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We Build Alaska

Seeking to block Fish Creek Trail Connection, members of prominent Anchorage family apply to lease public railroad land

Anchorage planners have long sought to connect Spenard’s Fish Creek Trail to the Coastal Trail, better integrating the neighborhood with the city’s extensive multiuse trail network. In recent years, the “Fish Creek Trail Connection” has received significant financial and institutional backing, and was tentatively poised to break ground in 2025.

The most likely plan would route the trail extension entirely on public lands owned and managed by the Alaska Railroad. Now, the Alaska Landmine has obtained documents showing that members of Anchorage’s well-known McCarrey family, several of whom own private property adjacent to the proposed trail, are attempting to preemptively lease a portion of these public lands from the Railroad in order to stymie trail construction.

According to Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions (AMATS), a public planning organization backing the trail, approval of the McCarreys’ lease application would likely halt the entire project.

The Coastal Trail crosses the mouth of Fish Creek, in the Fish Creek Estuary

The Fish Creek Trail Connection

The existing Fish Creek Trail begins at Northwood Park, near Lake Spenard, and roughly follows the creek north as it winds through Spenard’s commercial and residential areas, playgrounds, and woodlands. On a map, the northern portion of the trail system resembles an upside-down tree, with branches leading to numerous cul-de-sacs and streets in the historic mixed-income neighborhood.

In 2018, the trail was extensively renovated and several bridges were replaced, but for planners a significant issue remained: the trail’s lack of connectivity with the rest of Anchorage’s trail network.

Currently, those seeking to access the Coastal Trail from the north end of the Fish Creek Trail can continue up Barbara Street and cross Northern Lights on a pedestrian bridge into the Turnagain neighborhood. But reaching the Coastal Trail from this point requires that nonmotorized users travel on streets without sidewalks, some of which carry heavy traffic loads from nearby West High School.

As planned, the Fish Creek Trail Connection would continue north off the end of the bridge over Northern Lights and follow an Alaska Railroad easement until reaching the Fish Creek Estuary and the Coastal Trail. Numerous people familiar with the project told the Landmine that the most financially and ecologically viable route would follow the easement until nearing the Coastal Trail, at which point it would wind downhill on a gentle switchback through a Railroad-owned parcel before intersecting with the Coastal Trail.

Map showing proposed routes for the Fish Creek Trail Connector, with the most likely route highlighted in green by the Landmine.

In 2021, Anchorage voters approved a $3.95m Parks and Recreation bond that included $100,000 for the Fish Creek Connection. The federal government agreed to match the municipality’s funding at a ratio of approximately 9:1, providing over $1.1 million for the trail.

In 2022, the Municipality began soliciting bids for trail construction.

“Respectfully, I am not in favor of extending it.”

Members of the McCarrey family own an enclave of three adjoining parcels tucked between the railroad tracks, Coastal Trail, and Fish Creek Estuary. A residence, jointly owned by J.L. McCarrey III and Barbara L McCarrey, sits on a hill overlooking the estuary and Cook Inlet. The McCarrey parcels, which have a combined assessed value over $2 million, are accessed via a gated driveway that extends off of the end of Forest Park Dr and crosses the railroad tracks and easement.

According to Alaska Railroad documents, J.L. McCarrey III, Barbara McCarrey, Kristin McCarrey, and Eric Finseth applied to lease .94 acres of Railroad-owned land immediately north of their properties and south of the Coastal Trail — the same area that Fish Creek Trail Connection planning documents call for using for the S-shaped switchback needed to connect the Fish Creek Trail to the Coastal Trail.

The McCarreys’ application states that they wish to lease the land for “Personal Use Access,” and specifies a time period for the lease of “Not to exceed 95 years.”

J.L. McCarrey III, who appears to be the primary applicant on the lease, is a well-known Anchorage attorney and religious community leader. McCarry works as counsel for McKinley Capital Management, a private investment firm founded by Bob Gillam, long known as one of Alaska’s wealthiest residents. According to a website listing officers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, McCarrey served as the President of the Anchorage Temple from 2019-2022.

