Ken Smith/Turnagain Times
Kat Shoffner, a resident of Crow Creek Road since 2004, walks past cleared trees. Shoffner and other residents are upset over the clearing of spruce trees and brush along the road, which they say was done hastily in preparation for paving Crow Creek road .68 miles from Alyeska Highway. The bridge over California Creek will also be rebuilt, upgrading it from a one-lane to a two-lane bridge. The project should be completed by Oct. 1.
By Ken Smith
Paving and bridge construction of Crow Creek Road, a rural dirt road off Alyeska Highway, was suppose to begin near the end of summer last year; however, the project was delayed until this year. Finally, the first phase of the project has begun with the clearing of brush and trees on Tuesday, April 29. But what should have been a minor part of the project has drawn the ire of residents, who are also questioning the need to pave the rural and historic road that passes by trailheads to the historic Iditarod Trail and leads to the historic Crow Creek Mine (about 3 miles from Alyeska Highway).
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, who also lives in Girdwood, secured money for the $2.4 million federally earmarked project. The road improvements was necessary to meet current Dept. of Transportation road specifications, stated Mike Loan, Foreman of Fike Industrial, the contractor building the bridge and clearing brush and trees.
“The bridge is deteriorating and needs to be widened to bring it up to current DOT road specifications,” he said at their mobile office on Crow Creek Road at a bus turnaround just beyond the bridge over California Creek.
Road crews cleared spruce trees and thick brush from both sides of the road, 10 to 40 feet from the centerline. The clearing caught some residents by surprise, who said they were both angry and saddened by the loss of old spruce trees and a destruction of the natural setting along the scenic road.
“I was really sad when I saw the backhoe knock down a large spruce tree in front of our restaurant,” said Justin Persons, 27, co-owner of the popular Double Musky Inn Restaurant on Crow Creek Road. “It’s different when you hear things they’re going to do to the road. But when you see the things they’re doing to the trees, it puts it in a different perspective. I’ve been seeing that big spruce tree there my whole life.”
The first three miles of Crow Creek Road is primarily used by local residents, hikers accessing trailheads, and visitors to the Crow Creek Mine.
The current paving project is only covering .68 miles from Alyeska Highway to a school bus turnaround just beyond California Creek. With so little road pavement being done, some have questioned the need and motivation of the project.
“The thing is nobody wants it,” said Cathy Frost, owner of Raven Glacier Lodge, located just past California Creek Bridge and the only resident and business north of the bridge until Crow Creek Mine. “I can’t find anybody here that wants it. I’ve called Ted Steven’s office, but nobody could tell us who actually asked where it (the earmark) came from. It’s a historic road. This is where everybody walks and runs and hikes. This is a beloved road.”
Frost was also unhappy with the fact that no bike and walking paths will be added along side the road, making the paved section dangerous for recreational use, she said.
Bob Persons, co-owner of the Double Musky, whose restaurant has been at the Crow Creek Road location for 29 years, said he was also unhappy with the paving of the road.
“Nobody requested it,” he said. “Nobody wanted it. I didn’t want a paved road. There’s an aesthetic to living on a dirt road that appeals to me. They’ll take part of my parking lot with the road clearing. I can’t afford to lose any of it. That’s why a paved road is meaningless to me. I need all the space I can to fit cars in here. Having a paved road is going to be a nightmare. People drive to fast on the road as it is.”
Joe Watson, the General Foreman for Fike Industrial said the businesses and residents will benefit with paved approaches to their driveways as part of the road project. He said there will also be new culverts constructed to improve road drainage. He added that the now one-lane bridge over California Creek will be torn down and rebuilt as a two-lane bridge, aiding traffic flow.
However, Frost said she was opposed to the two-lane bridge and views the one-lane bridge as a social and safety asset.
“One of the benefits of he one-lane bridge was it made people have to stop and wave to the people crossing it,” she said, “and it kept speed down.”
In addition, Frost doesn’t understand why they’re paving the road to the bus turnaround because no school buses use it anymore. “They turn around at the Double Musky,” she said.
She also questioned the rush to clear all the trees and brush in one day.
“They started this morning,” she said. “The guy in the demolition crew was just taking down everything. He couldn’t be selective. The trees needed to be taken down before May 1 because birds start nesting in the local trees at that time, but that’s no reason to do it. If you’re not ready, then July 15 is when they could do it again.”
Kat Shoffner, who has lived on Crow Creek Road across from Maxine’s restaurant since 2004, was walking her baby in a stroller when she spoke to this reporter. She was distressed and upset as she walked past the downed trees and brush cleared along the roadside.
“They did a rush job,” she said, “and they took down more trees than they actually needed to. We know the road was coming, but we’ve been making phone calls these last few days to see what their interests were. I talked to the project manager and he said they were clearing the sides for safety (animals darting out in front of vehicles). What are we turning this into, though, Northern Lights and Minnesota with all cleared banks. We don’t want it to be like that. We want a country road. We don’t want to look like Anchorage. Improvements have to be made, but not like this.”
While the two-lane bridge is being constructed at the end of the summer, a temporary bridge will be built, and Watson said there should be no delays more than 20 minutes.
The paving and bridge construction are expected to be completed by Oct. 1. McKenna Bros., Girdwood’s road maintenance contractor, will pave the road.