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SOP, Inc. v. State, Department of Natural Resources

Supreme Court of Alaska

July 19, 2013

SOP, INC., Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, DIVISION OF PARKS AND OUTDOOR RECREATION, BEN ELLIS, in his capacity as Director, Appellees.

Appeal from the Superior Court No. 3AN-11-05670 CI of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Patrick J. McKay, Judge.

Patrick Gilmore, Atkinson, Conway & Gagnon, Anchorage, for Appellant.

John T. Baker, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellees.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, and Bolger, Justices, and Carpeneti, Senior Justice pro tem.[*]

OPINION

STOWERS, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

The Nancy Lake State Recreation Area ("the Park")[1] was established by the Alaska Legislature for public recreation. The Park's governing regulations prohibit the use of motorized vehicles off of the Park's paved roads. However, the Park issues special use permits to owners of private property abutting the remote boundary of the Park that grant them the right to use all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) along the Butterfly Lake Trail to access their private property. The ATVs have damaged the Butterfly Lake Trail and the surrounding wetlands.

SOP, Inc. sued to enjoin the Park from issuing these ATV permits. SOP moved for summary judgment, and the Park filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. Superior Court Judge Patrick J. McKay denied SOP's motion and granted the Park's motion, concluding "there is nothing in the statutes or regulations that justifies court intervention and invalidation of the permits."

SOP appealed. We hold that the permits created easements because the Park cannot revoke the permits at will. Easements are disposals of property. The Alaska Constitution prohibits the Park from disposing of property that the legislature has set aside as a state park. Thus, we find the permits are illegal and we reverse.

II. FACTS & PROCEEDINGS[2]

A. History Of Nancy Lake State Recreational Area And The Butterfly Lake Trail

In 1966 the Alaska Legislature established Nancy Lake State Recreation Area for the purpose of public recreation.[3] The Park's lands "are reserved from all uses incompatible with their primary function as public recreation land."[4] The Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources has the authority to designate incompatible uses in the Park by regulation.[5] The Park is located near Willow and contains a chain of lakes connected by canoe portages.

In the 1960s, before the Park's establishment, a local property owner created a trail for winter snowmobile use from Lynx Lake to Butterfly Lake. This trail is now within the boundaries of the Park, and the Park converted part of it into a park trail known as the Butterfly Lake Trail. The Butterfly Lake Trail is the only practical way to travel via land to certain areas of remote private property outside the Park.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough plat denotes these private properties as having only fly-in access. The plat's designation of fly-in-only access was a condition of its approval by the borough's planning board, and some landowners specifically purchased land there because they valued a remote homestead with limited access. However, more recently, the owners of some of these properties have placed their properties for sale and are advertising them ...


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