Reached by phone at the McKinley Capital Management office, McCarrey told the Landmine that he believed the Fish Creek Trail Connection was unnecessary because members of the public could already access the Coastal Trail via existing Turnagain roadways.

“Respectfully I am not in favor of extending [the Fish Creek Trail] to the Coastal Trail,” McCarrey said.

When asked whether he had applied for the lease in order to prevent the construction of the trail, McCarrey replied, “I believe it would be more accurate to say that we are trying to maintain the privacy that we have had for many years.”

The Landmine attempted to contact Kristin McCarrey via phone, but a message was not returned prior to publication.

Click on the thumbnail below to view the McCarreys’ lease application:

“We respectfully request that the Alaska Railroad Corporation refrain from accepting this lease”

At an August 24 meeting, AMATS Executive Director Aaron Jongenelen told participants that if the McCarreys’ lease application is approved, pursuing an alternate route for the Fish Creek Trail Connector would be “hugely impactful, and hugely expensive.” Project costs would increase by an estimated $9 million, Jongenelen said.

The AMATS Policy Committee subsequently approved and sent a letter to Andrew Donovan, the Director of Real Estate at the Alaska Railroad, protesting the proposed lease. The letter states that, if accepted, the McCarreys’ proposed lease could kill the Fish Creek Trail Connection project:

“We respectfully request that the Alaska Railroad Corporation refrain from accepting this lease as it is in direct conflict with the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions (AMATS) active transportation project known as the Fish Creek Trail Connection. Should the proposed lease be granted, it is highly likely that the Fish Creek Trail Connection project will be unable to proceed.”

The letter argues that the Fish Creek Connection would provide provide significant public health and economic benefits to both residents and visitors. It concludes by stating that the long-term benefits of building the trail outweigh the McCarreys’ personal benefits should their lease application be approved.

Click on the thumbnail below to view the AMATS letter:

“We know that the McCarreys oppose the project. And I don’t think that’s a secret.”

In an August 24 phone call, Anchorage Parks and Recreation Director Mike Braniff told the Landmine that while he was understanding of J.L. McCarrey III’s position, the city had an obligation to serve a broad user base.

“McCarrey has a unique property out there,” Braniff said. “I think he enjoys having a secluded property. But I think it’s in the public’s interest and in our department’s mission to develop new recreational and transportation assets that serve the whole community.”

Braniff stated that he did not wish to speculate on McCarrey’s motivation for applying for the lease, but that the McCarrey family’s longstanding opposition to the Fish Creek Trail Connection project was not a secret.

Taylor Keegan, a Parks and Recreation landscape architect, added that she had met with J.L. McCarrey III many times to discuss the project. McCarrey had never explicitly vocalized opposition to the project, she said, but had continually alluded to being against it.

“This is all fairly new to us as far as the lease is concerned,” she said, “but I can’t say the project team saw it as a surprise.”

Alaska Railroad Board

In an August 24 phone call, Alaska Railroad External Affairs Director Meghan Clemens told the Landmine that she was aware the railroad had been working with the Municipality on the Fish Creek Trail Connection.

“We definitely see the benefit of putting a safely designed pedestrian trail along there,” she said, adding that the area had long been bedeviled by trespassing and safety concerns.

Clemens described land leases as a “key part of our revenue model,” but stated the Alaska Railroad had not initiated the McCarreys’ lease request and did not have a position on it.

If approved, she said, the cost of the lease would likely be 8% of the fair market value of the land per year, with adjustments made over time as needed.

Ultimately, Clemens said, the McCarreys’ request would be assessed and voted on by the Alaska Railroad Board, which would weigh the application against community concerns. Clemens said that written public comment would be accepted until September 21, prior to the Board’s meeting on the 22nd.

“I guess we’ll see how the community feels about the lease application,” she said.

