Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
KODIAK: Refuge Partners Pull Together to Get ATVs Out of the Mud
Alaska Region, September 24, 2008
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Refuge Partners participating in Portage Trail project.
Refuge Partners participating in Portage Trail project. - Photo Credit: n/a
Refuge partners assemble geoblock. (G. Wheeler/USFWS Photo)
Refuge partners assemble geoblock. (G. Wheeler/USFWS Photo) - Photo Credit: n/a

Partnerships, team work, pulling together – whatever you call it, it’s essential to completing resource projects in today’s era of land management and small budgets.  Take for example, the Portage Trail on Kodiak Island.

The Portage Trail is a historically-used trail between Larsen Bay and the salmon rich Karluk River.  ATV use, especially on trail sections with wet soils, had created numerous quagmires along the trail after vegetation was damaged and ruts developed.  Often times riders had to pioneer new routes to avoid getting their ATV’s stuck thus greatly widening the trail’s footprint through soft sections.

The 2003 conservation easement between Koniag Native Corporation (Koniag) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) included a commitment from the Service to reroute and/or make improvements to the Portage Trail that would minimize the degradation of wetlands, water quality, and erosion from ATV use.  In the 1980’s, Portage Trail was designated as a 17-b easement trail which allows for public access from Larson Bay to Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge lands when adjacent lands were conveyed to the Koniag Native Corporation.

The goal of the current project is to provide a hardened trail through these wet areas so riders would not adversely impact undisturbed areas.  For several years the Service through the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) applied for grants to fund restoration.  None were received.  In 2005, the Refuge provided station funds for a prototype project to improve 600 feet of trail and probably more importantly to test logistics for a trail project in a remote area where equipment and materials had to be barged to a bay near the trail and then transported to the site via helicopter.

The project halted in 2006 when the Refuge was unable to provide additional funding and it was then that Koniag applied for and received a Wildlife Habitat Incentive Project grant administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  This 5-year grant secured the funding necessary to restore the remaining 9,150 feet of damaged trail.

Each year this partnership continues to draw new team members.  To date, team members from Koniag, Kodiak Refuge, National Park Service, Kodiak Soil and Water Conservation Service District, Larsen Bay Tribal Council, Natural Resources Conservation Service, local residents from the villages of Larsen Bay and Karluk, Kodiak Island Trails Network, and other volunteers have assisted in implementation of this project.

For each of the past two years, project managers and volunteers have installed over 1,300 feet of geoblock, a porous plastic grid that when assembled, creates a hardened trail that  floats on top of soft and boggy areas and allows vegetation to grow through it.  Refuge participants in the week-long project this year included the Refuge Manager, Deputy Manager and a Refuge Volunteer.

Tribal elders from the village of Larsen Bay have been frustrated for years by the rough and muddy conditions along the trail.  However, after observing the progress made this year Refuge Manager Gary Wheeler commented, “It won’t be long now before the elders from Larsen Bay will again be able to travel this trail for subsistence fishing, hunting, and berry picking, just like their ancestors use to do.”

Contact Info: Gary Wheeler, 907-487-0226, gary_wheeler@fws.gov
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