Note: After publishing this post, I found out that borough staff had come up with its own recommendations. I wrote out those HERE.
Fairbanks trail advocates have another chance to speak up about the Fairbanks Comprehensive Trails Plan update on Wednesday, May 17.
The Fairbanks Borough Platting Board will be meeting that day and voting on recommendations on the plan update. Fairbanks trail advocates should attend. If you can’t attend, then you can contact Platting Board members before the meeting either through email or phone. See contact information HERE, under Members and Contact Information.
The meeting agenda can be found HERE. People will be able to speak on the ordinance requiring the recommendations (Ordinance No. 2022-47) at the meeting.
Back in March, the Fairbanks Borough Assembly gave the Platting Board two tasks. You can read about that HERE.
The two tasks the Assembly gave the Platting Board are:
- produce a detailed map that shows property lines and roadways so landowners can identify any impacted parcels they own
- provide at least three alternative ways of connecting A and B trails without forcing landowners to give up their property through the platting process.
The first is actually up to borough staff. It takes time but is relatively easy. The second is more complicated.
Under borough code (law), A and B trails in the Trails Plan are required to be given an easement if they land across which they run is subdivided. This requirement is in Title 17, the section of borough code regarding subdivisions. Some Assembly members earlier tried to get that struck from borough code but failed. Read about that HERE. Those Assembly members feel that requirement unjustly takes land from landowners. I disagree and have written about that HERE.
In an effort to resolve the situation, the Assembly gave the Platting Board the two tasks listed above. It’s hard to say what the Platting Board will recommend. It’s possible they could recommend striking down the Title 17 requirement. It’s also possible (though highly unlikely) that the board could argue that landowners don’t “give up” their property by giving an easement. (With a public trail easement, landowners still own the land but they must allow the public to use the easement, which severely limits what the landowners can do with the land.)
I have come up with several possible suggestions and shared them with a Platting Board member. Does anyone have any other suggestions? (Or do you disagree with mine?)
Reroute the trail to a nearby route with existing public access.
An example of this is the rerouting the Alder Chute section of the Equinox Marathon Trail. One route has already been done, using a nearby section line easement with public access. A rough trail has already been built there and people are using it, though the marathon still uses the old route with permission of the landowner. (The same property extends to the section line reroute. The landowner feels that it doesn’t have a public right-of-way, but the Department of Natural Resources disagrees.)
Another route for the marathon trail is being explored by negotiating an easement with the Mental Health Trust. That would go farther afield — all the way to the Tri-Cone Mine Road/Trail — but it is a better reroute in many ways. (It would be much more sustainable than the Alder Chute or the section line reroute.)
In general, another possible way to reroute a trail, though usually not desirable, is to reroute it for a while along the edge of a road right-of-way, if that’s realistic.
Reroute the trail to a neighboring property.
Of course, this would require that the neighboring property owner is amenable and the neighboring land is a workable reroute for the trail. If the borough offers to purchase an easement from the neighboring landowner, that would help sweeten the deal. (The Recreational Trails Program does award grants for trail easement purchases. Other grant programs would probably allow for such as purchase, too.)
This happened in 2020 on an informal basis with a portion of the Tanana Valley Railroad Trail out in Goldstream Valley. A piece of property that the trail ran across was purchased by a new owner. That owner blocked the trail. The trail didn’t have an existing public right-of-way, and the owner didn’t subdivide, so Title 17 didn’t kick in. Fortunately, a neighboring landowner allowed a reroute to be built on his property. It’s not ideal, especially for dog teams, since it replaces a straight section of trail with one that requires a couple of turns, but it’s better than no access.
Reroute the trail to another property farther away.
This would require a bigger reroute of the trail, but it might be possible with enough resources. This could work, especially if public land is in the area and is workable for a reroute.
This may work for the southern end of the O’Connor Creek East Ridge Trail. The trail could be officially rerouted on DNR land to a section line easement that has an existing road that then connects to a subdivision road. Someone already put in a rough trail there.
Suggest that the Assembly remove all or a portion of the trail from the Trails Plan.
This is the least desirable, in my opinion, but sometimes you have to pick your battles. Does the Assembly already have this power? I’m not sure, but giving it as an option for the Platting Board to consider may give it more weight.
For example, what the heck are the Davidson Ditch Hiking Trails? Do they really exist? They are on the plan, but I think they may be more of an idea than reality.
Reroute the trail to the edge of the property.
This doesn’t really answer the directive and is already an option by staff — assuming it makes for a workable reroute — but often such a reroute would have less of an impact on the property. And if an easement is purchased, that might make that alternative even more acceptable.