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Park Users Say No To Helicopter Landings

Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI

Kachemak Bay State Park users pleaded with a local advisory board this past week asking the state not to allow helicopter landings in the park. A charter service is asking park managers to let them land customers inside the park. Opponents to the proposal argue helicopters would be a nuisance to park users and a threat to wildlife.

It wasn’t even a question for most of the twenty people who came out to the latest Kachemak Bay State Park Citizen Advisory Board meeting. They were decided. Helicopters had no business landing in the park.

Gary Scholz of Homer echoed the majority of the crowd.

“A lot of us go over there to hike and recreate and it’s a wilderness park and it’s also a state park so it’s just incompatible,” said Sholz.

Scholz says there are plenty of other places in the state helicopters can land, and if they’re allowed into Kachemak Bay State Park the noise would ruin the wilderness experience people go there to find.

Kachemak Bay State Park is Alaska’s first state park and it’s also Alaska’s only wilderness park according to the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. The park is southeast of the Homer Spit and just a short boat ride across Kachemak Bay. It spans roughly 400,000 acres holding: mountains, glaciers, forests and ocean. Management of the park is compounded by the fact that Kachemak Bay is a critical habitat area that supports otters, seals, whales, moose, black bear and mountain goats. 

Nico Von Pronay owns Norse Flight, the company asking for permission to land helicopters in the park. He’s from Germany and says he came to Alaska about 15 years ago. He says his business focuses on heli-fishing. They fly fishermen out to choice fishing holes.

“We can take a couple of people and we take them out to rivers that you otherwise couldn’t get to. That would not be state park land. That would just be regular state land,” said Von Pronay.

Some park users were taken aback by the 11 landing sites proposed in Norse Flight’s permit application. Von Pronay says they actually won’t need that many.

“When it comes down to it I would be very happy if we get two or three landing spots that we could pick from. Maybe on a glacier somewhere. It’s a permit. Permits can be revoked,” said Von Pronay. 

Von Pronay sees runs into Kachemak Bay State Park as an option he can offer to another type of customer. Ideally, he says, he’d like to fly in people who normally wouldn’t be able to see the park.

“…because [of] disabilities or elderly people, like I used to fly up in Denali park, and give them a chance to see Kachemak Bay [State] Park. And then you spend maybe 20 minutes on the ground…maybe half an hour. They take their photos and walk around and then you leave,” said Von Pronay. 

He estimated he’d probably fly one helicopter in and out of the park maybe four times per week.

Jack Blackwell with the State Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation is Superintendent for the Kenai and Prince William Sound State Parks. He says aircraft can already be used in certain areas of Kachemak Bay State Park. 

“On saltwater, gravel bars, Emerald Lake, China Poot Lake, Hazel Lake and Petrof Lake...,” said Blackwell. 

Aircraft are also allowed in the state wilderness park area; on saltwater, saltwater beaches or anywhere authorized by the Director of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Helicopters have been allowed to land in the park in the past on a case-by-case basis.

“…a person may not land a helicopter in Kachemak Bay State Park without a permit from the director,” said Blackwell.

The state relies on a management plan to run the park. They’ll use it to decide whether to approve Norse Flight’s permit. Specifically they’ll review the purpose for the park’s creation, state regulation, potential damage to the park, and potential impacts to other park users. The park’s management plan was written in 1995 and Blackwell says it’s being revised. He says it won’t be ready for another year and a half at the earliest.

He also says the Director of Parks and Outdoor Recreation could issue a decision on Norse Flight’s permit as soon as the end of March. 

Scholz says the best thing they can do is say no. He’s seen a lot of debates over changes in park use and he’ll keep fighting to keep things the same.

“The next thing I can remember were jet skis that were proposed, and then helicopters and now helicopters again. I think it’s something to be vigilant about to keep it like it is, a quiet place. There’s not many like it in the world,” said Scholz. 

Von Pronay says he believes there’s room for a compromise that everyone can live with. 

The Kachemak Bay State Park Citizen Advisory Board recommended the state wait until its management plan was updated before a decision is made.

Blackwell says people concerned about park management should always feel free to send written comments to the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. 

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