Thanks to Anchorage Assemblymember Kevin Cross, Chugach Mountain Bike Riders, a Chugiak 501(c)3 nonprofit, has received a federal ARPA grant to improve Chugiak-Eagle River trails and start building the Northern Extension of the Coastal Trail. The first segment proposed to be built is in Beach Lake Park, from Beach Lake Lodge to the Coast. These funds must be used in the next two years.
At 1,750 acres, Chugiak-Eagle River’s largest municipally-owned regional park, Beach Lake Park, has approximately 30 miles of cross-country skiing and dog mushing trails, but less than 1/4 mile of year-round multiuse trail. We propose to build about one mile of year-round multiuse trail along the west side of Beach Lake out to the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet. This is an approved trail in the 2011 Beach Lake Master Plan.
Letters of Support, Comments, and Concerns
Please direct any letters of support, comments about, or concerns with this proposal to Chugach Mountain Bike Riders, PO Box 672555, Chugiak, AK 99567. CMBRalaska@gmail.com. The comment period opens Nov 9, 2022.
Public testimony on any park project is welcome at the regular Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors meetings. Board members meet on the second Monday of every month at 7:00 pm. The meeting is held at Eagle River Town Center, MOA Conference Room 170, located at 12001 Business Blvd., Eagle River, AK 99577.
Excerpts from the 2011 Beach Lake Master Plan
Year Round Multi-Use Trails. Although there are miles of trails in the park, none are truly multi-use. There are ski trails or mushing trails. Walkers, bikers, equestrians, and dogs off leash are “out there” in the park to some degree, but at the wrong time of year, these users damage maintained trails, and cause major safety conflicts. Mushers are reluctant to let multi-use trails into the park or near their trails for fear of injury—to unsuspecting users, to mushers, and to dogs. Moreover, there is a fear that multi-use could displace mushers, which is what has historically happened at Far North Bicentennial Park.
Members of the general public, on the other hand, want new trail opportunities that allow them to use Beach Lake Park year-round, especially along the road and near the lake and coast. Some feel that the park is a large regional asset, and “should not just cater to mushers.” The balanced compromise is some new limited multi use, with protection of existing uses.” (BLMP p27)
“A Responsible, and Feasible Option”
“More site specific surveys, problem solving, and environmental analysis will be required in order to ensure that specific elements of the Development Concept Map constitute a responsible, and feasible option.” (BLMP p30)
Phase 2: 2015-2025: “In this timeframe, it is likely that there will be more pressure on the park for improved infrastructure to serve the general public, particularly in the Beach Lake vicinity.” (BLMP p34)
Musher Safety and Trail Separation
Off-leash dogs are the greatest danger to mushers. The 2011 Beach Lake Master Plan calls for grade-separated crossings as a solution to separating mushers from other users at motorized and multiuse crossings. The 2011 Far North Bicentennial Trails Plan in Anchorage has more specific Dog Sled Design Parameters, calling for “250’ minimum sight distance at trail intersections” and states that “100’ parallel separation from other trails is preferable.” As of 2022 all motorized crossings in both Beach Lake and Far North Bicentennial Park are grade-separated, but no grade-separated multiuse crossings have been constructed in the 11 years since both plans were approved. The new mushing trails in Far North Bicentennial Park use fencing and signage to separate multiuse from mushing trails.
Beach Lake Trail Inventory
Hikers have created a high-density network of social trails (in red) connecting the Beach Lake parking lot with the Canoe Landing and Beach Access at the north end of the park. These trails travel natural “desire lines” along the path of least resistance. This route starts on the 1/4 mi gravel multiuse path (green) at Beach Lake Lodge and then cuts through numerous access points onto the lakeside mushing trail (black) which leads to the small creek that drains Beach Lake into the inlet. The crossing from the Canoe Landing to the Beach is the natural portage following the west bank of the creek. This crossing is just over 100 yards, with wetlands to the east, significantly constraining trail design options. All mushing trails at Beach Lake Park are two-way trails.
Trail Use Study
A trail study is currently in process to determine trail use patterns on the proposed multiuse corridor. This study started Fall 2022 after trails closed to multiuse and were managed as “Mushing Only.” Preliminary data show 89% of users (569) passing the trail counter are multiuse: hikers-bikers-boaters-dog walkers-etc. 11% of trail counts are of mushing teams (59 passes). Multiuse people are on the trails 8 days out of 10, with an average of 9 passes of the trail counter per day. Mushers are using the trails 1 day out of 4. It appears that there is a single large mushing team that is using these trails, making an average of 3 passes past the trail counter on days they mush. There were some (two or three) moose on the trail. One lynx, one coyote, and zero bears were counted.
