While nothing has been finalized, the Municipality of Skagway has begun the process of purchasing 13 acres of property in Nahku (Long) Bay.
Borough assembly members discussed the purchase in multiple executive sessions, so as to finalize certain negotiations, and agreed to purchase the property.
“We’re on our way to making this final without saying we’ve committed yet. We still have a bunch of paperwork to do,” Skagway Mayor Mark Schaefer said. “There’s a whole process to go through, but conceptually we are buying it, and I think the whole Matthews family is happy with that.”
Bud Matthews owned the beachfront property until his death last year. It was his mission to keep the land’s natural beauty untouched and wild, with zero commercial activity. After his passing, the land belonged to his children. Son James Matthews wished to keep it in the family, but he was unable to buy out his siblings. And so the municipality stepped in.
Skagway Borough Manager Scott Hahn said negotiations have yet to be finalized, but the general idea seems to be acceptable to both parties. Due to finalizing contracts, closing costs etc., Hahn was unable to give a purchase price, but said a figure should be available in the next three weeks.
Payment for the property will be taken from the municipality’s J.M. Frey Land Fund, which as of May 31 had an unreconciled balance of $4.3 million. A land assessment conducted in January appraised the land and two structures on it at $385,600.
“That we use money from land sales to purchase a piece of property is appropriate and in this case, very fitting,” Schaefer said. “We’re trading monetary money in the bank for a real property asset. There’s really no loss here.”
Schaefer said the municipality hopes to preserve and protect the area from development. What will happen to the cabins on the property is one of many details that will be worked out in the future.
“There’s a large amount of support in the community for it,” he said.
Long Bay resident Michael Yee has supported the preservation of the beach for years. He said he and hundreds of others want to keep the area as Bud wanted it: wild and natural.
“It is a sanctuary where locals go to rejuvenate, to gather, to get away from Skagway City,” he said. “You can’t see the city from there, you can barely hear it.”
But the beach provides more than an escape; Matthews Creek is a water source for all Long Bay residents and a salmon spawning stream as well- two vital lifelines that need protecting.
The assembly was flooded with letters in support of the purchase, voicing their want to keep the land preserved for future generations. Locals shared memories from their childhoods, and most importantly, their memories and love for Bud.
Yee was close with the Matthews family and said Bud had hoped to preserve the land in some way, but just never got around to it. He never wanted it developed and never wanted a dock in its waters.
“You sit on that beach, and you look out, and all of a sudden all of our worries just melt away,” Yee said. “You just kind of forget all of the hubbub of modern life that we have.”