With the holiday weekend beginning this Friday, and the weather forecast to be favorable, Talkeetna and the Upper Valley are likely to see a flood of visitors. Weekends are already busy on Talkeetna’s Main Street with visitors coming from the Lower 48, and major holiday weekends mean even more people coming from elsewhere in the state. There will be a parade, music, and a lot of money to be made for businesses and nonprofits. In addition, however, there is also the potential for increased impacts from camping, four-wheeling, and other activities, as KTNA’s Phillip Manning explains:
This past Memorial Day weekend saw a larger influx of Alaskans to the Upper Valley who might otherwise have gone to the Kenai Peninsula, if not for the large wildfire that was burning at the time. Four-wheelers of every type could be seen up and down the side of the Talkeetna Spur, and the combined impact of the additional off-road vehicles and additional campers led the Talkeetna Community Council to bring it up during its June meeting.
The Talkeetna Council area is not the only one affected, however. On Tuesday, I met Peter Armington near the Montana Creek Bridge on Yoder Road. As we looked out over the creek, he told me what camping in the area usually looks like.
“On a typical weekday during the summer, you’ll have zero to maybe three groups here. But, holiday weekend, it’s wall to wall.”
Armington, a former National Park Ranger of forty years, walks me through some of the common camping areas downstream of the bridge. There are fire rings, a few broken beer bottles, discarded shotgun shells, and multiple instances of exposed human waste.
“So, there’s the toilet for this campsite…”
Peter Armington shows me multiple spots where waste has been left within the floodplain, in some instances only a few feet from the flowing creek, which bears both salmon and trout.
Issues related to unregulated camping around Montana Creek are not new. In fact, KTNA did a series on impacts to the area back in 2010. Peter Armington says that there have been efforts over the years to block what is currently very easy vehicle access to the creek with ditches and boulders, but it has never worked out.
“The users always defeat them, and that’s why, in our view, the only solution is guardrails that would tie into the bridge and run down the road, here, and tie into the lands above the high-water mark.”
Peter Armington says the guardrails are primarily needed on the western side of the creek, since the ground is too steep to allow easy vehicle access on the east end of the bridge. He adds that the residents in the area think that people should be able to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, but that there should be some level of management.
“The residents here are not against public access. What we’re against is unplanned, unmanaged, and unregulated camping use that occurs here in a way that carries with it significant environmental impacts and social impacts.”
The environmental impacts Peter Armington refers to deal largely with the potential contamination of the creek by ATVs and human waste. The social impacts have to do with consumption of alcohol and the discharge of firearms.
As the 4th of July approaches, and more people come to the Upper Valley from in-state for the holiday weekend, traffic and campers will also increase, and not just near Montana Creek. The beachfront at the end of Main Street is also often crowded with tents and campfires. Both the Talkeetna and Susitna Community Councils have expressed concern over the issues of unregulated camping in the past, but not much has been done to date. I intend to take a look for myself at what goes on in both of those high-traffic areas, and will provide an update after the holiday weekend has come and gone.