Parking lot for Sand Trail access area to be ready by early summer

Project is expected to eliminate traffic hazards on the Copper River Highway

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A new parking lot at Mile 9.5 on the Copper River Highway is expected to open by early next summer, offering recreationalists a safe place for their vehicles while they travel the Scott Glacier Valley via the Sand Trail access point.

The hope is that the new parking lot will keep people from riding their ATVs across the Copper River Highway to access the trail, creating a traffic hazard on and off the highway.

“The trailhead at the start of Sand Trail was not adequately providing for public access, public safety and resources protection,” said Dave Zastrow, Chugach National Forest/Cordova Ranger District’s public services staff officer.

“The Sand Trail trailhead at 9.5 Mile of the busy Copper River Highway had no safe place to safely park vehicles, vehicles with trailers, or to safely offload off-highway vehicles (OHVs). The only places to park were a narrow, steep section of the highway shoulder, or on the trail itself, which required backing a trailer into highway traffic when leaving.”

The Alaska Departments of Transportation and Fish and Game, The Eyak Corporation, Native Village of Eyak and the U.S. Forest Service identified the need for the parking area as a high priority.

Sand Trail begins at 9.5 Mile on the Copper River Highway and follows parts of the Scott River and Ibeck Creek north to the face of Scott Glacier.

The trail provides motorized and non-motorized transportation access for all user groups.

“This is the only public access for motorized recreation opportunities into this area, and the only OHV recreation trail on the Cordova Ranger District,” Zastrow said. “Ibeck drainage supports one of the largest Coho salmon runs on the Copper River Delta. This large and diverse drainage also supports a variety of multiple use activities for the rural fishing community of Cordova, as well as visitors to the area.”

In 2013, the Forest Service and Native Village of Eyak partnered to develop a proposal to construct a parking area at Sand Trail trailhead, and submitted it to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration under the Federal Lands Access Program, Zastrow said.

“The project was approved and planning started,” he said. “The Forest Service provided preliminary design, right-of-way certification, National Environmental Policy Act compliance documentation, and the final plans, specifications and estimates for the project. NVE was responsible for the construction and construction engineering through the funds received from FHWA’s FLAP program and their match of nine percent. Total project cost will be roughly $580,000 once it is completed.”

Access to the Scott Glacier valley is limited. The only other option for vehicle parking and vehicles with OHV trailers is over two miles away at 7 Mile, on the opposite side of the Copper River Highway, he said.

“This location requires the public to cross the busy state highway without traffic controls,” he said. “Also, motorized access at this location is restricted to members of the public engaged in subsistence activities.”

Motorized access at 7 Mile and the user-created trails that have developed follow salmon spawning and rearing channels on Ibeck Creek have also caused problems.

OHV use in these areas introduces fine sediments, destroys riparian vegetation, and injures adult and juvenile salmon, including the incubating eggs, Zastrow said.

Sand Trail provides one of the few recreation opportunities for OHV users on the Cordova Ranger District, he said, and the only appropriate motorized recreational access point onto the public lands in the Scott Glacier valley.

“Scott Glacier valley has become increasingly popular for a variety of outdoor activities,” Zastrow said. “The trail is used to access sport fishing, subsistence moose hunting, brown and black bear hunting, trapping, ice skating, cross country skiing, snowmobile use and motorized recreation and subsistence related OHV use.”

Native Village of Eyak contracted with Benteh Eeis LLC, a tribally owned engineering firm in Anchorage, for construction engineering support. Eagle Contracting was awarded the construction contract in June.

Construction on the parking lot project started in July. Phase one was completed Sept. 8.

Phase 2, applying asphalt, will have to wait until the parking area is completely settled, likely next spring.

Meanwhile large boulders block entrance to the site, while the Sand Trail remains open for motorized and non-motorized access into the Scott Glacier Valley.

Once completed, the area will allow for two-way traffic flow, drive-through parking, and enough space to park up to eight vehicles with OHV trailers.

For more information on the project contact Zastrow at 907-424-4754.

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at cgibbens-stimson@thecordovatimes.com or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.