Sutton Community Council asks state to close Jonesville

The Sutton Community Council is asking the state to close the Jonesville Public Use Area until...
The Sutton Community Council is asking the state to close the Jonesville Public Use Area until a management plan is in place.(Heather Hintze)
Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 2:18 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Labor Day may be the last holiday weekend people could have spent at the Jonesville Public Use Recreation Area as the Sutton Community Council is asking the state to shut down the area until a management plan is in place.

In a letter addressed to the Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige, the council wrote, “The crossfire shooting, explosions, dumping, homeless shelters and vandalism continue at Jonesville with no evidence of DNR making an effort to finalize a plan.”

On Aug. 9, the council voted to have the state close Jonesville “in the best interest of the general public and community values at risk.”

Neighbors said dangerous shooting in the area has gotten worse over the past few years.

“Bullets fly by me, yes. I’ve actually got bullet holes in my shed, up at my sawmill,” said Michael Jones, a 20-plus year resident of Sutton and one of about a dozen people who attended a monthly community council meeting earlier this summer where members discussed Jonesville.

Since it’s state land, the council has no authority but they can ask the Department of Natural Resources to restrict access to the area.

The state legislature designated Jonesville as a public use area in 2018. Jones and other residents said the lack of oversight is causing problems by creating a lawless Wild West.

The agency that would be in charge of putting together a management plan is the Division of Mining, Land and Water under the Department of Natural Resources.

Marty Parsons, director of the division, said the management plan is in the queue behind several other projects that were already in the works, including the North Slope and Kachemak Bay.

“With the staff that we have, those two plans right now have priority because they’ve already been started. We need to bring them to completion,” Parsons said in an interview in July.

The area is a big draw for families.

On Monday, one family was there teaching their children to shoot safely. They also brought a rake to clean up their own shell casings.

One group of men brought out their Ranger to cruise around in the mud. They didn’t want to give their names but said they weren’t bothered by the gunfire.

While some are responsible, there are others who engage in behavior that deters people from using the area.

“With just all the trash and mainly the shooting, it’s not a safe place to be. I’ve seen people shooting across trails,” said Yohanan Harvey who was out dirt biking with his son.

The Sutton Community Council asked residents to weigh in online with their thoughts on Jonesville.

Most people who responded to the survey were in favor of a closure. Some gave suggestions like creating a fee area, adding dumpsters and bathrooms and designated shooting hours. Others were against the state intervening on the community’s behalf.

Community members formed a Jonesville Public Use Area Planning Committee and have been working with Mat-Su Borough staff to put together a management plan draft. There’s a wide variety of recreational opportunities in the area from fishing and camping to hunting and ATV use; planning members want all of those activities to happen safely.

They held several public input meetings over the winter to show people how they plan to manage all the different user groups.

“There are a lot of responsible users but there are quite a few that are not, and we just need ground rules which has to be done through planning,” said Mark Bertels, who’s lived in Sutton for nearly five decades.

Parsons said the group’s proposed plan is a good starting point but doesn’t measure up to the state requirements. He said management plans for an area like this can be complicated because there are so many different user groups that want the opportunity to recreate there. The area also sits within the Matanuska Moose Range so DMLW would have to coordinate with the Department of Fish and Game as well.

Committee members modeled Jonesville after the Knik River Public Use Area that was formed in 2006 in the Jim Creek area in Butte. Parsons said the big difference between the two is that there was a fiscal note attached to the legislation for Knik. That meant the state was able to use the money to hire an additional long-term non-permanent employee to specifically concentrate on drafting the KRPUA management plan. The Jonesville legislation did not have a fiscal note with it.

“They’re looking for money to hire someone to do that. And in this fiscal climate, it’s been a challenge to get the legislature to put any money forward for that to happen,” said District 9 House Rep. George Rauscher. “I think the DNR needs to work closely with this community if they’re going to get a good idea on how to move forward with that area and they need to work quick.”

People who like to recreate at Jonesville hope the community and state can come to a compromise so they can still use the area.

Harvey, the Palmer resident who likes to dirt bike in the area, said, “It’s unfortunate but what can you do? People won’t police themselves.”

Editor’s Note: Alaska’s News Source has reached out to the Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Mining, Land and Water to see if there’s a time frame for closing the area, and the story will be updated with that information when it’s available.

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