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Mimi
8 months ago

Deja vu. The Mccarrey’s tried hard and long to stop the coastal trail.

John Doe
8 months ago
Reply to  Mimi

That’s not true. Judge McCarrey, JL’s father, granted an easement across their property for the Coastal Trail after the city agreed to build a retaining wall and screening fence to maintain their privacy. They did not have to do that. I would imagine the McCarrey’s think they have done enough. I am also curious why Mr. Landfield thought it was necessary to include Mr. McCarrey’s religious affiliations.

Clark
8 months ago
Reply to  John Doe

Wasn’t it more like, in exchange for the fence and $10 million in 1984 money?

Bill
8 months ago

The way the assembly blows thru millions in property tax revenue, I’m sure Mr. Constant can come up with a few million more to put the connecting trail some place else, and not in Mr. McCarrey’s back yard.

NJB
8 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Mr. McCarreys backyard? You mean the one that is public land owned by the Railroad? The one he has not had to spend a dime on paying property taxes?

Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Why should the public pay millions of dollars more to accomodate some rich asshole. He can build a taller fence.

John Doe
8 months ago

Note: A portion of that retaining wall is visible in the first photo. Their property is right behind.

Mike
8 months ago

they probly have a valid reason. But the needs of the meny out way the needs of the few. A subdivision was just put in behind our back40 so I think I know how they feel.

Levi
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike

Your spelling and grammar is that of a third grader.
*probably *many *outweigh
Good grief how could anyone take your comment seriously. It looks like you failed elementary school.

John Doe
8 months ago
Reply to  Levi

It’s called a typo. Adults understand this and look past them.

Tom
8 months ago
Reply to  Levi

You must mean, “Your spelling and grammar ARE that of a third=grader.” Grammar, grammar..

Bob
8 months ago

After looking at the proposed lease area and the “most likely route” images, it appears the path would cross their driveway. I wouldn’t want that either. Alt n2a looks like a better option, and from what I see won’t interfere with the proposed lease at all. Unless I’m looking at it incorrectly. This does look like it’ll have to have a bridge built though.

In any case, if the McCarreys get their lease approved, doesn’t look like it’ll completely kill the project. They won’t have to have a path built over their private driveway.

Cameron
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob

It doesn’t cross their driveway. Their driveway runs to the east side of their home on their property. The proposed connector is to the west and north of their home on public lands.

They are concerned with a trail being part of their view of Cook Inlet, and, I am sure, with vagrancy that often comes with a trail system. It’s understandable. But it’s also part of living in a city. If you want seclusion, I recommend living outside of a city.

J.M.M.
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob

The McCarrey driveway crosses the public lands owned by the railroad (AKA the railroad easement). It’s the McCarreys who are currently utilizing public land for their private use, not the other way around. They have no reasonable expectation that an entire public trail should or would be cancelled just because it would cross their driveway built on public land. The idea that the public should have to spend millions of extra dollars and impact one of our last remaining wild estuaries just to protect the McCarrey family’s aesthetic sensibilities and feeling of ownership over public land is ridiculous. The McCarrey… Read more »

Marc Grober
8 months ago

The truth is that this trail is really unnecessary as it is very easy to connect to the Coastal Trail despite the efforts to slant it otherwise and there are both higher priorities and greater need vis-a-vis millions of deferred maintenance elsewhere.

The project, like so much in Anchorage, is being hustled by a few people in a set of interlocking non-profits and agencies who take pride in making sure that such projects really don’t get weighed and scrutinized by the public.

Surprised that the landmine has not picked up on that part of the story.

NJB
8 months ago
Reply to  Marc Grober

Well this is just nonsense. Your definition of “very easy to connect to” is laughable. A good rule of thumb when judging infrastructure
is would you let your children ride there alone. If the answer is no changes need to be made.

I am curious as to what deferred maintenance you are referring to? If you are referring to any kind of car only specific infrastructure you can take that argument to the dump before you post it here.

