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January 17, 2013: Much of the Same and Getting Worse

The above statement was recently uttered by Terry Snyder, a local political activist who was referring both to the weather and to the sorry state of local affairs. Plain and simple --we currently have a pro-development borough assembly. This local governing body often acts in a haphazard fashion, which is one that puts environmental concerns on the back burner. To them, it’s all about putting money in their hands, and in the hands of local developers.

I’m going to extend Terry’s metaphor, and push it into the realm of unstable footing. We who live in this area are now having to contend with snow-covered

ice. My being partially house-bound is lending itself to self-reflection. Trip plans are coming to mind in part because the area that I live in is becoming less and less conducive to horseback riding. Area horseback trails have been trashed by ATV users, and if things keep going the way they’re going, more trails are going to suffer the same fate.

Our horses are extremely trail savvy, but, bottom line, bogs, ruts, mud pits, and exposed tree roots are very real dangers. I cannot, in good conscience, subject their legs to possible injury. So, Pete and I will ride elsewhere this summer. If the nearby trails were conducive to horse travel, we’d stick around. Other equestrian trail users are thinking similarly. This does not bode well for the area economy. Horseback riders (such as us) spend money locally; some of our equine-related expenses include veterinary costs, farrier work, feed, and community clinics and events.

I’ve decided that rather than complain, I’ll work at making things better for ALL area silent sport recreationalists. I recently attended a meeting of the Mat Su Planning Commission. The Motorized Jim Creek Parcel Master Plan was up for consideration. I was disappointed when, after considering audience comments pro and con, they gave the plan their unanimous stamp of approval. It will now go before the Mat Su Borough Assembly.

Support for this document bodes ill for all area silent sport trail users, myself included. I’m a hiker, bicyclist, and cross country skier. Horseback riding is currently my number one outdoor activity. Last year, I logged 792 miles on area trails. The trails in my area (the Matanuska Moose Range) have become increasingly more trashed, which is why, as of late, I’ve been going further afield.

The Jim Creek Parcel is a 471 acre tract, bounded by the Knik River to the south, and Sullivan Road to the north. Access to the Knik River and Knik Glacier are possible from this parcel via two designated trails, the Sexton Trail and the Jim Creek Trail. The area is currently a popular destination for four wheeler and off-road activity, which has continued to remain unregulated.

The document title alludes to the fact that the Motorized Jim Creek Parcel Master plan caters to the use of MOTORIZED users, as does the text itself. The USKH authors include phrases like “activity zones” and “Specific Motorized Attraction Zones.” The latter include “Pay for Play,” “Tech Challenges,” “Mud bogs,” “Rock crawler parks,” and “Camper Parks.” Multi-use trails are included in this plan, but such trail systems are exclusionary—other users will be adversely affected by what in the Jim Creek area has already become a precedent -- noise, dust, torn up trails, and the departure of area wildlife.

As disturbing to this silent sport trail user is the fact that that this plan contradicts information that appears in the previously passed 2007 Asset Management Plan for Borough Land in the Butte area. This document addresses the social, economic, and environmental factors that affect the Butte area and include the Jim Creek Parcel.

The goal of the plan is to “articulate community values and long‐term goals and in this way ensure that land and resource development, use, and management decisions occur in a way that will benefit those they most affect – the local community and its residents.”

The Asset Management Plan also includes the requirement for a Master Plan for Jim Creek Parcel prior to any easement or development. Additionally it determines the highest and best overall use for the parcels and reflects community goals. For example, Community Goal No. 1 states:
“Retain and Improve Recreation, Connected Open Space.” It’s also stated that “the great natural beauty of the region coupled with the strong community desire for recreation and access to outdoor recreation are two keys to the community’s quality of life. Borough land should be used to support this goal, for example, by creating a network of open space and connecting trails. This strategy can meet the recreation need of local residents while attracting visitors to the region to enhance economic development opportunities.”

Deputy Mayor Ron Arvin, the Mayor, and other assembly members changed the mandate of the 2007 Assembly -- based on community input – who, in creating the Asset Management Plan for borough lands in Butte, specified that a “Master Plan for Jim Creek Parcel,” needs to be put together before allowing any easements or developments. It did not then, and should not now call for a “motorized Plan.”

The lack of adherence to the 2007 Asset Management Plan is proof positive that the Motorized Jim Creek Master Plan needs further work. I ask that when it comes before them, that the members of the Mat Su Borough Assembly table the passage of this document and encourage further revision, taking into consideration the fact that the Jim Creek Parcel should not be a gateway for those wishing to recreate in an irresponsible fashion, but instead, it should be a gateway for those wishing to recreate in a more responsible fashion.

Next: 18. 1/18/13: Tolting the Divide Part II – Doors Open