Alaska Supreme Court rules state has right of way to waterbodies near Copper River

    "Klutina River" by Accretion Disc is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Alaskans can continue to use Klutina Lake Road to access Klutina Lake and Klutina River, according to an Alaska Supreme Court decision issued today.

    The Department of Transportation & Public Facilities maintains the nearly 25-mile dirt road near the community of Copper Center. The court agreed with the State, concluding that this public right-of-way, obtained under a federal statute enacted in 1866 known as Revised Statute 2477, is not limited to ingress and egress.

    “This is a big win for public access for Alaskans, not just along the Klutina River but for other public access rights of way across Alaska,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “In a state with very little road access, we must defend the public’s access rights across these types of roads and trails that provide hunting and fishing, recreational, and resource development opportunities.”

    The ruling arose from a dispute regarding the Brenwick-Craig Road, known locally as the Klutina Lake Road a single lane, dirt road running along the Klutina River from Copper Center on the Richardson Highway to the outlet of Klutina Lake. Most of the road travels over land owned by Ahtna, Inc., a regional Alaska Native corporation. The Alaska Supreme Court rejected Ahtna’s argument that its claim of aboriginal title could negate the State’s claim to the RS 2477.

    The Alaska Supreme Court also reversed a lower court ruling that limited use of the road to ingress and egress only, prohibiting the public from, among other things, using the road to access Klutina River and Klutina Lake. Prior to the lower court ruling, the public had used this road to access these navigable waters for more than 100 years.

    The court left open the question of whether the State can build new facilities such as rest areas, boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites within the right of way, saying that must first be evaluated by the superior court in light of guidance provided by the decision.

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