Marc Grober
8 months ago
Reply to  NJB

1) from Fish Creek park to Lyn Ary park the route lies on MUT until you are by Northern Lights ready to turn North. If you take Turnagain and you think Turnagain is unsafe, then Turnagain needs fixing! How about redoing sidewalks to 10’, implementing cycletracks? Done. Of course, one could instead take Lord Baranof which might become a cycle boulevard, or quieted with cycletrack, sidewalk and 10’ lanes w medians and chicanes. And the cost oc those interventions is under $60k 🙂 Maintenance? I am talking about MUT bridges collapsing, MUT pavement so bad its almost impassable, path easements… Read more »

NJB
8 months ago
Reply to  Marc Grober

I agree with you on your first point all the way! The issue here lies with public perception. Any introduction of vehicles into the equation, even if separated by physical barriers, is immediately judged to be less safe. The cycle lanes that already exist there are constantly used as snow dumps in the winter, or free parking in the summer. Hence the desire for a fully separated piece of infrastructure. I am with you there though even if I think your costs are not so realistic! I think for the most part that Parks and Rec/AMATS tries to do the… Read more »

Harry the Hedgehog
8 months ago
Reply to  NJB

It’s not just perception. Sharing the road with vehicles (particularly today’s needlessly large vehicles) is dangerous for nonmotorized users. That is partly why it is so important that we create vehicle-free transportation corridors like the one discussed in this story.

NJB
8 months ago

Brother, I totally agree. #TheWarOnCars

Silveraydo 2500
8 months ago

Kooky bikers. All the same.

NJB
8 months ago

I wish gas prices would go up to $15.00 per gallon just for people like you. When was the last time you left your house without using your car?

Donald Smith
7 months ago
Reply to  NJB

Do you ride your bike in the winter on the streets? If you do you are part of the problem.

Donald Smith
7 months ago

The motorized vehicles driven on the roads today are substantially smaller than those of twenty years ago. Your inaccurate assertion is precisely what is wrong with public debate.

NJB
6 months ago
Reply to  Donald Smith

Brother I don’t know what rock you are living under but it must be a dense one. To your points, vehicles are larger and heavier, this is not up for debate as it is objectively true. I am happy to be, “part of the problem” when the sidewalks and bike lanes are not plowed in the winter. Cyclists have every right to the road that a person in a vehicle does. If you are unhappy about this perhaps get on board with building this separate infrastructure?

Harry the Hedgehog
8 months ago
Reply to  Marc Grober

Mr. Grober, the Fish Creek Connection was part of the Anchorage Areawide Trails Plan in 1997 and since that time has been the subject of extensive public process. It has received strong public support because the roads in Turnagain (particular in Forest Park) have no sidewalks and are unwelcoming and dangerous for nonmotorized users. While this trail may not be a priority for YOU, I assure you it is for the hundreds if not thousands of families in Spenard and Turnagain who would immediately and significantly benefit from its presence.

Marc Grober
8 months ago

If the roads are that dangerous then the called for solution is to make them safe
🙂

In this case we are at most talking about 1000’ of Turnagain. Pedestrian and bicycle amenities could be implemented much as i have documented we could do on Pine for some 60K.

Now I have ridden Lord Barrnoff and Turnagain for years and found them no more dangerous, for example, than riding the Moose Loop through MountainView or from Dimond HS to the Dimond Blvd MUT. Maybe you have some substance to offer beyond the drama?

NJB
8 months ago
Reply to  Marc Grober

Ah just saw this comment after posting above. This all hinges on your experience though Mr. Grober! Other people are less willing to participate in recreational/ commuting activities at the mere sighting of a vehicle!

Marc Grober
8 months ago
Reply to  Marc Grober

BTW: Turnagain appears to have a 30’ paved surface, with two 10’ lanes. Maybe we should start by putting curb stops along the shoulder line eliminating unnecessary on street parking and creating cycletracks?

