Mat-Su landowners battle state over access to historic Iditarod Trail

A trial three years in the making began this month in an Anchorage courtroom as a pair of landowners suing the state Department of Natural Resources over access to two trails — including a portion of the historic Iditarod Trail that cuts through their inherited homesteads — hope to keep people off their land.Plaintiffs Kelly Dickson and Donna Defusco, who originally filed the suit in May 2012, say two trails on four parcels aren’t subject to the right-of-way access sought by the state.But the trails have a long history of public use, and blocking access to the land would halt a long tradition of sled dog teams racing and training there, according to state attorney Kent Sullivan.The property is in the Knik area, near the intersection of Burma and Moore roads. The plaintiffs’ father, Benjamin Cowart, homesteaded it in 1958 and he received a patent from the federal government in 1962 documenting true ownership of the land, according to the plaintiffs’ trial brief.Two public rights-of-way cross the Cowart homestead parcels, Sullivan said. They include a portion of the historic Iditarod Trail known as the Knik to Susitna Trail. The second right-of-way is called Homestead Road, established in 1958 and used by homesteaders to access their property, according to the state.The right-of-way designation allows use for access and recreation, said Jim Walker, natural resource manager leading the Public Access Assertion and Defense Unit within the Division of Mining, Land and Water.”In addition to recreation, they provide access so that landowners can reach their own property; so that parties can reach state lands, waters, parks and other destinations; so that parties can use and enjoy the natural resources of the state; etc.,” Walker said in an email. Adolf Zeman, attorney for Dickson and Defusco, said access is not an issue, as three roads around the property eliminated the required use of the two private routes.Walker said he is not aware of any other state court litigation involving rights of way and the Iditarod Trail. Similar instances were discussed, and agreements were reached out of court, he said. The Iditarod National Historic Trail encompasses 1,500 miles of trails open to public use, according to the Bureau of Land Management. It runs from Seward to Nome and includes portions like Crow Pass between Girdwood and Eagle River and passes through the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge. The current Iditarod Trail that serves as the route for the famous sled dog race begins farther north, in Willow.For full article:


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