DATE:     June 5, 2001
TO:          Planning Commission
FROM:     Teri Camery, Planner
                  Community Development Department
FILE NO.: CSP2001-00005

PROPOSAL: Planning Commission review of a state project for improvements to Eagle Beach campground/recreation area.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Applicant:                 State of Alaska, DNR, Lands Division

Property Owner:      State of Alaska, DNR, Lands Division

Property Address:     28 Mile, Glacier Highway, Juneau, AK

Legal Description:     T 39 S,R 64 E SEC 3 L 1

Parcel Code No.:     3-B44-0-400-001-0

Site Size:                  25 Acres

Zoning:                     RR- Rural Reserve

Utilities:                    none currently, on-site water and vault toilets to be installed

Access:                    Glacier Highway

Existing Land Use:    public recreation area

Surrounding Land Use: North – Methodist Camp
                                    South – CBJ vacant land
                                    East - Eagle River
                                    West - Eagle River

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

The Eagle Beach State Recreation Area Trailhead and Wayside Improvement Project is a joint project between the state Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. The Recreation Area includes land south of Glacier Highway surrounding Eagle River, and also north of Glacier Highway surrounding the Methodist Camp. A Forest Service picnicking area lies to the west. Current development consists of a graveled parking lot and overnight camping area, a footbridge over nearby Saturday Creek, and some trails in the surrounding area (Attachment A and B). The improvement project would change and add many features to the area, including:

  1. Elimination of the overnight camping area and in its place, construction of a new paved parking lot, with 13 spaces and one accessible space, for summer use only, with landscaping, four picnic tables and firepits, and one 19’ x 19’ shelter (Attachments C and E). The area will not be lighted. A second walk-in day use area with two picnic tables and fire pits and two 10’ x 10’ shelters will be developed around the bend of the river towards the old gravel pit (Attachments C and F). Both day use areas will also include new permanent toilets.
  2. Construction of a second parking lot with 18 parking spaces and one accessible space adjacent to Glacier Highway, which will be plowed in winter and maintained year-round (Attachment C, see parking area B).
  3. The addition of a caretaker’s cabin and visitor contact station, to be occupied year-round, near the point of access (Attachment E as marked). All access to the day use areas and trails will pass by the caretaker’s cabin so the caretaker may monitor use of the area.
  4. The addition of interpretative signs throughout the area regarding natural features and trail guidance, and the addition of two spotting scopes at each of the two day use areas.
  5. Construction of new trails and improvements to current trails. This includes 1,900 feet of new boardwalk over wetlands surrounding the Methodist Camp to link with the existing trail (Attachment D); 1,100 feet of new trail to the northwest of the main recreation area which will link with Forest Service trails to the Forest Service picnic area (Attachment C, Path A); and improvement or development of 4,000 feet of trail from the main area to the abandoned gravel pit and beyond, which will link with trails to Eagle Glacier (Attachment C, Path B).
  6. Removal of the current Saturday Creek footbridge and reconstructing it near the junction with Eagle River, to connect with trails (Attachment C).
  7. Elimination of the small parking lot just south of Glacier Highway by the Methodist Camp, and expanding the parking lot to the north of Glacier Highway at this location. The south lot is ten feet below the highway in a hole. The lack of visibility has made this a popular spot for parties. Eliminating that lot and expanding the other lot, which is clearly visible from the road, will eliminate a party location. The trail link underneath the bridge will be maintained and improved (Attachment C, Parking Area A and Path H).
  8. Elimination of a second access point off Glacier Highway. This access has previously been used by off-road vehicles as an alternate route into the area to use old roadbeds. Elimination of this access will require all users to use the main entrance near the caretakers cabin, which is gated and monitored.
  9. Restoration activities. The project would remove asphalt that was dumped near Eagle River and re-vegetate about 2.25 acres of the old gravel pit at the confluence of Eagle and Herbert Rivers.

PROCEDURE

The project is presented to the CBJ, Planning Commission for review and approval under Alaska Statute 35.30, Consistency with Local Government Plans and Ordinances. This statute requires approval of certain State projects by the Planning Commission of the municipality. If the state Department of Natural Resources proposes overnight camping in the area at some future date, the project will require a Conditional Use permit per CBJ Code §49.25.300.1.840, Table of Permissible Uses.

BACKGROUND

Eagle Beach State Recreation Area currently has sporadic and unsafe on-road parking by people accessing nearby trails, beaches, and Eagle River. There are also problems with illegal target shooting, vandalism, trash dumping, and sanitation. Use of the area, which is adjacent to Forest Service and CBJ parklands, is increasing steadily. Safety concerns, degradation of the resource, and increased use, have all prompted the need for better facilities and the official presence of a caretaker.

