Judge rules that Anchorage’s historic Stewart Trail is open to the public

On Thursday, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby ruled that a public easement exists on the historic Stewart Trail, which traverses a ridge below McHugh Peak in Anchorage’s upper Potter Valley. The ruling comes after a years-long controversy surrounding trail use, which began in 2015 when landowner Frank Pugh, who owns a lot bisected by the Stewart Trail, erected a crude metal gate across the entrance to the trail and attempted to prevent the public from accessing or using it.

Pugh ignored repeated demands by the Municipality of Anchorage to remove the gate, which the city determined to be illegal. Pugh also rejected monetary offers from community groups to remove the gate and establish a recorded easement on the trail, thereby avoiding litigation. Sources with knowledge of the negotiations told the Landmine that Pugh demanded more money than nonprofits were willing to spend to reopen access that was widely considered public already.

Crosby’s ruling is a stinging rebuke to Pugh, who spent years confronting, following, covertly filming, calling for the arrest of, and threatening Anchorage residents who attempted to recreate on the historic Anchorage trail. Pugh twice demanded the arrest of members of the Alaska Landmine for using the trail in conjunction with our reporting.

Crosby’s ruling states that the Stewart Trail handily meets the criteria for a public prescriptive easement, but does not require any specific action (such as the removal of Pugh’s gate). An order from Crosby, also issued with Thursday’s ruling, gives the parties thirty days to communicate which actions they would like to be taken next. It is likely that the Friends of the Stewart Trail, a community group that brought the lawsuit against Pugh, will request removal of Pugh’s gate and an end to Pugh’s unwanted interactions with trail users.

Below are the Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law and Order issued Thursday.

Frank Pugh Stewart Trail document 1

Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law

Frank Pugh Stewart Trail document 2

Order

The bench trial, Friends of the Stewart Trail vs. Franklin D. Pugh, Jr., et al, was held between January 18 and March 2, 2022 in Anchorage. Crosby’s determination that the Stewart Trail meets the criteria for a public easement focused on trail use during a time period of 1986 to 2012, and hinged on whether the prior owners of Pugh’s lot and an adjacent lot had taken any action to prevent the establishment and use of a public easement on the trail. Crosby concluded that the prior owners had not, and therefore a public prescriptive easement had already been long established by the time Pugh purchased the lot.

The Alaska Landmine first reported on the Stewart Trail in the special feature “One Man’s Mountain,” published December 2, 2019.

Stewart Trail series

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

Subscribe
Notify of

13 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 month ago

This is great.
Looking forward to seeing piles and bags full of dog crap left by their owners.

Some guy
1 month ago
Reply to  Richie Romero

Yeah. That will likely be an unfortunate side effect.

J.R.H.
1 month ago
Reply to  Richie Romero

Richie, with how often you comment on Landmine I kinda doubt you’re hiking much. Regardless, if Frankie Pugh didn’t want to own land with a public hiking trail on it, he didn’t have to buy land with a public hiking trail on it. Maybe he can put out a trash can or provide some poop bags for the folks he denied access to for the better part of a decade.

Mark
1 month ago
Reply to  J.R.H.

Why should he provide that service? If the city is forcing the issue they should now be responsible for the trail and ensure proper maintenance. This would also include periodic surveillance of the trail to keep is clean.

Geoff
29 days ago
Reply to  Mark

Wrong on that! It wasn’t the city, but the trail users… FOST.

29 days ago
Reply to  J.R.H.

Only hike about 10 miles a week lately. It’s been rainy. Thank you for reading my posts. I must have made an impression.

Some guy
1 month ago

Great news for the folks who have historically used this trail for access to land beyond the property it bisects. Whatever happened with the Campbell lake access debacle?

Some guy
28 days ago
Reply to  Paxson Woelber

What about the property that the city dropped a huge wad of money to build a fence for only to tear it down and rebuild because it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing or something like that

Bill
1 month ago

What’s the parking situation? Legal to just park on the side of the road?

Erik Wassell
28 days ago

It will be interesting to see if this holds up.

One thing I notice is never mentioned is that there *is* access to the upper rabbit creek valley through the well developed McHugh Creek trail.

J.S.K.
19 days ago

Looking forward to using this trail often and with many friends.