MAT-SU—Over the last week, a feller buncher took down trees and an excavator cleared a path through deep snow, the beginnings of a one-mile road that leads to the future Government Peak Recreation Area at Hatcher Pass.
At the future road’s end is a coming Nordic ski complex and summer hiking and biking trails. The 8,060 acres of Government Peak Recreation Area at Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mountains feel remote yet are easily accessible by more than half the state's residents. Commanding views of rugged peaks and valley floors are what draw people here.
The access road entrance is off Edgerton Parks Road, a mile off Hatcher Pass Road. The access road will run north a mile to a parking lot and trailhead. The parking lot will hold 144 cars and 6 buses and public restrooms.
“Skiers should be on the trails by November 1 after a good snowfall,” said Michael Campfield, Borough Environmental Engineer working on the project.
Last summer, 10 kilometers of trails were cleared, a first phase of a multi-phase project. Trail construction begins this summer on five kilometers of those trails. Designed by Campfield with Olympian Bill Spencer, the trail system will have long and short loops and will ultimately offer a place to ski for the novice and the competitor.
Ed Strabel, President of the MAT-SU Nordic Ski Club, says the clearing of the right of way for the access road means the start of a tremendous opportunity for local skiers and the economy.
“For the schools hopefully this is a first step in getting an area where they can all train and compete. The destination will bring more money into the Borough. Because now all the buses head to Fairbanks, Valdez, Seward, Kenai, Homer,” Strabel said.
With additional phases of trails, the ski area will ultimately draw 100s of skiers in regional and state high school competitions as well as their families and booster clubs. Such visitors will shop at local businesses. Visitors in the MAT-SU overall are estimated to spend $101 million in a single year. The recreation area will drive up such spending.
The new 3.5 miles (5 km) of recreational trails are designed mostly for the recreational skier. The competitive trails will be built higher up in the hills of Govt. Peak and will require more funding. The recreation area is on the list of Assembly priorities for state funding.
“We’re just happy that the Borough is moving forward on this. We want to definitely try and work with them to try and get the most bang for the buck when it comes to building the trails. That’s the reason why all our volunteers were out there last spring dropping all those trees. The trail builder coming in with his excavator will do a good job of making these trails a nice ski experience for everybody in the MAT-SU as well as folks throughout Alaska,” Strabel said.
A draft development and management plan for the area is posted for public comment for this borough-owned and managed recreation area. Called the Government Peak Unit: Development and Asset Management Plan, the document will provide the foundation for decisions on how the 8,060-acre Government Peak Unit will be managed and developed. The plan will identify areas for possible commercial and recreational development. The comment period ends May 31. Some of the proposed recreation includes Nordic and alpine skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, and more. Motorized recreation is not allowed in the Government Peak unit. Alpine skiing has no funding yet.
A new Borough website http://www.hatcherpass.com gives details on the current and future projects, maps, and future activities in the Government Peak Recreation Area. The draft plan can be found under Plans on this website.
All timber harvest activities are taking place before the bird-nesting season from May 1 to July 15. Earthwork on the road will continue this summer.
The access project received a Record of Decision in 2011 approving an environmental impact statement in 2010. Federal dollars are funding $3.3 million of the road project.
Firewood will become available as soon as the contractor assembles it in one place. The cost is $25 a cord with a required permit from the land management division at 350 E. Dahlia Ave in Palmer. Watch for public notices on the Borough website and the new Government Peak website.
See the video of trees falling behind Campfield while he gives more information, and MAT-SU Nordic Ski Club President Ed Strabel discussing what the trails mean to local ski teams, Alaska skiers, and the local economy.
Photos by Patty Sullivan, video by Stefan Hinman, Media Design Specialist.