Multiuse Trail Goals and Design
A new multiuse trail will be designed for year-round use: a 12’ wide clearing, hardened 8’ wide with gravel, set back from the lake at least 25’. This design will keep the natural character of the area while allowing winter grooming. It will connect the existing Multiuse Trail to the Inlet Overlook and Beach Access points on the west bank of the creek that drains Beach Lake. This trail will also provide connections for canoers and boaters to paddle across the lake to a dock or landing and access the Inlet Overlook and Beach Access. This proposed soft-surface ADA trail will end at the Inlet Overlook, where users can follow an existing trail to the beach. Split rail fencing will be installed at the Inlet Overlook and where needed along trails. The preferred (Alternative E) trail will “maintain 2-way mushing traffic at the north end of the lake, while allowing a [multiuse] walking trail…” BLMP p 34.
2022 Beach Lake Multiuse Trail Alternatives.
Alternative A – No Action – Mushing Only
Mushing trails are open to multiuse from April 16th-July 31st. The current situation does not provide any year-round legal option for hikers, bikers, or other multiuse path activities around Beach Lake. Several “MUSHING ONLY” signs have been placed along the trails, but according to recent trail counts, there are more hikers using the lakeside mushing trail than dog mushers, leading to user conflict and unsafe conditions for both mushers and hikers.
Alternative B – Multiuse Only
Relocating approximately 1 mile of mushing trails to other parts of the trail system would provide the best separation of uses. It would have the highest impact on current uses, by closing the north end of the lake to mushing. It would be more expensive than preferred Alternative E since it would require building more trails to replace the closed segments.
Alternative C- Grade Separated Crossing – 2011 Concept
A grade-separated crossing is a tunnel or a bridge where the different trails can pass on top of each other without conflict. This is the proposed concept for multiuse trail crossing presented in the 2011 Beach Lake Master Plan. This alternative preserves the existing mushing trails by routing hikers and boaters to a new dock, then over an “aesthetic bridge” up a hill to an overlook atop a 50-foot bluff. It then leads hikers downhill along the bluff edge to the Beach Access. This is by far the most expensive and high-impact option, and it is unlikely that it will stop hikers and boaters from using the existing path-of-least resistance around the lake and across the natural portage.
Alternative D – Fencing
Alternative D attempts to retain existing mushing trails at a fraction of the cost of a grade-separated crossing. Instead of providing 100’ parallel separation between trails, Alternative D would use fencing to separate uses. Unfortunately, this would require a north-south fence extending from Beach Lake almost to the inlet, a high-impact option both visually and ecologically. Furthermore, this option is unable to provide the 250’ recommended sight distance or a safe crossing due to five trail segments converging at one intersection.
Alternative E – Single Crossing – 2022 Preferred Alternative
An affordable, responsible, and feasible option. Alternative E would relocate approximately 0.5 miles of the low-use lakeside mushing trail (half of which is through wetlands, flooded and unusable in the summer) to other parts of the trail system and build a new 8’ wide gravel path (12’ wide clearing) at least 25’ back from the lake. The multiuse trail would cross a single two-way mushing trail with 250’ sight lines. There would be a small amount of fencing (split-rail with a finer backing where needed) and signage along the mushing trail to corral multiuse trail users, and provide a physical barrier and visual cue for both mushers and hikers/bikers/skiers. This alternative provides the preferred 100’ parallel separation between multiuse and mushing trails.
Relocated Mushing Trails
Current mushing trails are dedicated by the Anchorage Assembly and managed by Parks and Rec as Mushing-Only from August 1st-April 15th each year. Chugiak Dog Mushers Association will propose locations for building or rebuilding trails to mitigate mushing trails displaced by multiuse development. The MOA Planning Department has requested that this multiuse trail proposal and pending mushing trail improvements be submitted as separate projects. MOA Title 21.03.190 – Street and trail review, allows certain trails of 1/2 mile or less (Preferred Alternative E) to be approved through a simplified process.
The 2011 Beach Lake Master Plan calls for the development of multiuse trails, “especially along the road and near the lake and coast” with “protection of existing uses.”
Chugach Mountain Bike Riders is offering to build 1/2 mile of new mushing trail in exchange for closing one of the mushing trails near the inlet. There is Federal grant funding allocated for both this multiuse trail extension, and for relocating 1/2 mile of mushing trail.
The 2011 Beach Lake Master Plan (Alternative C) recommends building a “grade-separated” bridge over the mushing trails, but it also requires “site-specific surveys” and “problem-solving” to ensure that the specific elements of the plan are “responsible and feasible.”
At an estimated $1M cost, this 2011 proposed dock and grade-separated crossing does not match current use demands and is not a fiscally responsible option. While technically feasible, it does not follow existing use patterns and would not solve the conflict of hikers and dog walkers trespassing on mushing trails.
The proposed 2022 Alternative E, a single crossing of a multiuse trail extension and the existing 2-way mushing trail, provides the recommended 250′ sight distance at crossings and 100′ parallel separation to minimize conflict between mushers and other users and will be funded with federal dollars.