You can find Chickaloon Branch Trail on Google Maps. It runs past Drill Lake off of the Glenn Highway out past Sutton.
You can drive on it, too, if you’d like. But how fast you can drive depends on Charles Lone Wolf and whether the state has removed his homebuilt detour.
Lone Wolf and the state are butting heads over the road, with each asserting ownership. The state says its job is to keep access to the road open. It’s the state’s road, after all. A public road.
Lone Wolf asserts the road is private, which means the part of it crossing his land is his.
Lone Wolf doesn’t mind if people use it, but he says the road is his and he should get to decide how fast people can drive on it. He wants to keep it a safe place for his grandkids and his dogs. Five mph is what he thinks is safe.
Lone Wolf raises an interesting question.
The state maintains that the road has been public since the early part of the 20th century — before Alaska was a state — when mining was booming there and numerous now-defunct trails were carved out of the wilderness.
But Lone Wolf contends the trail disappeared when mining did. It wasn’t there when the state took over roads in the area. Homesteaders built a road to access their property, and that’s the road that’s there now.
Bottom line for Lone Wolf, though, is that when he bought his property there wasn’t a public right of way listed on his title. So for the last 20 years he thought he had a clear title to the land. Now the state’s saying he doesn’t.
If Lone Wolf is right and the state is asserting a right of way based on a road that served a mining community that no longer exists, what are the implications?
What about old Knik? That place was a boomtown in the gold rush but is now the type of place people find artifacts in the mud. And there was a warren of historic trails and roads through that area. Does the state retain rights of way authority over those long-vacant trails?
Lone Wolf brought up Susitna Landing, a bustling community in its heyday, before disease decimated the population there. Who’s to say there aren’t rights of way there the state might want to take ownership of some time?
We tried to ask the state about this, but the communication we received did not include a response to Lone Wolf’s fears about “resurrecting ghost communities” to assert rights of way across private lands.
So here we are, left with a pretty disturbing, and thus far unanswered, question: does anybody really have clear title to their land?