A roughly 9-square-mile swampy patch of boreal forest with no official name or boundaries is where Badger Road area residents go to drive off-road vehicles, hunt, trap, cruise fatbikes, camp, pick berries, ski, run sled dogs and more.
Satellite images show it’s the only large piece of undeveloped land in the Badger Road area. It runs from Repp Road north to the Chena River, with Brock Road acting as its western boundary. The river boxes it off to the east.
Miles of undesignated trails snake through the woods, which are owned by the borough, the state and a Native corporation. The trans-Alaska oil pipeline runs through the property, which also houses a few old military bunkers. People have been recreating there for at least the past 50 years, according to nearby residents.
Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward is proposing to make a 166-acre borough-owned parcel into green space, restricting development and raising hopes this will be a first step toward maintaining the woods as an undeveloped public space.
“It is a place where we can get away from the — quote, unquote — city life,” said Mike Ervin, a nearby resident and an official with the Arctic Offroad club. “For me, it’s huge.”
The woods, or portions of it, have gone by many names: Heritage Park, Heritage Forest, Chena Annex and Repp Forest, to name a few. Years ago, the school district reportedly used some of the woods for outdoor education.
Cam Webb, a forest ecologist who lives on the border, has been looking into the history of the area and organized a petition to keep the borough portion of the lands under public ownership with full public access.
On Thursday, Webb presented the petition, including at least 144 signatures, to the Borough Assembly.
Webb calls the woods “Peede trails,” after nearby Peede Road, and said in an interview the area is “quite precious” to him and his neighbors.
“It’s a very, very heavily used piece of land. It’s never been recognized as such,” Webb said. “If it’s lost to public use, there would be a lot of people who would be sad.”
The borough owns a small portion of it. About half of the woods are owned by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Cook Inlet Region Inc. also has significant holdings, borough land records show.
During spring, three borough parcels in the forest were selected to be part of a municipal land sale.
Borough Land Manager Sandra Mota said the tracts, totaling 246 acres, were selected by borough administrators. She knows of no interest among private developers to purchase and develop the land.
The mayor has since removed one 166-acre tract from the land sale, proposing that it be “retained for public use as green space,” according to Ordinance 2019-36.
If approved by the assembly Sept. 12, retention of the parcel would make it ineligible for development.
Ward said in an email that he wants to add the Peede trails to the borough trails inventory.
“In an effort to balance development with recreational access, it is my suggestion to pull the parcel from the land sales offer this fall so that we can craft a development plan that considers best uses of the area,” the mayor wrote.
Two 40-acre parcels that border Brock Road remain on the list of parcels near Peede trails that are to be sold, pending assembly approval.
Webb asked the assembly to consider retaining the two Brock Road parcels. The petition he organized asks for all of the borough parcels near the Peede trails to be considered for retention.
“Part of the issue is it’s not good development land. It’s very wet,” Webb said.
Hundreds of lots are for sale in the Badger Road and rural North Pole area, according to www.peedetrails4all.org.
The group is also raising concerns about air quality should the borough sell off the lands, potentially increasing the density of homes in an area with excessive pollution from wood smoke.
Area residents contacted said the woods are heavily used by military-connected people.
Rod Pangborn is a dog musher and guide who has crossed the Peede trails to travel through the backcountry to Canada from his house.
“It connects to a huge network of trails,” he said.
To the north of the Peede trails, across the Chena River, is the community of Two Rivers. It’s also about 3 miles west of the Moose Creek Dam and the Chena Lake Recreation Area.
Pangborn has used the Peede trails to access the Chena River to travel to downtown Fairbanks from his North Pole home.
“It’s a very large part of our lives. We are probably out there 200 days a year. It’s huge to have that access close by within walking distance.”
Bob McAlpin, who also lives in the area, agreed. He has taken friends by dog sled from his house to downtown Fairbanks for coffee and sandwiches.
“I can just hook up a team right here and go,” he said.
At the same time as the pending land sale, the borough is working on a community development plan for the Badger Road area to Salcha.
A majority of respondents to borough surveys have said they want more green space.
Kellen Spillman, deputy planning director, said the Badger Road area has few designated trails compared with other areas of the borough.
“This is the fastest-growing area of Fairbanks, and we are kind of losing the opportunity to make more trails in there,” he said.
Area residents interviewed said they know of no other areas to recreate as conveniently located as the Peede trails.
All-terrain vehicles, such as four-wheelers and side-by-sides, are prohibited at Chena Lakes, they said.
“If I allow myself to dream big,” Webb told the assembly, “I envision public access to this forest being safeguarded into the future by the creation of an official recreation area.”
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.