The initial scoping process for this project began in 1998. Public hearings were conducted in February 1999, April 1999, June 1999, August 1999, and February 2000, with written comment periods following each meeting (Attachment L). Government agency reviews were also conducted through this period. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits have addressed all impacts to wetlands.

ANALYSIS

Parking and Day Use Areas

The primary use and entrance area, which is now badly rutted and denuded, will be greatly improved by paving and landscaping, and adding vaulted toilets, picnic tables, fire pits, and a shelter, as well as spotting scopes and interpretative signs. Elimination of overnight camping and the addition of a permanent caretaker will reduce or eliminate illegal dumping and four-wheeler use in the area.

A significant amount of asphalt was once dumped near the edge of Eagle River at this site at an unknown time. DOT will be removing the asphalt as part of the improvement project, under guidance from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game to monitor bank stability. A vegetative mound to be developed on the edge of the parking lot will provide some buffer protection and filtering of pollutants. However the area descending from the current day use area to the river is quite denuded (see photo, Attachment G). The lack of vegetation may be partially due to impact from winter storms along this bank. Staff will recommend a condition for revegetation of the area according to JCMP requirements of CBJ Code §49.70.950 (f), which will be discussed in detail later in this report. However due to conditions, full revegetation may not be possible. Staff will request 50 percent vegetative recovery over two growing seasons.

The second day use area, which is walk-in only, will be totally new and include four picnic tables and pits and vaulted toilets (Attachment F). An accessible paved six foot wide trail, with two feet of clearing on both sides, will lead from the primary day use area to this area. This day use area will be hardened for an accessible surface, but not paved.

On a May 24th, 2001 site visit with staff from DOT, DNR, and ADF&G, CBJ staff measured the primary day use area and parking lot as 35 feet from the ordinary high water mark of Eagle River (photo, Attachment G)). The second day use area was measured at 32 feet from ordinary high water (photo, Attachment K). According to CBJ §49.70.310 (4), development is prohibited "within 50 feet of the banks of designated stream corridors." DNR and DOT have agreed to move both day use areas outside of the 50-foot setback to comply with the Code.

Trail leading to the Forest Service picnic area

The trail leading from the parking and primary use area to the Forest Service picnic area will be a paved accessible trail of six feet wide with a two foot clearing on both sides (Attachments C and E, Path A). The trail will meet the existing Forest Service trail paralleling Glacier Highway. The trail will be located outside of the 50 setback from Eagle River and outside of the tidal floodplain, while still providing excellent views of the river and mountains. Vegetation in the floodplain is minimal and the area is already worn from use, and appears to meet all habitat provisions of the JCMP.

Saturday Creek bridge and the trail following the old gravel pit

Another trail leads from the primary day use area east across Saturday Creek and around the bend in the river around an old gravel pit (Attachment C). This trail will be paved and accessible, constructed at six feet wide, until it meets the second day use area, which is also designed for accessible use, as noted previously. After the day use area, the trail will be ten feet wide with five feet of clearing on either side as it follows the length of the river until it again meets Glacier Highway. This trail is wider but constructed of crushed aggregate, not paved, to specifically accommodate cross-country skiers. From this point the trail will lead to Eagle Glacier and around the Methodist Camp, which shall be discussed below.

The first distance of the trail leading from the primary day use area will cross Saturday Creek over a new footbridge near the confluence of the creek and Eagle River. The existing footbridge is located approximately 100 feet upstream on the creek. A new footbridge is being constructed because of disrepair and safety concerns with the existing bridge, greater bear activity upstream on the creek, and a desire to link the trails with the most direct route so the public will use the maintained paths. A severely eroding bank pocked with boot prints indicates that the public’s preferred route is near the mouth where the new footbridge is planned (see photo, Attachment H). Due to the severity of the erosion, staff recommends a condition of approval requiring revegetation of this area according to JCMP requirements, which will be discussed in detail under that section of this staff report. DOT plans to place vegetation removed from the area of the new footbridge construction into the eroded area.

After Saturday Creek, approximately 700 feet of the trail will be constructed on an existing roadbed that was built in the early 1970s to service the gravel pit. The road closely follows the river. CBJ staff measured the road and proposed trail at 25-30 feet from ordinary high water at several points (see photo, Attachment J). Within that 25-foot setback, trees and vegetation are quite thick and lush, and rip-rap protects the riverbank in many areas. During the May 24th site visit with CBJ, Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologist Ben Kirkpatrick studied the area and considered the riverbank and vegetation stable, despite the minimal setback.

