Fans of the increasingly popular Reed Lakes trail in Hatcher Pass might have noticed an unsightly problem piling high around both the upper and lower lakes: discarded toilet paper and poorly concealed human waste. Now state crews are working to fix the problem.
The 8.7-mile out and back Reed Lakes trail begins off Archangel Road in Hatcher Pass and gains over 2,000 feet to Upper Reed Lake, with Lower Reed Lake at a midpoint on the trail. Hikers must cross boulder fields to get to the final destination, known for its breathtaking summer views and cold alpine water.
The lakes have also become popular overnight destinations. Managed by Alaska State Parks, they have no official tent areas or latrines. That leaves the tundra surrounding them vulnerable to erosion from overuse and unsanitary conditions as many users ignore backcountry best practices, such as burying waste and packing out used toilet paper.
“Unfortunately, people don’t practice ‘leave no trace’ and they don’t pack out their poop paper or anything else as they would in so many wilderness areas.” said Stuart Leidner, superintendent for the MatSu Valley area state parks. “When the trail crew went up ... they had a very hard time finding a place that didn’t have toilet paper everywhere. The public is using it to death.”
To address the issue Leider is leveraging federal and private grant money to perform deferred maintenance on the trail leading to the lakes, installing several gravel tent platforms at both lakes and starting construction on a pit latrine and a composting latrine, he said. The trail maintenance and tent platforms will be completed this season, while completion of the latrines may stretch into next year, he said, weather and timing dependent.
Recording-breaking park use throughout the state over the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a flood of both winter and summer visitors to Hatcher Pass and up Archangel Road. The road is open to vehicles in the summer and groomed for skiing by the Mat-Su Ski Club in the winter.
Leidner acknowledges that a lack of toilets and the small and difficult to navigate parking area at the Reed Lakes trailhead is also a major problem, fixing that is a more complicated and expensive project, he said.
“Putting in pit latrines in the backcountry is a major process, but it’s not the same as putting in what is going to be appropriately scaled for the trailhead,” he said.
While the lakes can be adequately serviced by a pit or composting latrine, the trailhead will require a full pit toilet, he said. But the age and construction of a wooden bridge leading to the trailhead means the heavy equipment needed for that installation can’t get to the area. And because the area is on bedrock, simply digging isn’t an option.
The best solution currently under consideration, Leidner said, is extending the trail and completely relocating the trailhead further down Archangel Road to a spot where officials could solve some of the parking problem and officials could install toilets. But such a project could be years away.
In the meantime, users need to get better at practicing the simple leave no trace principles such as burying waste and packing out all trash, he said.
“As the public, if you’re going into the backcountry it’s your responsibility to treat it as if it was your own, because it is,” he said.