Blocked access to Lake Benka frustrates locals

Photo posted on social media showing a fence blocking access to Lake Benka on August 10, 2022.

Lake Benka enthusiasts were surprised last week when a fence was erected blocking public access to the lake. Since that time, access to the lake has become a community-wide controversy. Some question the possibility of enjoying the popular recreation area in the future.

Joe Leply has owned his property on Lake Benka for thirty-five years. During this time, he knew the public access point was a beautiful place where community members could launch boats and enjoy the lake.

Last week, he heard the sound of a pile driver coming from his neighbour’s house. It turns out the pile driver was being used to erect a fence to block off the only developed public access point to the lake.

“So when I heard it, I called the Mat-Su district and the enforcement officer came out that day and went there to talk to people, but you couldn’t talk to the owner of the thing, you had to talk to his lawyer.

The Lake Benka subdivision was built in the 1960s and the current public access point has been widely used as the only realistic access to the lake. Boats enter here, the Department of Game and Fisheries uses the site to stock the lake, and firefighters pull their water trucks to the water’s edge and refill from here. In fact, water from Lake Benka was used to fight the Malaspina Fire in 2019, which threatened several homes in the area.

Fire crews using Lake Benka in 2019. Photo courtesy of Joe Leply

In dispute, there is a small section between where Lakeview Road ends and the beginning of Lake Benka. Both Lakeview Road and Lake Benka are considered public places. Some neighbors claim that there are dishes that show a continuous flow of access between the two. But at least one dish exists that shows a break between the two.

One potential problem, according to Leply, is that not everyone who lives on the lake has the infrastructure to get their boat out of the water in the fall.

“Right now we have seven pontoon boats on this lake that cannot go down.”

Christian Whitecar lives a few kilometers from Lake Benka. He describes how he likes the region.

“We go down there with a trailer, we drop four kayaks, then we go paddling on the lake. You know, go around the lake, then pull back and go. And a lot of people do that. Lots of people who live on the lake, but lots of people who don’t live on the lake go there and paddle. It’s very open to the public and usually you see a lot of other people than us.

After the fence was erected, many community members were upset. The Mat-Su district received many complaints, which led them to launch an investigation on how to solve the problem. In the meantime, someone has taken the matter in hand. Twenty-four hours after the fence was put up, it was demolished and forcefully destroyed.

Signage and fencing that had blocked access to Lake Benka and was later demolished. Photo by Colleen Love – KTNA

Stefan Hinman is the director of public affairs for Mat-Su ward. He says it will be at least a few weeks before borough attorneys can go through all the documents regarding access to Lake Benka and make a decision.