Because the area is already impacted and stable, staff sees no significant harm in trail construction here and no significant benefit of moving the trail farther away when a road is already in place. However existing vegetation on the narrow strip facing the river must be preserved. DOT has agreed not to remove any additional vegetation. Development within fifty feet of designated stream corridors is prohibited according to CBJ §49.70.310 (4), therefore DOT must apply for a variance for this trail construction. Approval of this project review is contingent on Planning Commission approval of the trail variance, which staff will recommend in favor of on the condition of preserving existing riparian vegetation.

Because a road is still needed for park and trail maintenance and ongoing reclamation of the gravel pit, a new road will be constructed parallel to the trail on the old roadbed. The new road will be graveled and ten feet wide, with five feet of clearing on both sides. The trail will be raised six to eight inches to clearly distinguish the path.

When the proposed trail leaves the old roadbed, it reaches the second day use area. After the second day use area the trail follows a worn path along a dike, which was constructed in the 1970s to protect the gravel pit. The trail is well outside the 50-foot setback in this area.

At one point the dike has been damaged and filled in by heavy spruce. Here the trail turns in toward the gravel pit toward an area, which will be cleared of rock. An entirely new trail will be constructed in this area, in conjunction with repair of the dike. Staff has measured the trail at 30 feet from ordinary high water at this point. This also marks a bend in the river with a strong force of current. The riverbank appears to be eroding quite significantly here. Again, staff recommends a condition that no additional riparian vegetation be disturbed and all clearing directed inland away from the river.

Shortly after turning inland towards the pit the trail turns back toward the river within the 50 foot setback to again follow the old path along the dike until it meets the bridge across Glacier Highway. Here the trail links up with a new parking area and existing trails to Eagle Glacier, which also links with new trails around the Methodist Camp.

Methodist Camp trails

The trail around the Methodist Camp consists of 1900 feet of new boardwalked trail over wetlands (Attachment D). This trail will link around the camp with the Eagle Glacier trail.

COMPATIBILITY WITH CBJ PLANS

CBJ Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan, July 1996.

The CBJ Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan was adopted by the citizens of Juneau in 1996. This plan specifically identifies the need for:

  1. Increased facility planning and development to support the growing community’s recreational needs.
  2. Coordinated trail development and management

Relevant recommendations for Subarea 1: Ferry Terminal to Echo Cove, which includes the Eagle River area, include:

  1. Eagle River Recreation Site. Work with Alaska State Parks to coordinate the development of a recreation site and campground in the Eagle Beach area.
  2. Construct an accessible trail. The topography of many sites within this subarea could accommodate an accessible trail. The U.S. Forest Service has constructed one at Auke Recreation Area, but an additional trail further north is recommended.
  3. Connect trails or create loop hiking experiences.

The Eagle River Recreation Area Improvement Project meets the general goals of the plan by providing improved new shelters, picnic tables, toilets, interpretative signs, and spotting scopes, in addition to improving the parking areas. The project also expands and improves trail development in the area. The project meets the specific recommendations of this subarea by following through on development of the Eagle River site, constructing accessible trails both directions from the primary day use area, and linking state trails to Forest Service trails.

CBJ Comprehensive Plan

The project is consistent with the provisions of the CBJ Comprehensive Plan, particularly policies 4.16 and 4.17, which concern parks and recreation and open space. Policy 4.16 states:

It is the policy of the CBJ to continue providing quality dispersed outdoor recreational opportunities; and to acquire and develop sufficient local parks and recreational facilities in locations convenient to all areas of the CBJ…

Policy 4.17.3 states:

Encourage relevant state agencies to adopt open space management policies for state land and tidelands indicated in the "Juneau Area Recreation Plan."

The proposed project supports these policies by promoting recreational use of this state shoreline property.

JCMP REVIEW

Sections of the Juneau Coastal Management Program relevant to this project begin with CBJ §49.70.950, Habitat. Eagle River habitats include wetlands, tideflats, and rivers and streams. Section §49.70.950 (b) requires that these habitats "shall be managed so as to maintain or enhance the biological, physical, and chemical characteristics of the habitat which contribute to its capacity to support living resources."

Staff finds that the Eagle River Improvement Project adequately maintains the biological, physical, and chemical characteristics of the habitat by limiting development to trails and picnic areas designed for recreation. These qualities will be enhanced by removal of the asphalt near the main day use area and reclamation activities in the old gravel pit, as well as access and monitoring improvements which will limit or stop dumping and abuse by off-road vehicles. Habitat may be further enhanced by re-vegetating the barren area of the bank by the main area, and re-vegetating the eroding bank of Saturday Creek, as noted earlier. Staff recommends these items as conditions of approval.