Harry the Hedgehog
8 months ago
Reply to  Marc Grober

So is biking on the roads in Mountain View now the standard for safe nonmotorized cycling in Anchorage? Anything safer than that is needless and wasteful? Give me a break! Yes, the bicycling infrastructure throughout the city should be improved. But the Fish Creek Connection is a near-perfect solution to the problems in this area. It is 100% on public land and it is clearly both the fastest and safest route for nonmotorized users. The routes you say you find acceptable lack sidewalks, involve multiple vehicle intersections, and require riding on roadways that are inevitably filled with snow berms or… Read more »

Harry the Hedgehog
8 months ago

For those wondering how they can contact the Alaska Railroad about this, here is the relevant text from the McCarrey’s lease application:

“Comments may be submitted in writing to the Director, Real Estate, P.O. Box 107500, Anchorage, Alaska 99510-7500 and must be submitted on or before September 21, 2023, after which time the ARRC’s decision to issue a lease may become final. Oral comments may also be presented at the September 22, 2023 ARRC Board meeting. Questions may be directed to the Director of Real Estate at 265-2617.”

Hoi Polloi
8 months ago

I’m so sick of the Alaska rich.

The coastal trail has been in limbo far too long because of these types of people. Oh boo hoo they might have to catch a glimpse of some of us Great Unwashed as they have their caviar elevensies on one of their fifteen decks.

The trail should have been completed and joined with the Bird-Gird trail 20 years ago but somehow these types of people have us all by the short hairs.

john doe
8 months ago
Reply to  Hoi Polloi

I live on the Coastal Trail. I had warmed up steak last night.

I’ve had people cut through my yard to get to the road. Had people throw tennis balls on my lawn for their dogs and not just once and not by mistake. Had people take a short cut between my house and my neighbor when a moose blocked the Trail. Saw a homeless guy setting up camp last night on the beach just below the Trail. Hope he doesn’t set fire to my house. Oh, you say it never happens? Ask anyone who lives on the Trail.

hmm
8 months ago
Reply to  john doe

sounds like you chose to live in a city around other people.

NJB
8 months ago
Reply to  john doe

Ahh and here is the all important question. Which part of the Coastal Trail?

So your fellow neighbors and citizens chose a safe route around an obstinate moose and you are angry about that?

Hope the guy doesn’t set fire to your house? Ohhhh what a dramatic play up that is. Stop clutching to your pearls so tightly when no one is after them.

My guy it sounds like you need to go outside and touch the grass you are so overprotective of and chill, before termination dust comes.

John Doe
8 months ago
Reply to  NJB

I have had people cross my property out of convenience. I’ve had others come through and I’m not sure what their motives were. Cleaned up dog crap which is really cool since I don’t own a dog. This is called trespassing on property I own, property I pay taxes on. In fact, I mailed property tax checks today. I spend a lot of time on the Coastal Trail and walking and biking on public roads and other trails. I was out there again today, had a wonderful time. That’s why I live here. I don’t trespass and I don’t excuse… Read more »

NJB
8 months ago
Reply to  John Doe

I hear you. Totally agree. Doesn’t mean that we can’t build more trails! Perhaps if it was more convenient for some people to access the trails you would see less trespassing incidents!

Hoi Polloi
8 months ago
Reply to  John Doe

I lived in a high density neighborhood with zero trails and still had dumb shit like that happen. You aren’t special, my guy. It’s called life in a city.

I kinda wonder if you’re so huffy about someone leaving footprints on your grass you don’t spring for a fence which would solve the entire “problem.”

Have fun using the trail system which apparently pisses you and a bunch of other richie riches off. Why you use it if you begrudge it so much is beyond me.

John Doe
8 months ago
Reply to  Hoi Polloi

I’m supposed to build a fence because people can’t follow the law? People should use the trails. They should stay on them and stay off private property like mine.

Bob Saget
8 months ago
Reply to  John Doe

This guy complaining about a person crossing his lawn to avoid a moose epitomizes the self-centered attitude of the wealthy people in Anchorage.

