Former access point to Lower Trail Lake remains closed

Access to a trailhead off the Seward Highway near Moose Pass will stay blocked off because of safety concerns on the nearby railroad tracks.

Boaters were frustrated late this summer when the Alaska Railroad Corporation welded a gate shut, closing off access to an area people had used as an informal boat launch to access Lower Trail Lake in the past. The state-owned corporation, which operates the railroad line in the state that runs alongside the Seward Highway, has locked the gate in the past to block access, but people have cut through the locks to get through.

Since the railroad welded the gate shut, people have continued to go around the gate, so the railroad is now planning to erect more of a barrier to block it off.

The concern is not illegal crossings, but rather trespassing on the railroad’s right of way, which puts people in danger of collisions with trains or other potential injury, said Tim Sullivan, a spokesman for the Alaska Railroad Corporation.

“We’ve had an issue where people are driving around the gate and even closer to the tracks,” he said. “… It’s not about access or even trespassing. It’s about people putting themselves in danger.”

Multiple agencies have a stake in the area. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game stocks Vagt Lake, the trailhead for which is accessed at the same crossing. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources owns the land around Lower Trail Lake. The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Chugach National Forest around the lake, is working on improvements to the historic Iditarod Trail that runs through the area. The Kenai Peninsula Borough recently reclassified multiple parcels of land in the area as recreational as part of the condition of the lands’ transfer to the borough under municipal entitlement.

The Alaska Railroad Corporation has been having conversations with the borough, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies about providing access to the public, Sullivan said. The corporation will continue to work with the agencies toward a solution, he said.

The U.S. Forest Service is planning improvements for the section of the historical Iditarod Trail between Vagt Lake and Johnson Creek, which runs to the east of Lower Trail Lake. The planned access is along the Vagt Lake Trail, according to map plans from the Forest Service.

The borough’s lands department is participating in the discussions as well. One of the things they’ve talked about is getting the Moose Pass Advisory Planning Commission involved in the process, said Borough Lands Director Marcus Mueller.

“There’s definitely usership of (the area) from folks from Anchorage and tourists, but there’s also a big component of that that is really local,” he said.

Though the borough could go in and develop some access point for the lake if it reached an agreement with the Alaska Railroad Corporation, the planners would want to do so with the Forest Service’s cooperation, Mueller said.

“We as a borough would have the ability to go in there and do things in front of the Forest Service, but we would make sure if we were to do that we would want to be in concert with the Forest Service,” he said. “The Forest Service has really great resources for these types of facilities.”

The Alaska Railroad Corporation employs enforcement officers of its own, but it’s hard for them to cover the entire length of the railroad, so they often rely on people’s willingness to comply, Sullivan said.

“We only have so many officers here at the railroad,” he said. “It’s hard to police the whole thing all the time. We post the signs and put up barricades, to keep folks from putting themselves in danger.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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