House Finance Committee approves marked access on Campbell Lake easements

In a 7-4 vote this afternoon, the House Finance Committee passed an amendment calling for marked access and signage to the public access easements on Campbell Lake, in Anchorage. The committee spent the last two days hearing budget amendments.

The amendment was introduced by Representative Andy Josephson (D – Anchorage). It originally called for $50,000, but that amount was reduced to $10,000. Representatives Julie Coulombe (R – Anchorage) and Alyse Galvin (I – Anchorage), the other Anchorage members on the committee, voted for the amendment. Additional yes votes came from Representatives Neal Foster (D – Nome), Dan Ortiz (I – Ketchikan), Frank Tomaszewski (R – Fairbanks), and Sara Hannan (D – Juneau).

In September 2019, the Landmine published a special feature, “The bizarre story of Campbell Lake, the private lake that isn’t.” The story explained that Campbell Lake, long claimed to be private by lakeside landowners, was actually a public lake with public access. After the story was published, hundreds of people commented and sent emails sharing stories of being chased off the lake or denied access by lakeside residents. To date, the story has been shared on Facebook by nearly 10,000 people.

The Landmine subsequently published additional stories demonstrating that millions of public dollars had been spent damming and maintaining the “private” lake and that there had been a decades-long effort by Campbell Lake residents to eliminate public access to the lake.

Less than three months after our initial story, the State of Alaska and Municipality of Anchorage issued a joint statement declaring that Campbell Lake is a public lake, with public access over state-managed section line easements. However, neither the state nor municipality took any action to assert or mark the access easements.

In the years since the joint statement, people have been routinely harassed for using the public access easements. A property owner on the north easement, in particular, has repeatedly initiated unwanted and aggressive interactions with those attempting to carry boats to the lake. One recent social media post claims he harassed a mother trying to take her child on for a walk on the frozen lake until the child began crying. The property owner on the north easement erected a chicken wire fence to prevent people from easily accessing the lake, while the property owners on the south easement piled brush in front of a gate across the easement.

The Landmine has repeatedly requested that the state and/or municipality take action, as some of those who are accosted for trying to use the easement contact us for help. Through a GoFundMe, we were able to raise $2,000 to get the easements surveyed and marked. But the stakes were quickly removed by homeowners. Recently, we shoveled out a trail on the north easement and put up a sign. But that too was quickly removed. A replacement sign was also removed.

You may be wondering why it has taken the state more than three years to act. The answer is simple: former Senator Natasha von Imhof, a wealthy and powerful Alaskan who previously served as co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, lives on the lake. In fact, the section line easement on the south side of the lake crosses her property.

Von Imhof and her husband petitioned the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to vacate the easement in 2005 before undertaking a homebuilding project on their lakeside property. But DNR, which may only vacate section line easements if equal or greater access is established, denied their application. Instead, DNR agreed to slightly modify the easement so they could build their home. From our initial story:

After deliberation, the State finalized its decision to vacate the section line easement across the von Imhof property and replace it with the proposed 25-foot pedestrian easement. However, the vacation came with conditions: the von Imhofs would have to remove any existing fences or other man-made obstructions across the new pedestrian easement, and they were prohibited from placing “No Trespassing” signs or other signs meant to deter public use. The von Imhofs agreed.

You can read the decision here. Von Imhof, who did not seek re-election last year, is no longer in the Legislature. In a stunning example of irony, three days ago von Imhof wrote an opinion piece for the Anchorage Daily News titled “Anchorage parks and trails attract and retain a quality workforce.” In the piece, von Imhof argues that, “Anchorage needs more parks, more trails, more public use cabins, more foot bridges, more rest areas — simply more opportunities at every location for every kind of user.”

Despite today’s passage of the amendment, progress is still uncertain. If the amendment remains in the final version of the House budget (it could theoretically be stripped out when the budget is before the entire House), it would need to be added by the Senate to be in the final budget. If the Senate fails to add the amendment, it would become an item subject to the conference committee. A conference committee is a six-member committee (three representatives and three senators) who rectify differences in each budget to determine a final budget. If it makes it through that process, it could still vetoed by Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska), but that is unlikely considering Dunleavy and von Imhof’s long-running distaste for one another.

Despite unknowns, the step taken today is significant. It is the first time, in the decades since the lake was built, that either the State of Alaska or the Municipality of Anchorage have indicated that they intend to protect the public’s right to access the public waters of Anchorage’s largest lake.

Stay tuned as we follow this throughout the budget process.

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8 months ago

It would be interesting to hear von Imhof’s take on this. The whole thing sounds so selfish and entitled, but she really does seem like a rational, community-minded individual. How did she come to believe that interfering with a dedicated public access was warranted?

Alaska Nimby
8 months ago
Reply to  turbodigits

NIMBY — Literally.

8 months ago

Kinda like when she said “the GREEEED is astounding to me” as she advocated for PFD cuts to fund special interests such as her own Rasmusson Foundation?

Campbell Creek Cayaker
8 months ago

I cannot wait to drop in… run the creek and pop out at the lake..

And then just chill on the lake and drink beer. And play music. Loudly. Zappa.

Then drag my junkshow across this easement and laugh at the Cake Eaters who think they have their own private Idaho.

8 months ago

Dunleavy could veto the signage funds “but that is unlikely considering Dunleavy and von Imhof’s long-running distaste for one another.”

That tells us everything we need to know about Dunleavy.

NoNimbys in Anchorage
8 months ago
Reply to  tom

Yep. He understands Alaskan’s legal access rights.

You must live along the lake. See you this summer.