John Doe
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Saget

you don’t understand. It was 2 people, both slightly chubby blonde gals in their late 40s. The moose was standing calmly in the Trail so they chose to clomp through the snow and between my house and my neighbors so they could take a short cut. They could have chosen to wait out the moose or go back the way they came. Instead they came across my property as if they owned it. They don’t I do. Self centered? No, just a hard working property owner. My yard is not a rightaway. There is no track and there won’t be.… Read more »

Hoi Polloi
8 months ago
Reply to  John Doe

Wow. Just wow.
You’re a real a-hole.

Hoi Polloi
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Saget

But you don’t understand. It wasn’t one person, it was TWO! And they had the temerity to be slightly chubby AND blonde AND middle aged! The fact that they took a detour to avoid the wild animal means they feel they owned this guy’s land for that 15 second interval! Those blonde, slightly chubby, mid-40s land-takers! What could be more self centered than utilizing an open space briefly to ensure not getting stomped by, or harassing a moose?

Hoi Polloi
8 months ago
Reply to  John Doe

Shrug. I have a fence for all these reasons. You’re not special because you live in a rich area of town. Don’t have a fence, deal with it.

Hoi Polloi
8 months ago
Reply to  john doe

These things happen to people in all parts of town. If you feel that it’s too onerous for you, you should not live there. You knew the trail was there and you knew it was a high use area. Boo hoo you live on the crown jewel of the trail system and other people have the right to be there, what a shame for you.

Seriously, what kind of Alaskan begrudges someone taking a moose detour? What has happened to our state?

John Doe
8 months ago
Reply to  Hoi Polloi

The coastal trail is, indeed, the crown jewel. Enjoy, keep an eye out for the 30 mph e-bikes. My land, on the other hand, is mine. Enjoy the public land.

Ronald Coase
8 months ago

Sounds like the McCarreys should be giving 9 million dollars to AMATS for the reroute.

Trail Hobbit
8 months ago

I suspect the McCarrey family is about to discover that Anchorage residents really love their trails and do not appreciate it when wealthy and privileged people try to shut them down. Hopefully this will be a lesson to others.

Ed Brewer
8 months ago

These are the same folks who blocked the coastal trail for years. Following the rr right of way and staying out of the wetlands (3) seems the best choice

Let's talk about Kristin McCarrey and Eric Finseth
8 months ago

Kristin McCarrey and Eric Finseth live and work in Seattle. They don’t even live in Alaska. So let’s be clear about what is going on here: a couple rich Seattleites are willing to pay many thousands of dollars per year to block a public bike path on public land that happens to run next to land they don’t have a house on in a state they don’t even live in. The absolute pinnacle of richy-rich, me-first, screw-the-community, let-them-eat-cake and bike on the roads with the semis entitlement.

john doe
8 months ago

Are they Mormons?

Plantlady
8 months ago

Good comments by many here. I support the proposed trail. These wealthy homeowners could put their money elsewhere, like helping the unhoused. In the reworking of the trail I hope the city considers removing at least one of the fences on the section from the bridge to the tunnel. They create a hazard for humans and wildlife by having no way to get off the trail. They create blind curves. I have seen accidents with pedestrians and bikers. The roots coming up on the trail are a hazard. An e-bike going too fast around the curve and bumping over the… Read more »

john doe
8 months ago

<< Currently, those seeking to access the Coastal Trail from the north end of the Fish Creek Trail can continue up Barbara Street and cross Northern Lights on a pedestrian bridge into the Turnagain neighborhood. But reaching the Coastal Trail from this point requires that nonmotorized users travel on streets without sidewalks, some of which carry heavy traffic loads from nearby West High School.>> This is not true. You can get onto the Coastal Trail at the end of Marston, down through Lyn Ary or down Woodworth Circle past the old KENI building. Down out of Earthquake Park, down West… Read more »