We awoke to sun on Saturday so we took a welcomed break from bathroom remodeling and headed up Rabbit Creek for a jaunt up North Suicide. Up the valley, a nice long break at Rabbit Lake so the dog could swim and then up the NW gully to the ridge. On the ridge line we had one spot of D0 (the dog equivalent of A0) followed by a casual ridge line to the summit. Back down with spotters for the D0 section, down the long chossy SW gully and then back to the lake for more dog swimming and home at a decent hour.
Rabbit Lake on a sunny day is a glorious spot- but in recent years it’s been trashed by high use. We counted about 15 tents in the valley with campers everywhere from the sandy beach in the NE corner of the lake to the fragile grass next to Rabbit Creek at the lake outlet. The spot where the trail ends at the lake has fire rings (fires are illegal in Chugach State Park due to the fragile tundra), dozens of rock piles (where people have excavated for tent sites) and every large boulder has a rock covering a pile of toilet paper behind it. The area can handle a large camper presence, but it needs some sort of maintenance plan.
At present no such maintenance plan exists. Ranger presence in Chugach State Park is pretty much nonexistent – unless you count the guys who groom the Powerline area ski trails by snowmachine in the winter and the person inside the ranger shack at Eklutna. I know that funding is an issue for Alaska State Parks, but CSP didn’t seem to have any troubles coming up with $350,000 for a permanent caretakers home at Glen Alps (along with an additional $1 million for parking lot improvements) a few years back. More recently the current draft management plan is calling for 3 more of these high end 1600 square foot caretaker “cabins” (including one at Canyon Road) and 4 backcountry huts (at Eklutna, Peter’s Creek and Bird Creek).
A better allocation of funds for Chugach State Park would be to take the millions planners want to request for “cabins” (in 2008 the state estimated that each of these cabins would cost between $250,000 and $500,000) and apply it towards staff and trail maintenance. A ranger who actually takes the time to walk up the valley a few times a summer to instruct campers on proper low impact technique and a plan to mitigate campsite impact on the high alpine tundra would go a long ways towards preserving beautiful spots like Rabbit Lake.
The current push towards permanent homes and backcountry cabins is a misguided approach when the park can’t even act to preserve well-known high traffic areas.
That said – when perusing the management plan the proposals for caretaker and backcountry cabins and the total disregard to management of high traffic areas is a minor issue when compared to the push for development inside the park. One of the biggest pushes that we’ll see in the near future is the CSP personal’s proposal to develop a road inside the park from Upper Huffman trail head to Glen Alps. Bill Sherwonit recently published a Compass piece in the Anchorage Daily News about the proposal. You can read it here: http://community.adn.com/node/157312
You can read more about the Chugach State Park Management Plan here: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chugach/planning.htm
The dozen tents at Rabbit Lake on a rare sunny July weekend are a far cry from what popular places regularly see in the lower 48. The essential difference is that outside parks have become highly regulated and you can’t just head out the door on a moment’s notice with your backpack and tent. Being able to just walk out the door, drive 10 minutes and then hike into a great wilderness of the Chugach is a wonderful thing, but there needs to be a compromise of sorts. Ideally the State would take a greater role in management of our public lands to ensure that the lands are protected from the impacts of ORV usage, development and careless campers – but we all know that’s not going to happen. Until we see some sort of ideological shift away from development and towards preservation at the state administration level, places like Rabbit Lake will continue to be trashed.
That said – don’t let my ramblings dissuade you from hiking back to the lake. The rainbow fishing is swell, the SW gully up North Suicide and NE gully up South Suicide are fun afternoon outings and the fact that the trail head is 25 minutes from downtown all make this a wonderful place to visit. If you do plan on camping, try and mitigate your impact. Camp away from the trail and lake shoreline, don’t dig rocks out of the tundra to improve your tent site and please please don’t build a fire. And most of all – let DNR know that you care more about park preservation and less about caretakers cabins and new roads inside the park.