The state’s Division of Parks will seek authority on the Chilkoot River Road, investigate bear-viewing platforms or elevated walkways, and pursue funding for a management plan of the area following a crowded Dec. 3 meeting in Haines.

The state may try to get more “bear monitors” in the area next summer as an interim measure.

About 40 residents attended the meeting, called by state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, and attended by state parks officials, including division director James King.

Thomas said crowding at the popular bear-viewing site makes a tragedy there imminent and poses liability concerns for the state, which issues permits for tours there.

Thomas and forester Roy Josephson, local representative of the Department of Natural Resources, voiced support for a loop road into Chilkoot Lake campground as a potential long-term solution to crowding on the road there.

While some endorsed a one-way loop, resident Roger Maynard said a two-way road would allow campers to drive directly to their sites, effectively diverting traffic away from the riverside.

Others, including some tour operators and Lutak Road residents, said more roads would only encourage more traffic and endorsed increased controls on traffic on the road during peak times of bear activity. The existing road is fine most of the year, they said.

“If you build it, the cars will come. The more you make it bigger, the more people will come and fill that spot,” said tour operator Dan Egolf, who takes cruise passengers on bear tours there.

State officials brought maps showing three alternative alignments for the road, and a diagram showing a new, enlarged campground about 3,000 feet west of the existing lakeside campground. They were quick to point out the road alternatives were drawn for discussion purposes only.

“There hasn’t been any route even walked out there. We just have an idea of realigning the road,” said Haines park ranger Preston Kroes.

Kroes described the road as the “weak link” for parks workers. “We really don’t have authority over the parking. Once we have that as an initial, first step, we can start to manage the people and the traffic and the congestion with more authority.”

Fish and Game biologist Anthony Crupi, who has studied Chilkoot bears more than a decade, said most bear activity occurs within 500 yards of the river and that two proposed road alignments – colored red and orange on a blow-up map of the area used at the meeting – straddle either side of day beds used by bears. “It’s a super-complex issue.”

Forester Josephson supported a road alignment that would connect with the former Glory Hole Road, a route that might be away from bear traffic.

Bill McRoberts, a volunteer Chilkoot bear monitor the past three years, said traffic was the biggest problem, particularly moving cars and keeping them out of no-parking zones when the park ranger is absent. “You only have one person with a badge. If we have to try to enforce it in any way, we need to find (park ranger Kroes), and if he’s not out there, good luck… That’s 90 percent of your problem, right there.”

Rep. Thomas expressed optimism the state Department of Transportation would turn over authority for the road to Division of Parks. “They don’t want the road anyway.”

Thomas said a second meeting would be held in early January to discuss a proposal to include the Chilkoot Inlet estuary, Chilkoot River, Chilkoot Lake and the lake’s headwaters – including Connelly Lake, site of a proposed hydroelectric dam – into a state recreation area. The area would extend 9.3 miles and its widest point would stretch nearly three miles.

Such a change would require legislation. “The idea is to protect the whole watershed, you need to control the whole system,” said Mike Eberhardt, Southeast area parks superintendent.

Thomas said he didn’t know why Connelly was included in a draft map of the proposed area. He said the purpose of such a change was to put all the lands around Chilkoot into a single jurisdiction.