Coast Guard and South Point Higgins Beaches
By VALERIE HENDLE & SitNews
January 05, 2007
This work-group meant business with the home-based meeting area set up with three long work tables and a multitude of chairs lining the periphery. A power point presentation and worksheets sat poised at the head of the tables.
There are no easy labels to attach to those who attended the December 2nd meeting. "These are people who care deeply about their community," says Soren Wuerth, English Teacher. "They're here on a rainy Sunday to work."
Photograph by Ardath Piston
The Ketchikan Beaches Association's most immediate concern at this time is "Planning for a formal solution to provide long-term public access to the Coast Guard and South Point Higgins Beaches." Located north of town close to North Point Higgins Elementary School, these beaches have been popular spots for public education and recreation and many Ketchikan residents have become deeply attached to this bit of publicly accessible undeveloped coastal land.
"Both beaches are used for beachcombing, walking dogs, family camping, hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, collection of edible and medicinal plants, clam digging, and kayaking," says Ardath Piston, one of the Ketchikan Beaches Association's co-chairs. In addition, the area is site to numerous outdoor programs and campouts for the Elementary students and Boy Scouts.
In 1986 a lease was granted for the construction of trails accessing the beaches. The first half of the trail begins at Point Higgins Elementary and crosses over Borough Land to the Coast Guard Beach. A grant was pending for the completion of the second half of the trail project.
The rub is that the Coast Guard and South Point Higgins beaches are not public lands. They are both owned by the Alaska Mental Health Land Trust (MHLT) and are part of the holdings used to generate revenue for the Mental Health Authority. The lands held by MHLT were conveyed according to the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act. The Trust Land Office (TLO), an office within the Department of Natural Resources, manages the lands and is charged with "maximizing long-term revenue from Trust Land," per TLO mission statement. According to Doug Campbell of the Trust Land Office, the Coast Guard Beach Tract (uplands) was "part of the original Mental Health Trust selection and conveyed in 1963 as part of a larger selection that included what is now the South Point Higgins School site and Point Higgins subdivision property."
Earlier Leslie Real of the Ketchikan Borough Planning and Community Development Department, said the Trust Land Office had not submitted a formal rezone application. The Trust Land Office had earlier stated its intent, however. In a letter to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough dated November 15, 2006, the Trust Land Office requested that the "Borough enter into a Memorandum of Agreement to design a master plan for the tract that would incorporate a residential subdivision and an easement for the Coast Guard Beach Trail."
However, Carrie Dolwick coordinator of the Ketchikan
Beaches Assocation in a recent letter to SitNews said the grant
to complete the trail from Point Higgins School to Coast Guard
Base, is no longer pending. "The news that the grant is
held up is a huge disappointment for the Borough, who invested
financially to complete and submit the grant, and to many community
members who have invested time, energy and resources into the
trail and the important public recreation opportunities it gives
to community members," wrote Dolwick.
And just how many feet of coast line are open to the public and accessible by foot in Ketchikan? Jim Pomplun of the Ketchikan Borough Planning and Community Development Department said, " Not counting Coast Guard or South Point Higgins beaches, we roughly estimated perhaps 7,000 linear feet of coastline."
Valerie Hendel is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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