Delta Junction area state parks will receive especially sharp cuts this year under a budget being considered in the Legislature.
Alaska manages six state park properties in the Delta Junction area along the Richardson Highway. The budget introduced by Gov. Bill Walker in December would close the division’s small office in Delta Junction and halt active state management of the six parks. The budget would cut 10 jobs between Delta Junction, Harding Lake and Fairbanks.
Leaving parks to what the state calls “passive management” amounts to neglect in the view of the Northern Area Alaska State Parks Citizen Advisory Board, which compared this year’s plan to a budget that left state land north of Fairbanks at Olnes Pond unstaffed for a decade.
“This is Olnes Pond a few years ago all over again, which resulted in heavy damage to the area and strong public outcry,” the advisory board wrote in a March 13 letter to legislators. “It would be a shame to see the same happen again throughout the region.”
The advisory committee also objected to the removal of a full-time maintenance job, which would reduce the state park’s maintenance staff to one for the state’s entire northern region, an area that contains 17 parks.
The advisory committee asked legislators to consider funding the state park jobs to keep the properties actively managed. The funding request is a tough sell for a Legislature that faces a $2.8 billion deficit and has been in the business of cutting spending beyond the governor’s blueprint — not adding new spending. Walker’s budget called for cutting state park expenditures 4.5 percent to about $13.4 million this year.
The six Delta-area parks are Big Delta State Historical Park, Clearwater State Recreation Site, Delta State Recreation Site, Donnelly Creek State Recreation Site, Fielding Lake State Recreation Area and Quartz Lake State Recreation Area. According to the governor’s budget, passive management would involve removing park facilities such as bathrooms, picnic tables and fire pits and halting regular employee patrols of the park sites. The budget describes passive management as a tool only to be used in hard times and only with remote and little-used parks.
While passive management will end most state employee services at the six Delta-area parks, it’s possible a private business could be contracted to provide some services in exchange for fees from users.
Under a switch to passive management, the state does not plan to close public use rental cabins at Fielding Lake and Quartz Lake. It also wouldn’t close Rika’s Roadhouse Café and Gifts, a Delta Junction business that operates out of an early-20th Century roadhouse at Big Delta State Historical Park.
The state’s cuts in Delta Parks come at a time when businesses and people have donated to keep Delta State Historical Park on dry land. Construction is planned this spring to strengthen a Tanana riverbank and save the park’s historic buildings from erosion.
The state parks office received $48,000 in donations last year through an internet crowdfunding campaign.