State sues Anchorage homeowners over contested public access to Campbell Lake

a Picture of a lake with blue skies and green grass
Campbell Lake in Anchorage on Tuesday. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

The State of Alaska has sued a group of homeowners over public access to Campbell Lake, the latest move in a long-running dispute over the large man-made lake in South Anchorage that is surrounded by expensive homes.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ lawsuit, filed in state court Monday, is against residents Gordon Franke, Gregory Schumacher and John Frost as well as a homeowners’ association in the area, Campbell Lake Owners. The issue entered the public eye after a 2019 Alaska Landmine story about the absence of public access to the lake, which was created when Campbell Creek was dammed in the 1950s.

The natural resources department is asking a judge to declare that Campbell Lake is a public lake — not a private one. Plus it wants a judge to confirm the existence of public access to the lake.

But the homeowners argue that state easements allowing access to the lake aren’t valid. Two of them, Franke and Frost, filed a lawsuit in federal court in April against DNR Commissioner John Boyle. They claim that federal law governs the lake — and that a 2019 statement by the department and the Municipality of Anchorage asserting public access rights to the lake has harmed them by encouraging trespassing on private yards, littering, physical damage “and serious invasion of their privacy.”

Attorneys for Franke and Frost couldn’t be reached Tuesday for comment on the state’s lawsuit.

The state says it filed its lawsuit to protect Alaskans’ rights to access public waters, and to resolve the decades-old disagreement between the private landowners and the public.

Dana Burke, a senior assistant attorney general with the state, said Tuesday that the case hinges on two questions: whether the lake’s easements are valid, and whether the lake is privately owned as the homeowners claim.

“The state contends that it is a public lake by virtue of the fact that Campbell Creek, which underlies Campbell Lake, is and always was a water of the state and prior to statehood a public water,” Burke said.

Burke said the different jurisdictions under which the homeowners and the state filed their suits are based on those competing claims. He also noted that the state has spent years explaining its side of the case to the homeowners and arguing for public access to the lake.

“We believe the case properly belongs in state court to resolve both the right-of-way issue and the lake ownership issue — and so you can say that the state didn’t fire the first shot,” he said.

The state ultimately hopes to establish a balance between public users’ right to visit the lake, Burke said, and the homeowners’ private property rights against trespassers.

“The important thing for us is to establish public access and public use, in a manner that respects riparian rights – meaning upland owner rights – and creates a peaceful rather than a contentious situation there on the lake,” he said.

The state plans to present its defense against the homeowners’ suit in federal court early next month, according to Burke.

Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Chris here.

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