Dozens of Haines residents turned out to a meeting Tuesday to defend their rights to use snowmachines and four-wheelers in certain parts of the Chilkat Valley. But the committee they voiced their arguments to said it was not planning on restricting that use in the first place.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee usually has a handful of people in attendance at its meetings. Not this time. The committee had to switch its meeting venue last-minute when they heard about the rumor that would bring more than fifty people to the audience.
“We don’t have any plans of limiting motor vehicle access at this point,” said Interim Borough Manager Brad Ryan. “We haven’t even thought about doing that.”
Ryan said the impression that the parks committee wanted to restrict motorized uses in the 25 Mile and Kicking Horse areas was false.
The parks committee is interested in creating a comprehensive winter recreation map. Committee member Burl Sheldon explained that the most recent heliski map committee sparked the idea.
“Maybe we should look at a bigger picture for winter recreational use planning rather than always being reactive to the needs of the heliskiing group,” Sheldon said.
Committee member Thom Ely reiterated that they were not planning on shutting down certain areas to snowmachining or other activities.
“We all live here to do the things we like to do in the winter, whether that’s snowmachining or skiing or whatever,” Ely said. “And like a lot of things in Haines, a rumor gets started. And Donnie Turner called me and said ‘hey I hear you want to shut us out the Kicking Horse and no snowmachines up the Kicking Horse.’ And I said, ‘no, that’s not it at all.”
But the reassurances from committee members and the interim manager did not ease the audience’s concerns.
“I think it’s kind of crazy that you guys just went out on a limb and decided to shut down half the valley,” said Charles DeWitt.
To be clear, the parks committee did not decide to shut anything down. And, any recommendation they make is advisory to the assembly.
But the audience members had a bigger concern, that the creation of a map or plan would infringe on their freedoms.
“What we’re talking about here is a loss of rights,” said Mike Mackowiak.
Mackowiak and others said they’ve seen motorized use areas chipped away over the years.
“I think it’s interesting that it’s Black History Month and we’re celebrating that we no longer have people that have to sit in the back of the bus or that can’t get on the bus at all,” Mackowiak said. “And yet here we’re talking about divvying up the land right now that’s open to everyone, public use, and saying that ‘no only some people are gonna get to use this because they’re better citizens.’ I’m tired of being a second-rate citizen.”
The parks committee said the map idea is an effort to plan for the future. Nicole Holm responded to that.
“The future is my kids and the future is a whole bunch of other kids around here,” Holm said. “We moved back here so my kids could go moose hunting, so they could ride four-wheelers, so they could go up the river. And if you think once they start putting restrictions, they’re not gonna keep going, they will.”
Jerry Lapp questioned the borough’s authority to impose restrictions. He said the legislation that designated the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve protects traditional uses, including operation of motorized vehicles.
Many people encouraged the parks committee to forget the idea of a winter recreation plan completely.
“Why are we even jumping through these hoops?” said Jerry Erny. “Just drop it.”
Parks committee chairman Rich Chapell says his group will consider at upcoming meetings whether to pursue the winter recreation plan. Chapell says he was not expecting the idea to become controversial. The committee usually gets very little public feedback on its work.
Even though to a certain extent, it was a misunderstanding that drove the crowd of residents to the meeting, Chapell says he is glad they spoke out. He says, they ‘got their message across.’