Do you ski, sled or ride Montana Creek? The city wants to hear from you.

The gate across Montana Creek Road restricts access beyond the Hank Harmon Rifle Range from November through May. (Photo courtesy of Frankie Pillifant)

Winter is coming and competition over a popular trail in Juneau has pit winter sports enthusiasts against each other. 

One group says they should have exclusive winter access to the snow. The other feels that public lands should be shared among all users. 

For half the year, a locked gate blocks vehicle access on Montana Creek Road past a certain point.

That wasn’t always the case, but dumping and other illegal activities became a concern several years ago.

Now, snowmachines and four-wheelers access the road through a side entrance in the winter. 

That’s caused problems for the Juneau Nordic Ski Club, which has its own grooming equipment and spends hundreds of hours maintaining a cross country trail along the road.

“We’re expending member dollars to buy the equipment and the fuel and the repairs, and then if somebody goes up there on a motorized (vehicle), it takes us hours to fix it,” said Frankie Pillifant, president of the club. “You can’t simply just run up there and groom it, smooth it down. It takes more work.”

She said in other places she’s lived in Alaska, like Anchorage and Fairbanks, there’s plenty of space and snow for cross country skiing. 

But in Juneau, that’s not the case. 

“Montana Creek is what we call our snow hole. It has snow when there’s no snow anywhere else to ski on, whether it’s the campground or the lake or Eaglecrest,” Pillifant said. 

With winters getting warmer, it’s getting harder to access reliable snow for skiing. The club has permission from the city to maintain the groomed trail throughout the winter.

Pillifant said safety is also an issue when motorized vehicles are on the narrow road. 

So the club sent a request to the city asking them to restrict winter access so that only cross country skiers, hikers and other non-motorized users could access the road. 

But, Montana Creek is also the way to get to state lands popular with All-Terrain Vehicle and snowmachine riders. That request didn’t sit well with them. 

“We’re all for, you know, having all kinds of activities in that area,” said Darin Crapo from the Juneau Off-Road Association. “It’s public land. It should be shared publicly.”

The group circulated a petition that has more than a thousand signatures and encouraged off-road enthusiasts to let the city know how they feel about losing access to Montana Creek. 

The response has been vocal online. ATV and snow machine users have limited options to ride legally in Juneau.

“It sets, to me, a dangerous precedent where what else are we going to lose? Who else is going to lose? What’s the next group that gets denied something?” Crapo said. 

He said he tried to reach out to the ski club to find a compromise between off road vehicles and cross country skiers. 

But, that conversation didn’t go anywhere. Pillifant said she feels they already have a compromise.

“If it went the way we’d like it, we get it from November to May and they get it from May to November,” she said.

In the end, the city will decide who gets winter access. Parks and Recreation is collecting public comment between now and Sept. 30.

Members of the Parks and Rec Advisory Committee and the Juneau Assembly have already received a number of messages about the topic.

The committee is scheduled to discuss it on Oct. 12. They’ll likely make a recommendation to the city manager.

Hopefully, that happens before the snow starts to fall. 

The city is also working on a Juneau trails plan — a document that lays out priorities for the local trail system for the next two decades. 

A survey asking locals to weigh-in had more than 1,300 responses by the end of August. A draft of that plan is expected by next spring.

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