent with the current management structure of the Montana Creek upper watershed. As an alternative to rushing a decision to approve, the JNSC supports the current interagency master plan to develop this area wisely and carefully in collaboration with all stakeholders.
For nearly two decades, the JNSC has helped CBJ, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Forest Service restore the Montana Creek upper watershed to a welcoming, safe, clean, and popular natural area. We’ve been grooming Montana Creek Trail for the last 20 winters. Once the gate is closed at the Hank Harmon range, JNSC stages a snow machine and groomer beyond the gate. This arrangement has worked so well that there are now thousands of walkers, joggers, dog walkers and skiers that use the trail JNSC grooms in the winter. The ski club now includes and trains over 100 youth skiers, from elementary to high school, as part of the Juneau Nordic Ski Team . Montana Creek Trail is an essential trail for the success of these programs because the snow is more consistent and lasts longer than any other trail in town. The JNSC has grown by almost 300 members this year alone bringing the paying membership to nearly 1,000 members. Many who are not part of JNSC membership recreate on this groomed trail regularly. The JNSC is fully insured with respect to grooming, youth development programs, and general liability, and grooming operations at Montana Creek are conducted under a formal Memorandum Of Understanding with the CBJ.
The JNSC is concerned that the new trails in the proposal will come at the expense of the current predominant use by non-motorized users. If the proposed easement to build trails is allowed it would increase motorized traffic on this largely non-motorized trail creating serious safety concerns. Building a 25’ wide trail/road starting from an ~8’ wide access trail is inappropriate and dangerous. The proposed road’s development would lead to increased usage of the narrow access trail by motorized traffic that would be difficult to accommodate safely. The creation of that particular pinch point would promote the predominant use by motorized users to the exclusion of non-motorized users. This is the case for the Dan Moller trail on Douglas, and the Lake Creek Trail to Spaulding Meadows. Both of these trails are narrow and do not provide adequate space for motorized and non-motorized users to recreate side by side.
The current Montana Creek trail has already presented safety concerns because the existing trail is narrow and meanders back and forth along the creek. Blind corners and narrow trails make non-motorized users especially vulnerable when a fast moving motor vehicle unexpectedly comes around a bend. Non-motorized users are navigating primarily in the dusk or dark because peak hours for winter use are after work or school. This winter, there were several documented instances where non-motorized users felt their safety was threatened by motorized vehicles. In one instance, the driver of a motorized vehicle speedily ran an ATV up and down several times along a portion of Montana Creek trail causing non-motorized users to feel afraid and unsafe. Motorized vehicles also leave deep grooves and ruts in the groomed trail that are hard to ski over and around. This can especially be a problem for beginning, intermediate , and elderly skiers. Deep grooves and ruts are also costly and time prohibitive to re-groom. JNSC grooming is done by an all volunteer crew. Overall, existing motorized use on the Montana creek road/trail has created an unpredictable and unsafe environment during the winter that will be exacerbated by this proposal.
The JNSC has invested countless efforts in cooperation with land managers and other users over the past two decades. For example, the JNSC has continuously worked with Alaska DNR and the CBJ to maintain the bridge/trail and groom the Montana Creek Trail in winter for skiers and walkers. Four years ago, JNSC, CBJ, and Juneau Trail Mix added structural support and replaced the decking on the Montana Creek Bridge. We added new bull rails and widened the bridge to 10 feet. This made it safer for pedestrians and skiers and for the JNSC grooming equipment to cross safely.
As the Montana Creek upper watershed has increased in popularity among all users over the past several years, the current parking lot infrastructure has become insufficient. There are fewer than a dozen spaces available in the parking lot outside the adjacent Hank Harmon rifle range. While the trailhead is on CBJ managed lands it is the only access point to the JORA’s proposed easement. DNR would be remiss in allowing development of the easement before the infrastructure needs, such as increased public parking, were addressed at the trailhead.
These concerns around safety and capacity show the urgency for a comprehensive master plan of the Montana Creek upper watershed area as an alternative to a rushed development for a single user group. This past fall, the CBJ informed JNSC that they plan to engage DNR and USFS in completing such a master plan.
We ask that you move forward with this interagency planning process with JORA, JNSC, and all interested community user groups to implement a plan for development of the area that will reflect the balanced user contingency that exists in the area. The existing Montana Creek trail is unique because it crosses multiple land management boundaries. All three agencies (DNR, USFS, and CBJ) share a direct responsibility for managing the basin for resource protection and providing and protecting safe community recreation opportunities.
JNSC recognizes the need for non-motorized recreation areas in Juneau. An inter-agency master plan is the appropriate place for JORA to put forward their ideas for the Montana Creek area. JNSC looks forward to working through a well-coordinated interagency master plan in the near future to collectively develop the Montana Creek upper watershed area to safely meet the needs of all existing user groups. The JORA proposal should be considered only after the master plan is in place.
The JNSC Board
Frankie Pillifant, President
Mike Hekkers, Vice President
Kate Slotnick, Secretary
Tim Blust, Treasurer