Public use vs. Private property: Testing the waters of Anchorage's Campbell Lake

Campbell Lake, Sept. 28, 2019 (KTUU)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — It was a cool Autumn day in Anchorage Saturday, with overcast skies and a nip in the air.

“Cold and dark, so not the best rafting weather, but pretty typical for Alaska," said Paxson Woelber, an Anchorage rafter and the creative director of Alaska Landmine, a political blog that first detailed the murky public-private conflict over Campbell Lake last week.

But the weather didn't stop Woelber and a group of other rafters from paddling out to Campbell Lake Saturday. So what makes the Anchorage lake so special?

“It is a beautiful place,” says Anchorage Assembly Member Christopher Constant, who also rafted onto the lake Saturday. “It's surrounded by beautiful homes, but I think one thing that makes it so special — everyone in Anchorage, ask yourself, have you ever been on Campbell Lake?"

The lake is public according to state law, but surrounded by private property, making entry and egress without trespassing a tight-rope walk.

“If the state says it's a public lake, then, why not?" Woelber asks.

Woelber says some have been denied entry to the lake in the past by homeowners claiming it’s private, which is why the small party floated in through the creek.

For Woelber, it was a river rafting trip with a detour.

“So we were really just gonna go paddle Campbell Creek, but Jeff (Alaska Landmine editor Jeff Landfield) wanted to take a little lap around the lake, so we tacked that on to the end of the trip."

For Constant, the trip was also a fact-finding mission.

“I’m interested to see the signage that's been put up that I've heard about, that describes how the lake is private," Constant said.

And this isn't his first trip down the river of exploring public lands.

“Last time I went on one of these adventures was up in the hills with Senator Chris Birch, before he passed away,” Constant recalls, “where we agreed that we really have a duty to ensure that the public has access to public lands and waters."

While the lake is public, it's also a float plane base and a bird sanctuary, so if you get on the water, exercise caution to avoid any accidents.

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