The Tourism Advisory Board asked the Haines Borough Assembly last week to support handing management of the Chilkoot Corridor Road over to Alaska State Parks. The road is currently managed by the Alaska Department of Transportation. After much discussion, the assembly voted to send the proposal to the Commerce Committee for consideration. With increased vehicular and foot traffic on the road during the months when the bears are in the river feeding, there is a growing safety concern.
If the road gets handed off to state parks, the hope is that enforcement and monitoring of bear viewers will increase, to help ease the chaos that ensues each summer.
Bear enthusiasts flock to shores of the Chilkoot River each season to get a glimpse of bruins feeding on salmon. As well, anglers use the spot heavily. There have been close calls and some unhealthy bear-human interactions, which local bear advocates say could lead to a mauling if nothing is done to uphold order.
But with that potential benefit comes a possible downside.
“In my discussion with park superintendent Mark Eberhardt today one of the things that he stated to me is that if the state parks takes over management of this road, it will no longer be a public access road,” said assembly member George Campbell. “Meaning, they’re going to put a gate on that and any time they deem that it’s either too crowded, or they don’t want to maintain the road, or there’s not funding to take care of it, the gate swings closed and it’s locked and we will not have access up there.”
Tourism director Leslie Ross said she and Eberhardt discussed the fact that there aren’t enough local state park employees for the monitoring needed at Chilkoot during peak season. But she said, she plans on trying to rally local businesses, nonprofits and the borough to drum up funding to hire someone dedicated to the corridor.
Ross added that DOT and State Parks would love for the borough to take over the road. After the laughing stopped, Borough Manager Dave Sosa responded.
“There is a likelihood that there is going to be a push to transition the road over the borough if it goes to state parks,” Sosa said. “We do not need to accept it, but that is something that we need to consider.”
Campbell suggested the resolution to approve the letter of support written by the tourism board go to committee. He said the public should have a chance to hear the plan and say their piece.
Assembly members Diana Lapham and Mike Case opposed the motion. They questioned what the commerce committee could do with little information. The motion to send the letter to the commerce committee passed 4-2, with Lapham and Case opposed.
Later in that meeting, the issue of skier days came up again. At last month’s assembly meeting heliski operators appealed the number of days they were given. The borough manager and assembly decided that Alaska Heliskiing would get 1,450 days, Alaska Mountain Guides would get 400 and Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures would get 900. Campbell suggested last week that each permit holder get a significant bump in days to 2,000.
“Those three permits should each be allowed enough days to make a living,” Campbell said.
Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer brought up the fact that the original method of dividing up skier days was a lengthy process which, in part, came down to capacity.
“I would want to hear from industry, from TAB, from a whole lot of people and the public and other users about this because I thought these regulations exist to try to manage land use and disagreements and as we know it’s always a hot topic,” she said. “That is the precise reason I don’t think we can just do some action on the assembly level without first spending a lot more time on it elsewhere.”
Resident Thom Ely addressed the council and said enough is enough.
“This issue has certainly had plenty of play,” he said. “What Haines is known for now, recently, is three fatalities and two lousy winters of snow conditions. That does not help the reputation of Haines when these things happen. The more people you throw into the mountains, the more accidents there are going to be.”
Campbell said he hoped to have his proposed changes take effect for the 2017 season. He made a motion to send the idea to the commerce committee, but it failed.