Legislature(2017 - 2018)BUTROVICH 205

02/05/2018 03:30 PM RESOURCES

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Audio Topic
03:30:14 PM Start
03:30:48 PM Overview: Alaska's State Park System
04:21:42 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+ Overview: Alaska's State Park System TELECONFERENCED
- Department of Natural Resources, Division of
Parks & Outdoor Recreation
-- Testimony <Invitation Only> --
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
                    ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE                                                                                  
              SENATE RESOURCES STANDING COMMITTEE                                                                             
                        February 5, 2018                                                                                        
                           3:30 p.m.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Senator Cathy Giessel, Chair                                                                                                    
Senator John Coghill, Vice Chair                                                                                                
Senator Bert Stedman                                                                                                            
Senator Kevin Meyer                                                                                                             
Senator Click Bishop                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Senator Natasha Von Imhof                                                                                                       
Senator Bill Wielechowski                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
OVERVIEW: ALASKA'S STATE PARK SYSTEM                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     - HEARD                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
No previous action to record                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
WITNESS REGISTER                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
HEIDI HANSEN, Deputy Commissioner                                                                                               
Department of Natural Resources (DNR)                                                                                           
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Available to comment on the overview of                                                                   
Alaska's State Park System.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
ETHAN TYLER, Director                                                                                                           
Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation                                                                                          
Department of Natural Resources (DNR)                                                                                           
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Provided an overview of Alaska's State Park                                                               
System.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
3:30:14 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  CATHY   GIESSEL  called  the  Senate   Resources  Standing                                                             
Committee meeting  to order at 3:30  p.m. Present at the  call to                                                               
order were  Senators Stedman, Coghill,  Bishop, Meyer,  and Chair                                                               
Giessel. Senators Wielechowski and Von Imhof were excused.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
             ^Overview: Alaska's State Park System                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
3:30:48 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR GIESSEL  announced the only  order of business  today would                                                               
be an overview  of the Division of Parks  and Outdoor Recreation.                                                               
Created in 1970, Alaska's park  system consists of 128 park units                                                               
and over  3 million acres  of land and  water; it is  the largest                                                               
park system  of anywhere  in the United  States. The  park system                                                               
traces its  roots back to  the famed aviator  Charles Lindbergh's                                                               
speech to  the state legislature  in 1968 advocating for  a state                                                               
conservation and  recreation system, and it  was constituted into                                                               
law with the sponsorship of the  late Lowell Thomas, Jr., who was                                                               
then a member of this body.  Underpinning the drive for the parks                                                               
system  was the  need  for the  state to  control  its lands.  By                                                               
designating  lands like  the Wood-Tikchik  State Park,  the state                                                               
preempted federal designation that would  have resulted in a more                                                               
centralized restrictive management from Washington, D.C.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Access to  average Alaskans without incurring  financial hardship                                                               
is  a  mission  of  the  Parks  Division,  but  so  is  financial                                                               
sustainability. In  recent years, the Park  Division has overseen                                                               
a program to  help mitigate its funding to  eventually subsist on                                                               
user fees.  The legislature  also gave  them authority  to create                                                               
logo  gear, which  she wanted  to  hear about.  She welcomed  the                                                               
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to provide the overview.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
HEIDI   HANSEN,  Deputy   Commissioner,  Department   of  Natural                                                               
Resources (DNR), Juneau, Alaska, introduced herself.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
3:32:48 PM                                                                                                                    
ETHAN TYLER,  Director, Division  of Parks &  Outdoor Recreation,                                                               
Department of  Natural Resources  (DNR), Juneau, Alaska,  said he                                                               
would cover the Division of  Parks & Outdoor Recreation's primary                                                               
sections,  and highlight  some regions  with  specific points  of                                                               
interest, and then meld into  FY17 highlights and their direction                                                               
moving forward.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR.  TYLER said  he is  new to  the Division  of Parks  & Outdoor                                                               
Recreation  and  came  over  from  the  Department  of  Commerce,                                                               
Community and Economic Development (DCCED).                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
