Alaska nonprofit buys land for public use, conservation

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Map of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. (Wikimedia Commons)
Map of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. (Wikimedia Commons)
A swath of land that would be otherwise developed into a Wasilla subdivision has been purchased and preserved for addition into the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge, a nonprofit group announced on Wednesday.

The parcel, which covers more than 917 acres and contains three miles of creek important to all five Alaska species of salmon, was purchased in December for $1.5 million by the Great Land Trust, a nonprofit land-conservation organization.

The land has now been given to the state of Alaska for public use and is open to public access, the trust said. It will be managed as part of, and eventually formally added to, the game refuge.

The land in question — across the street from Machetanz Elementary School — contains several features that are important for healthy fish and wildlife, ranging from uplands to the estuarine habitat at the mouths of the Knik and Matanuska Rivers. The site has long been identified as important for preservation, said Phil Shephard, executive director of the Great Land Trust.

“We looked at 100,000 parcels in the Mat-Su Borough, and this one ranked No. 1,” he said. “It was really great that the landowner was willing to sell.”

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which manages the 28,000-acre Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge, had also singled out the site for its habitat values, Shephard said. “This one’s been a high priority for years and years,” he said.

So why did the state not pony up the money? Shephard said this was a case — like many others — where private organizations, like the Great Land Trust, are able to use a wider range of funding sources to purchase land for preservation than is normally available to state governments. “This is a really good example of a project that works really well as a public-private partnership,” he said.

The $1.5 million price tag was in accordance with appraised market value, Shephard said. Some strict federal rules for appraisal were applied because some of the money used to buy the land came from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant, he said.

An upcoming project will be construction of a four-mile trail and two trailheads, the trust said. The cost of that project is expected to be around $150,000, and the organization has started raising that money, Shephard said.

The Great Land Trust was created in 1995 and so far has conserved more than 9,000 acres of land holding salmon streams, wetlands, historic homesteads and other resources. It took about three years to raise the money needed for the Palmer Hay Flats purchase, the organization said.

Contact Yereth Rosen at yereth(at)alaskadispatch.com

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