A plan to put a community garden and a food forest into Chanshtnu Park in Muldoon is causing some to question whether the public plantings will attract moose and bears into the park where children play.

Others, however, are urging the city to stick with the park's master plan, approved in 2016, which included both elements.

Kristi Wood is one of many people who worked for years to get the park off the ground. She is also nurturing a small orchard in the backyard of her parent's house, which will become the park's food forest.

"A public food forest is a place that anyone can come and enjoy fruit, that is just naturally growing in that setting that you've set up," said Wood.

In this case it will include 40 to 50 fruit trees as well as berry bushes. Wood said all the trees have been donated by different community members and organizations, at a cost ranging from $5,000 to $7,000.

Wood is skeptical that bears will be a problem. She said she's researched the issue, pointing to an orchard near the Muldoon park whose owner has never reported a problem with bears.

But Jerrianne Lowther, a longtime Muldoon residents and an original supporter of the park, isn't so sure. She said both the community garden, which she once supported, and the food forest are good ideas but not for this particular park.

The fact that the park includes Chester Creek, a salmon stream and a heavily wooded greenbelt that backs up to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson make it a hotspot for bears. Lowther's worried the plantings will attract the wrong kind of wildlife, too close to where children are playing.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Dave Battle shares some of Lowther's concerns.

"We haven't come out with a hard line to say they shouldn't do that at all, but we have expressed concern and want to urge caution in what is planted and how it's managed," Battle said. "Anything edible has the potential to attract moose and bears, and we just want to make sure that everyone is weighing all the factors before they put something like this in."

City parks planner Steve Rafuse said he feels confident the project should go ahead as is. He said the forest area and community garden will be fenced and a management plan will be put in place.

The park's master plan was a long time in the making, Rafuse said, and included public input that favored both the garden and the food forest.

Rafuse said the project has also received several grants, including a $750,000 grant from the federal government that was awarded with the understanding that the public plantings were part of it.

Ultimately, he said, the project will have to be approved by the municipality's Parks and Recreation and Urban Design commissions before it can go through.

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