3:33:47 PM                                                                                                                    
He  said  one section  most  people  are  not  aware of  in  this                                                               
division is the  Office of History and Archaeology.  It serves as                                                               
the  state's historical  preservation  agency.  It works  closely                                                               
with the  federal government and the  State Historic Preservation                                                               
Officer (SHPO)  that maintains a statewide  inventory of cultural                                                               
resources and serves as the  state liaison to federal agencies in                                                               
such  issues as  the National  Register of  Historic Places,  the                                                               
National  Park  Service, and  the  Department  of Interior.  This                                                               
office works  closely with  a number  of development  projects in                                                               
the state to identify cultural  resources and heritage areas - to                                                               
ensure in  some of the  bigger projects that things  aren't being                                                               
disturbed  in  a  historical  site  and  making  sure  of  permit                                                               
compliance.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GIESSEL asked if that means  he works with the gas pipeline                                                               
project.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER answered yes.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BISHOP asked  if the  annual  placer mining  application                                                               
(APMA) has to get blessed by SHPO.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER answered that was correct.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
3:36:03 PM                                                                                                                    
He said  the Office  of Boating Safety  sponsors the  "Kids Don't                                                               
Float Program." It  consists of in-water activities  with kids in                                                               
a pool learning survival skills.  He highlighted that their staff                                                               
member,  Kelli Toth,  received a  National  Association of  State                                                               
Boating  Law Administrators'  Educator  of the  Year award.  They                                                               
also received  a partnership award  for their work on  the "Float                                                               
Coat Song"  that was done  in conjunction with the  Alaska Native                                                               
Tribal  Health Consortium.  Jeff  Johnson, who  is retiring  this                                                               
year, started  the Office  of Boating  Safety, was  also inducted                                                               
into the Hall of Fame of that same organization.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
3:37:46 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MEYER asked if this program is funded by boat receipts.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER answered yes; the boating  receipts are used as a match                                                               
for federal  funds on  any projects  in the park  that has  to do                                                               
with boats, like boat ramps.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR MEYER  asked if  this program started  in 2000  under the                                                               
Murkowski administration.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR.  TYLER answered  yes, and  the Kids  Don't Float  program was                                                               
officially kicked off  in 2012 with 10,000 kids  going through it                                                               
since then.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  MEYER remarked  that was  great  and asked  how kids  in                                                               
Anchorage find out about the program.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER  answered that the  division works closely  with school                                                               
districts throughout the state.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
3:39:17 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MEYER asked if commercial  fishermen use this program for                                                               
training their work crews.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER answered that a  non-profit organization in Juneau does                                                               
a lot of  the commercial fishing training and those  funds can be                                                               
used for  the federal match,  as well.  They work with  the Coast                                                               
Guard, as well.  He noted that Kids Don't Float  life jackets are                                                               
at pavilions  at almost every boat  launch in the state  for kids                                                               
to borrow. At  least 33 kids' lives are on  record as having been                                                               
saved by using  these lifejackets; one adult life  has been saved                                                               
through the program, as well.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
The bulk  of the division's activities  include field operations:                                                               
ranger staff, natural resource  technician staff, and maintenance                                                               
folks. They  work with  12 citizen's  advisory boards  around the                                                               
state that provide  public input on how to best  manage the parks                                                               
and partner  with the visitor industry  in the state as  parks as                                                               
part of their tour offerings.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
3:41:51 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  COGHILL  relayed  that   many  in  the  legislature  are                                                               
grateful for  the advisory groups  and especially  as volunteers,                                                               
because "they seem to double themselves wherever they go."                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER noted that last year's  park fees covered 51 percent of                                                               
the operating costs in FY17.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
3:43:05 PM                                                                                                                    
He said  the largest  state park  system in  the country  is also                                                               
home  to the  largest  state park,  which  is Wood_Tikchik  State                                                               
