A final decision has yet to be made on a controversial proposal to allow heli-skiing in Kachemak Bay State Park and the State Wilderness Park but the park’s Citizen Advisory Board has voted against it.
At its meeting November 14th in Homer, the Kachemak Bay State Park Citizen Advisory Board voted against allowing heli-skiing until after the park’s management plan has been updated.
Park Ranger Roger MacCampbell says the park’s current plan was originally written back in 1986 and has only been updated once – in 1995. MacCampbell says that, ideally, a park’s management plan should be updated every five to 10 years.
"Things change," he said. " We try to anticipate trends and how things are going to change but it's really hard to say what's going to be out there 20 years from now."
The process is on track to start next year, says, MacCampbell, and employees with the state Department of Natural Resources have it as a top priority. He warns, however, that the process could be expensive for the state – and it could take a year or more.
Before a final plan is approved, MacCampbell says the public will have ample opportunity to chime in on which activities they’d like to see in the park – and which they would not.
For now, at least, MacCampbell says heli-skiing appears to be losing the battle for public opinion. The parks department received several hundred comments on the subject, he said, and everyone who attended the advisory board meeting last week was opposed to the idea.
Kenai Heli-Ski is the company interested in expanding its operations into Kachemak Bay State Park. A representative from Kenai Heli Ski could not be reached in time for this story but Chris Shelly laid out the company’s plans on KBBI and KDLL’s “Coffee Table” program November 14th.
Shelly said Kenai Heli Ski is sensitive to concerns raised by park residents and users – including how noise from its helicopters might disturb local wildlife and park residents. He promised that if the company is someday allowed to operate in the park, it would “fly neighborly” and would adhere to any restrictions that might be put in place.
"We want to be part of the community and ... we want to get along with our neighbors," he said.
The issue over allowing heli-skiing in the park isn’t the only one driving the push for an updated management plan. MacCampbell says a plan update is also likely to spell out policies related to the proposed Kachemak Bay Water Trail, funding and staffing for park employees, the number and availability of public use cabins and whether or not to allow jet-skis in Kachemak Bay.
Until the management plan is updated, the final decision on heli-skiing rests with Parks and Outdoor Recreation Director Ben Ellis. As of Monday, Ellis had not made any decision public but MacCampbell expects a decision on the coming days.