UPDATE: As a result of public input, the comment period has been extended to February 1, 2024. 

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation posted public notices of public scoping for possible updates and revisions to DNR regulations involving PWCs ( personal watercraft or jet skis ) and UAVs ( unmanned aerial vehicles or drones ) on November 15, 2023. The current deadline for public input is December 29. Please read the following letter from Fairbanks Paddlers president, Don Pendergrast, who learned of these notices as a member of the Citizens Advisory Board for Alaska State Parks, Northern Region

Fairbanks Paddlers,

I currently serve on the Citizens Advisory Board for the Alaska State Parks, Northern Region. This of course includes some of our favorite paddling sites and access points like the Chena River State Recreation Area, many State Recreation Sites (Chena River, Upper and Lower Chatanika River, Clearwater River, Birch, Harding, and Quartz Lakes, and many more). There is the potential for some regulation changes over all of our State Parks concerning Personal Water Craft, PWCs (that’s Jet Skis), and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAVs (that’s Drones).

The primary step to include input from the public is called scoping. In this case the scoping period started on November 15, 2023 and will close on December 29, 2023. There was essentially no public announcement for this scoping period only a notice on the DNR website, and the period included both Thanksgiving and Christmas, a time when when the average State Park user is not particularly focused on public comments.

So I’ll ask you two things:
1) Complain loudly about the lack of public notice, the comment period over the holidays, and ask for a 60 day extension. Call Ricky Gease, State Parks Director at 907-269-8700.
2) Make your comments before the deadline in case there is no extension.

Comments for PWCs (Jet Skis):
https://aws.state.ak.us/OnlinePublicNotices/Notices/View.aspx?id=213231

Comments for UAVs (Drones):
https://aws.state.ak.us/OnlinePublicNotices/Notices/View.aspx?id=213232

Some Talking Points

Each of our State Parks was created by a particular statute, its “enabling legislation”. As a result each State Park is unique and has its own set of regulations and historic and preferred recreational uses. What works well in one park may not work at all in another. Fortunately State Park regulations are tailored to each park, and this system works pretty well.

What could happen is replacing a local “from the bottom up” approach to State Park regulations, that is regulations tied to specific park units, with a “from the top down”, “one size fits all” regulations that are likely to create user conflicts.

Our State Parks are drastically underfunded, and are not at all ready to mitigate any user conflicts that may result from across the board State Parks regulations.

Because recreational use patterns are different in each park, currently the regulations are tailored to those existing uses. Making regulations that effect established recreational uses are certain to create user conflicts. We do not need to go there without serious reflection, study, consideration, and most importantly public input.

According the to US Coast Guard statistics jet skis are the most dangerous of all watercraft, accounting for 30% of all boating accidents, and 36% of all reported boating injuries.

While jet ski use may be appropriate in certain State Parks, the Upper Chena, Chatanika, and Clearwater Rivers are narrow, shallow and often have tight turns. Such waterways are fine for paddle craft, but inappropriate and unsafe for jet skis. Furthermore, in parks with critical habitat and state designated wilderness, like Kachemak Bay State Park, jet skis would likely be a detriment to that habitat and wilderness values, and their use largely unenforceable.

Drones are regulated by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the State Parks have no authority over their airspace. While State Parks could regulate launching (“throwing up” in drone pilot parlance) and flying drones from the ground on State Parks, it is the FAA that controls the airspace. There are stringent regulations for drone use, pilots, power, size, altitude, closeness to humans and animals, and so forth. Alaska State Parks has neither the expertise, manpower, or budget to sufficiently regulate the use of drones.

Please complain and comment,

Don Pendergrast