Judge orders Frank Pugh to restore Stewart Trail public access

Frank Pugh must remove a portion of his gate and restore pedestrian access to the historic Stewart Trail in upper Potter Valley, according to an order issued Monday by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby. The order establishes the existence of a 15-foot-wide pedestrian easement on the Stewart Trail, requires Pugh to remove a portion of his gate at least 32 inches wide, and bars Pugh from posting signage claiming that the public may not access or use the Stewart Trail.

The order marks a major victory in a years-long battle to restore access to the Stewart Trail, a scenic low-angle route that traverses a ridge below McHugh Peak and provides access to Chugach State Park.

Click the image below to read the Order in PDF format

Order to Pugh to remove gate

In 2012, Anchorage residents Frank and Oksana Pugh purchased a 120-acre parcel in upper Potter Valley bisected by a portion of the Stewart Trail. In late 2015, Frank Pugh expanded an existing vehicle gate across the entrance of the trail with rebar and barbed wire. Pugh developed an extensive network of surveillance cameras along the trail and frequently confronted those who attempted to recreate on it, often demanding that trail users sign an “access agreement” affirming that Pugh exercised the right to control the trail. At one point, Pugh demanded the arrest of legislators and Landmine staff for using the trail without his permission.

The Municipality of Anchorage repeatedly instructed Pugh to remove his gate and restore access to the Stewart Trail, but took no action against Pugh when he refused to comply, leaving the status of the trail–and the safety of trail users–in a tense limbo.

The Landmine’s 2019 special feature One Man’s Mountain provides extensive backstory of the conflict.

In late 2018, a community group called Friends of the Stewart Trail filed a lawsuit against Pugh and a co-defendant named Mattanaw who owns an adjoining parcel also crossed by the Stewart Trail. In September 2022, Judge Crosby ruled that a prescriptive easement had long existed on the Stewart Trail, affirming that the public had a right to use the trail. However, it was not until yesterday’s order that the conditions under which the trail would be re-opened were established.

Pugh has ten days to comply with the order.

Stewart Trail series

This article is part of the Alaska Landmine's coverage of the Stewart Trail access controversy

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Cat Owner
30 days ago

Can somebody please record and publish footage of frank removing his gate and signage. It also might be fun to have a party celebrating the restored access to the trail. Maybe putting up a piñata in the likeness of frank for the celebration would be exciting.

Chris Reynolds
29 days ago
Reply to  Cat Owner

I honestly appreciate your enthusiasm for restored public access, CO. However, the inflammatory suggestions above make it harder to establish or repair the relationships that will support all the work to be done in the future. Friends of the Stewart Public Trail, and the public the Friends represents, must now turn the corner to work with land owners to apply the law.

Cat Owner
28 days ago
Reply to  Chris Reynolds

You are right. I should do better.

Ed Martin Jr
30 days ago

Appeal !

Actual credentialed journalist (retired)
30 days ago
Reply to  Ed Martin Jr

I mean, that’s his right. But hopefully any appeal will be denied, because the law is on the side of free access and because Frank Pugh has been a dick about this whole thing.

29 days ago

The death of private property, hallmark of communism. Welcome to Biden’s America; expect more of this.

29 days ago
Reply to  acfak

Cry more con.

Bob Shoe
29 days ago
Reply to  acfak

If communism is respecting historic public access easements, then call me Karl. It’s amazing Biden has the power to have his hand in Alaskan property access disputes.

28 days ago
Reply to  acfak

I’m a huge property rights guy myself. Libertarian in mindset, but there is a long established history of continued use when it comes to established easements whether platted or not. The use of this access was long established before this owner purchased the property.

28 days ago
Reply to  acfak

Mine all mine no mountain for anyone else. You guys need to go back to kindergarten and learn a little about sharing

27 days ago

Yay Paxson! Let’s go hiking!! It’s a good trail to xc ski too.