Park. It  is also home  to the fourth  largest state park  in the                                                               
country: Chugach State Park. The  park system is divided into six                                                               
primary  regions and  consists of  3.3 million  acres; last  year                                                               
they saw approximately 3.6 million visitors.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
At 495,000  acres, Chugach  State Park is  the fourth  largest in                                                               
the United States. Because of  its proximity to Anchorage, it has                                                               
a lot  of high use  areas. So,  making sure the  facilities exist                                                               
for that  high level  of use and  attempting to  encourage people                                                               
into other areas  of the park is one of  the challenges they work                                                               
with. The  number-one viewed webpage  on the State Parks  site is                                                               
the Glenn Alps parking lot cam.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
3:44:53 PM                                                                                                                    
In keeping  with the theme  of winning  awards, he said  that Joe                                                               
Hall,  Park  Specialist,  had a  partnership  award  from  Alaska                                                               
Geographic this year.  He has been very  instrumental in building                                                               
partnerships with  non-profits and  supporters of the  State Park                                                               
system  and has  completed  a number  of  "great trail  projects"                                                               
because of it.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
He  noted  that the  Chugach  superintendent  oversees the  Wood-                                                               
Tikchik State Park, because it falls under the Chugach region.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
3:46:02 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. TYLER said the Kenai Region  is the most diverse park area in                                                               
the state.  It includes numerous  marine parks in  Prince William                                                               
Sound,  land-based   areas  out   of  Valdez  like   the  popular                                                               
Worthington Glacier,  Kachemak Bay  State Park in  Homer, Caine's                                                               
Head  State  Recreation  Area  in Seward,  and  the  Kenai  River                                                               
Special Management Area, another very high use area.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GIESSEL asked how many state parks abut federal parks.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER said his division  frequently works in conjunction with                                                               
federal partners,  and he could  think of 10 relevant  areas. For                                                               
instance,  a lot  of the  state  marine parks  in Prince  William                                                               
Sound  abut Chugach  National Forest,  Chugach  State Park  abuts                                                               
Chugach National  Forest, Denali State Park,  and Denali National                                                               
Park,  and the  Kenai  National Wildlife  Refuge contains  Skilak                                                               
Lake and  the Kenai River  Special Management Area  starts coming                                                               
from  Skilak Lake.  So,  they really  do  work hand-in-hand  with                                                               
federal  partners. They  also  have  some cooperative  agreements                                                               
with  them: for  example,  an agreement  with  the National  Park                                                               
Service in Denali State Park  where one of their rangers provides                                                               
interpretive services at the new K'esugi Ken Campground.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
3:48:23 PM                                                                                                                    
The northern  area is  based out  of Fairbanks.  Olnes Pond  is a                                                               
popular  camping  and  ATV area  outside  of  Fairbanks  received                                                               
funding  through  the  State  Trails  Program  (a  federal  grant                                                               
program administered  by the Division  of Parks)  for significant                                                               
ATV  trail improvements  this last  year. Necessary  repairs were                                                               
made  to stabilize  the river  bank  area along  Big Delta  State                                                               
Historic  Park.  He  reported   that  the  Fairbanks  area  parks                                                               
increased their  fee areas  from $5  in 2015 to  $25. This  is in                                                               
progress, so he doesn't have good  numbers for it. But he expects                                                               
to see increased revenue in the northern area.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
3:50:24 PM                                                                                                                    
As  a cost  saving measure,  Delta area  parks went  into passive                                                               
management  last year,  and the  division  worked with  community                                                               
volunteers to keep the areas open.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
After going  through the procurement process  they issued permits                                                               
to private  sector companies to  operate in those parks  and they                                                               
now have  the authority  to operate those  areas and  collect the                                                               
fees.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
3:51:46 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  TYLER said  last  May was  the opening  of  the K'esugi  Ken                                                               
Campground  in Denali  State Park  (in the  MatSu region).  It is                                                               
really the crown  jewel of campgrounds for the  state park system                                                               
with 32 new  RV tent campsites with electric  hookups, which none                                                               
of  the  other   state  parks  (except  the   Chena  River  State                                                               
Recreation Area)  have. There  are 10  walk-in camp  sites, three                                                               
public use  cabins an interpretive pavilion,  and the partnership                                                               
with the National Park Service.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