Additionally, the JCMP provides that:

Wetlands and tideflats shall be managed so as to assure adequate waterflow, nutrients, and oxygen levels, to avoid the adverse effects on natural drainage patterns, the destruction of important habitat and the discharge of toxic substances (§49.70.950 (c) (3));

and

Rivers, streams, and lakes shall be managed so as to protect natural vegetation, water quality, important fish or wildlife habitat and natural waterflow (§49.70.950 ( c ) (7))

Relevant to (c) (3), the boardwalk trail on the wetlands around the Methodist Camp will be constructed between December 1, 2001 and March 15, 2002 when frozen conditions will minimize impacts to wetlands. The contractor will use low pressure equipment or equipment that weighs less than 100 pounds that will not destroy vegetation outside the footprint of the boardwalk. The accessible trail on the tideflats heading west toward the Forest Service picnic area will not affect natural drainage patterns, and the Mayfly Creek crossing will be constructed under frozen conditions and coordinated with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Staff finds the project consistent with §49.70. 950 (c) (3).

Project components relevant to (c) (7) will be discussed in conjunction with section (f) below.

JCMP Section §49.70.950 (f) reads:

All structures and foundations located adjacent to streams or lakes…shall have a fifty-foot setback from each side of the stream or lake measured from the ordinary high water mark, where feasible and prudent; provided, docks, bridges, culverts, and public structures whose purpose is access to or across the stream or lake are not subject to this policy…The setback shall be vegetated or re-vegetated, where feasible and prudent, and such vegetation or re-vegetation shall be kept or arranged to maximize shade in the stream.

Both day use areas were originally designed within the fifty-foot setback from Eagle River. DNR and DOT have agreed to move those areas back to meet Code requirements, as a condition of this project. DOT has applied for a variance for the trail following north and east along Eagle River and the old gravel pit, which is mostly within the 50-foot setback. This trail will be constructed primarily along an old roadbed or an existing path over the old dike. Though the trail is within 50 feet of the riparian setback, the impact to the area is pre-existing and will not be exacerbated by trail development providing that the remaining riparian vegetation is not disturbed, which staff recommends as a condition of approval. Staff believes that it is not feasible and prudent to move the trail farther back from the setback when a path already exists on the old roadbed. Staff further recommends a condition that banks be re-vegetated near the main day use area and Saturday Creek, as noted earlier. Staff has recommended approval of the trail variance in a separate analysis, which must be approved by the Planning Commission before the project receives final approval. We find the project consistent with these provisions of the JCMP.

FINDINGS

Upon review of the application material submitted, the CBJ Comprehensive Plan, the Land Use Code, and the CBJ Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan, the Director makes the following findings of the project as proposed:

  1. The application is complete and contains the information necessary for review.
  2. The project complies with the provisions of the CBJ Comprehensive Plan, the CBJ Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan, the Land Use Code, and the JCMP, provided that the project meets the conditions listed below.
  3. The project will reduce or eliminate illegal dumping and vehicle damage to the area, enhance the trail system, and provide improved facilities and recreation opportunities.

STAFF RECOMMENDATION

We recommend that the Planning Commission adopt the director’s analysis and findings and approve the Eagle Beach Recreation project as described in the project description and attached drawings with the following conditions.

  1. Pursuant to CBJ Code §49.70.310 (4), prior to the issuance of a grading permit, primary day use and walk-in day use areas shall be moved 50 feet from the ordinary high water mark of Eagle River. Because the river is tidally influenced, the ordinary high water mark shall be measured according to the mean high water elevation of 15.4 feet. This elevation shall be surveyed prior to construction to establish the setback.
  2. Pursuant to CBJ Code §49.70.310 (4), prior to the issuance of a grading permit, a variance for construction of the trail within the 50 foot riparian setback of Eagle River must be granted by the Planning Commission.
  3. The barren rock area of the bank near the primary day use and entrance area shall be re-vegetated to 50 percent cover or greater within two growing seasons with locally occurring species, pursuant to CBJ Code §49.70.950 (f), unless storm conditions dictate that such recovery is not possible.
  4. The eroding area of the Saturday Creek bank shall be transplanted with saplings and bushes removed from the new bridge construction with 80 percent cover on level areas and, 50 percent cover with locally occurring species on the bank to mean high water within one growing season, pursuant to CBJ Code §49.70.950 (f).
  5. Trail construction on old roadbeds and paths within the 50-foot riparian setback shall not impact additional riparian vegetation, and the footprint of the trail shall not be expanded toward the waterside, pursuant to CBJ Code §49.70.950 (f).