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Stampede State Rec Area Advocates Say They’ll Persist, Despite Budget Woes

Friends of the Stampede

Supporters of the proposed Stampede State Recreation Area near Healy aren’t giving up. Tonight the Denali Borough Assembly will consider and probably pass another resolution urging the Legislature to create the new rec area. Supporters hopes grew after a local official and Stampede supporter was elected to the state house last fall. But the new lawmaker says it’s unlikely to pass this session, because of state budget concerns.

The most recent version of legislation to create the Stampede rec area would designate 88,000-acres of state land west of Healy, in the northeast corner of Denali National Park for that use. Denali Citizens Council President Hannah Raglund says it would protect the area and local and traditional uses ranging from berry-picking to off-roading.

“The rec area was chosen because of the range of recreational activities that are allowed,” she said. “People can still fish, can still hunt, can still trap.”

Raglund says state management is also needed to limit damage to the Stampede Trail and other areas, like the abandoned bus made famous by Christopher McCandless and the “Into the Wild” book and movie about his wanderings into the Stampede.

“We see people from all around there world out there, all year round now. Walking, skiing, winter, spring, summer, fall.”

Raglund says the rec area also would protect habitat, wildlife surveys and scientific research venues operated by the University of Alaska and other organizations.

“They found it to be a great site to study permafrost that’s beginning to thaw,” she said.

Credit Friends of the Stampede
Several research sites are scattered around the Stampede, including this one that monitors the changes in the area's permafrost.

The citizens council has gotten lawmakers to introduce bills to create a Stampede Recreation Area in each of the past three legislative sessions. The measures haven’t gone anywhere, but  group members were more optimistic about its chances this year

“A lot of us here were pretty excited to see we had a local Healy resident that was elected to represent us in Juneau,” she said.

Raglund says the election of former Denali Borough Mayor and Stampede state rec area supporter Dave Talerico to the state House raised optimism among supporters. But Talerico says since the election it’s become clear that any proposal requiring any additional state spending will probably be dead on arrival.

“With the budget concerns that we have this year, I would say there’ll be a lot of things that will be put on hold for the time being, just due to the fact there’ll be expense involved,” he said.

Raglund says the rec area would pretty much support itself through user fees.

Credit Friends of the Stampede
The old Fairbanks city bus made famous by "Into the Wild" has become one the Stampede's favorite attractions.

And David Evans, the deputy presiding officer of the Denali Borough Assembly, says he believes it wouldn’t cost much to create and manage the rec area.

“I think it’s relatively minor, when you look at the state as a whole,” he said.

Evans says the Assembly will probably pass another resolution in this month’s meeting that again calls for creation of the rec area.

“It’s been widely supported by the Denali Borough Assembly and a lot of the area residents,” he said.

But Talerico cites other issues beyond cost, including opposition by the Alaska Miners Association and Usibelli Coal Mine. A Usibelli spokeswoman says the company is concerned the rec area would create regulatory obstacles to its plans to explore for natural gas in the Stampede.

Raglund says the most recent version of the legislation preserves Usibelli’s exploration leases and continued mining operations. 

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.