He said they  have a close partnership with  the visitor industry                                                               
stakeholders, large and small, around  Denali State Park and this                                                               
new area that came on line last  year. It is very popular both in                                                               
winter and summer.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
3:53:33 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. TYLER  said they  began to charge  historic access  fees last                                                               
year at  Independence Mine  State Historic  Park and  Totem Bight                                                               
State Historic  Park. They did not  receive a lot of  pushback on                                                               
those fees,  even though  both areas  are very  popular. However,                                                               
parks don't  have entrance  fees, as  part of  the mission  is to                                                               
provide these areas and land resources for the people of Alaska.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GIESSEL said  the Independence Mine area  is really popular                                                               
for skiing and asked  if it's true there are plans  to have a ski                                                               
resort and would it be on private land adjacent to the area.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER replied  there are plans for a ski  area in the Hatcher                                                               
Pass on  municipal land  that received  a significant  grant this                                                               
year.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Coming from DCCED, Mr. Tyler  said, he couldn't do a presentation                                                               
without  mentioning  the  impact  that  parks  have  as  economic                                                               
drivers in  the state  and that 626  commercial use  permits were                                                               
issued  in   2017.  With  his   visitor  industry   and  business                                                               
development  background,  his  goal  is to  get  that  number  to                                                               
increase  and   to  have  more  partnerships   with  the  visitor                                                               
industry. Those  626 commercial use permits  represent businesses                                                               
on  the ground  that  are  working within  the  parks as  fishing                                                               
guides, tour  guide companies, water  taxis, motor coach  and van                                                               
tours, hiking guides and the like.  Adventure travel is an up and                                                               
coming trend in  the visitor industry and he  hoped to capitalize                                                               
on that, as well.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GIESSEL asked if any industrial uses go on in the parks.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER answered  he didn't think so, but he  would get back to                                                               
her on that.  He explained that every park is  different based on                                                               
its enabling legislation.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
He  presented a  picture of  one of  three public  use cabins  in                                                               
Denali  State  Park.  He reported  that  the  online  reservation                                                               
system was  changed to a  different company  last year. It  has a                                                               
no-cost contract  with the state  and a fee  is taken as  part of                                                               
the reservation process.  It allows booking to be  much easier to                                                               
manage for guests  and much easier tracking for  his division. It                                                               
also has payment options. He hopes  to put a couple of the busier                                                               
campgrounds online.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
He said that cabins are  excellent investments for the park; some                                                               
have  over  85  percent  peak  occupancy.  Because  they  have  a                                                               
demonstrated   demand  and   require  minimal   maintenance,  the                                                               
investment pays  off in three  to five  years and then  becomes a                                                               
revenue stream to the division.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  COGHILL attested  to  the fact  that  they are  popular,                                                               
because it's  hard to  get a  reservation. He  asked if  they are                                                               
going to build more.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
4:01:29 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. TYLER replied  that they have a capital request  this year to                                                               
build five more  cabins, strategically locating them  in areas of                                                               
high demand.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR COGHILL  said some  are seasonal, but  in his  area, they                                                               
are used year-round.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEDMAN asked  if there is that much  demand, might there                                                               
be  a rate  structure issue.  He said  three to  five years  is a                                                               
quick  payback and  asked if  that includes  replacement reserves                                                               
and maintenance.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER  replied no; he  ran through the maintenance  costs and                                                               
found they are minimal. The rate  structure which in the past has                                                               
been set by  the different regions is under  review for adjusting                                                               
rates according to popularity of use.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
4:04:38 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR STEDMAN remarked that Sitka has  a boat ramp that used to                                                               
have a $5/per launch cash box  for people who didn't have a year-                                                               
round pass.  The money was split  50/50 between the city  and the                                                               
state boat ramps.  The state's cut was $8,000 to  $10,000 a year.                                                               
The city  used theirs for  lights, snow plowing,  and maintenance                                                               
because  the  ramps  are  also  used  as  an  emergency  response                                                               
location.  However, the  cash box  was taken  away because  there                                                               
