Anchorage boater charged for paddling an Alaskan classic
One of Alaska's most accessible creeks is off-limits to paddlers, and an Anchorage boater is facing fines or imprisonment for running its Class IV canyon. This fall, Tim Johnson, a guidebook author and organizer of the Six Mile Whitewater Festival in Alaska's Chugach Mountains, was charged with federal criminal trespassing for kayaking Ship Creek through the Fort Richardson Light-Tactical Training Area, a military facility just outside of Anchorage. While "permitted" land-based recreational activities are allowed in the training area, boating is not—largely because of fears of liability, says Allan Warren, the executive director of Life More Natural, a Reno, Nev.-based sustainable lifestyles network.
Warren knows first-hand about the legalities of paddling Ship Creek. In 2008, he and four friends were apprehended after running it but they managed to escape with only a warning by arguing they were not familiar with the area and there were no signs indicating that running the Ship was illegal. In dealing with the conservation officer, it was obvious that authorities "were looking to make an example of someone so as to deter other boaters from paddling the creek," says Warren. "Tim just happens to be the guy they're making an example of."
Now, Warren has set up a petition on his Life More Natural website (www.lifemorenatural.com) to help cover Johnson's legal fees for his December 15 court hearing and reopen Ship Creek to whitewater paddlers. Warren's research into the matter suggests that a derelict dam is the primary reason boating is outlawed. The Anchorage Waterways Council has already petitioned to have the dam removed. "It's especially ridiculous because the dam doesn't serve any purpose," says Warren. "All it does at this point is block downstream boaters from using a great creek and upstream migrating salmon from getting to their natural spawning grounds."
"I can understand them not wanting boaters paddling over the dam or portaging over it," adds Warren, "but there's room for compromise."
The solution, says Warren, is for boaters to work with Fort Richardson authorities to establish an appropriate portage trail around the dam and to accept responsibility for their own safety while paddling the creek. He hopes Johnson's court case turns out to be a catalyst for change. "A successful opening of the creek could set a positive precedent to help open up more creeks and streams," says Warren. "For us at Life More Natural, this issue is of utmost importance because of the way that kayaking can bring attention to not only an important recreation issue, but more pressingly, to an important environmental issue." – Conor Mihell