wasn't anyone from  the state available to empty it.  So, now you                                                               
go out there and use the ramp  for free. He asked Mr. Tyler, when                                                               
he has time, to work up  a collection mechanism for the cash box.                                                               
Castle Hill  in Sitka is  another attractive area that  could use                                                               
this mechanism.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER said  he has been briefed on the  Sitka scenario and is                                                               
looking at others.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BISHOP  asked if the  cabins have electricity  or running                                                               
water.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER answered no.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR   BISHOP  noted   that   they  really   are  pretty   low                                                               
maintenance.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
4:09:45 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR GIESSEL said  the Kasilof boat launch was a  hot topic last                                                               
year and asked for an update on that.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER answered that it was  put on hold during the director's                                                               
transition  and  he  has  taken  it  back  up  by  engaging  with                                                               
residents to redesign it moving forward.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
4:10:30 PM                                                                                                                    
He said a topic that is  interwoven with a lot of the discussions                                                               
in every  other slide  is park sustainability.  Their plan  is to                                                               
increase  revenue  without  creating  a burden  to  Alaskans  who                                                               
utilize  the areas  and facilities  by, for  instance, increasing                                                               
the number of fee stations in  areas that didn't have them. Along                                                               
those lines, expanding their electronic  fee options is something                                                               
they  are working  on and  pay by  phone. He  is also  working on                                                               
statewide consistency in cabin pricing.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
He said  cabins with electricity attract  out-of-state folks with                                                               
RVs who want to know where  they are camping from night to night.                                                               
A lot  of calls people call  who want to book  their campsites on                                                               
line and the  department is working at moving some  of the higher                                                               
use and longer haul campsites online.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
4:14:30 PM                                                                                                                    
They  are  streamlining  the  special   use  and  commercial  use                                                               
permitting  process and  getting something  set up  online there,                                                               
too. They  are also increasing  partnerships with  non-profit and                                                               
for-profit  organizations around  the  state  that support  state                                                               
parks.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
4:15:36 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  STEDMAN  added   to  the  boat  ramp   discussion  -  no                                                               
disrespect to  his almost  law-abiding friends  - that  a payment                                                               
mechanism  requiring  a  registration  also  brings  people  into                                                               
compliance  with  that requirement.  Otherwise  they  are not  so                                                               
excited about  it. He  noted that  when the  police respond  to a                                                               
search and rescue incident they  will know whose trailer is there                                                               
if it has a sticker on it.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  GIESSEL  asked  what  was   happening  to  the  logo  wear                                                               
authorization.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER  replied that they  printed logo wear and  launched the                                                               
website that  can be  accessed through  the state  parks website.                                                               
But his  feeling is  that the  division is not  in the  logo wear                                                               
business. So, that  his goal is to move their  inventory of state                                                               
park wear it out to a  private sector retailer - that has broader                                                               
distribution  and  expertise  -  and then  work  on  a  licensing                                                               
agreement  with retailer  or clothing  manufacturer, whatever  is                                                               
the best  fit, from which  to receive revenue from  the licensing                                                               
of the  logo wear  but not  have to  be involved  in it  quite as                                                               
much. The program has made about $15,000.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
4:19:59 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BISHOP noted  that Mr.  Tyler's background  in marketing                                                               
and said  he was sure  those talents  could be used  in promoting                                                               
that legislation to  bring in more revenue to the  state. He said                                                               
that the  Alaska brand is  ready to  sell, and said  for example,                                                               
that Caterpillar does as good in clothing sales in Europe as                                                                    
they do in selling machinery.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR. TYLER replied that he sees great potential and to stay                                                                      
tuned.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
4:21:42 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR GIESSEL, finding no further questions, adjourned the                                                                      
Senate Resources Committee meeting at 4:21 p.m.                                                                                 

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
Senate Resources - Agenda - 2 - 5 - 2018 .pdf SRES 2/5/2018 3:30:00 PM
Senate Resources - Overview State Parks System - 2 - 5 - 2018.pdf SRES 2/5/2018 3:30:00 PM
State Parks