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Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

The Municipality of Anchorage has a world-class trail system, and over the next few weeks Anchorage will host four public meetings/open houses to work on an update of the Anchorage Trails Plan.

The Anchorage Trails Plan is the third part of Anchorage’s larger Non-Motorized Transportation Plan, which also includes the Anchorage Pedestrian Plan (adopted in October 2007) and the Anchorage Bicycle Plan (adopted in March 2010). The last time the Anchorage Trails Plan was updated was 1997.

According to AMATS/Transportation Planner Erika McConnell, the Municipality of Anchorage has been contacting local trail user groups to provide them with information and have them complete a survey about the plan. A list of the groups already contacted (bicycle, hiking, running, equestrian, sled dogs, ski, skijoring, snowmachine, water/canoe/kayak, etc.) is available on the Transportation Planning/AMATS Anchorage Trails Plan website, and the site encourages other trail groups to contact the Municipality to be included in the process.

The four public meetings/open houses are scheduled for:

  • Anchorage Bowl (#1) — Thursday, April 26, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Wendler Middle School, 2905 Lake Otis Parkway (south of Northern Lights Blvd)
  • Anchorage Bowl (#2) — Tuesday, May 1, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Spring Hill Elementary School, 9911 Lake Otis Parkway (south of Abbott Rd)
  • Chugiak-Eagle River — Thursday, May 3, 5:30-7:30 p.m., C-ER Community Room, Eagle River Town Center, 12001 Business Blvd
  • Girdwood — Monday, May 7, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Girdwood Community Room, Girdwood Library

The Anchorage Trails Plan website has links to the 1997 version of the plan, so people can review it before making their suggestions about what needs to be updated. If you have comments about the 1997 version of the plan and what needs to be updated, or if you have any other trails-related comment, please send it to amatsinfo@muni.org.

In an e-mail to members of the Alaska Randonneurs bicycle group, Kevin Turinsky wrote: “As cyclists, runners, skiers, and walkers, we use these trails, and we pay for these trails. Therefore, I encourage you to take an active role in the planning of Anchorage’s network of trails. More than just providing recreational and transportation opportunities to Anchorage residents and visitors, our well planned and maintained trail system benefits the quality of life for all residents. It makes Anchorage a more attractive and vibrant place to live and work, which is an important consideration for new and innovative businesses and employers considering locating here, as well as attracting productive talent to our community.”

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The Municipality of Anchorage will close a mile-long section of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail starting Monday, Aug. 1, so it can begin making the first significant repairs to the trail since it was built back in the 1980s. The closure is expected to last about a week.

The trail will be closed from Milepost 4.1 to 5.1, a section of trail that starts at Point Woronzof near the end of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport runways, wraps around the Anchorage Waste Water Utility sewage treatment plant, then continues along the bluffs toward Kincaid Park. Due to the remote location of the repairs and proximity to the airport, there will be no detours and cyclists, hikers and other trail users are encouraged to find other routes during the closure.

The trail is being closed so it can be leveled and resurfaced, since several large “alligator cracks” have developed which can be dangerous to users. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the repairs will cost about $80,000 and will be funded by the Municipality of Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department’s regular budget. This launches a multi-year project to rehabilitate the entire Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

• Municipality of Anchorage press release about the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail repairs

• Municipality of Anchorage flier/map about the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail repairs

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Since 2003, cities and towns across the United States have been able to apply for Bicycle Friendly Community awards offered through the League of American Bicyclists.

Starting in November, American cities and towns will be able to apply for Walk Friendly Community awards through a new program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. The new program will be maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, with the support of 17 national partner organizations.

According to the Walk Friendly Communities website:

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments. The WFC program will recognize communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.

The new program currently is in its second round of pilot testing with five unnamed communities selected in July. The first round of testing featured three communities of varying demographics — a small town (Cedarburg, Wis.), a small town with a college and commuter population (Davidson, N.C.), and a large city (Orlando, Fla.).

The Walk Friendly Community program will borrow heavily from the Bicycle

Roof supports and a narrow sidewalk make for tight passage by Brenner's Store in downtown Sitka, especially on cruise days during the summer.

Roof supports and a narrow sidewalk make for tight passage by Brenner's Store in downtown Sitka, especially on cruise days during the summer.

Friendly Community award program, which already has been adapted to create a Bicycle Friendly Business, Bicycle Friendly State and, announced just this week, a new Bicycle Friendly University award program (by the way, 18 new and eight renewing Bicycle Friendly Community awards were announced on Wednesday).

The Walk Friendly Community program will use the same 5 E’s model used by the Bicycle Friendly Community program (Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation), in addition to other elements that affect a community’s walkability such as city planning and Complete Streets designs. Each of the 5 E’s heads a section where communities answer a series of questions about that topic within the application. By answering the questions using the 5 E’s model, communities are able to discover any barriers to walking that exist in their town and what they also learn what they do well when it comes to making it easier for residents to walk around town.

The 59-page Walk Friendly Communities Assessment Tool (see attached PDF file below) was released on Sept. 1 and will serve as the rough draft for the new program’s application, which will be filled out and turned in online. Even though the new program hasn’t been launched yet, there already are a multitude of excellent resources posted on the program’s website to help communities evaluate their community walkability rating.

Several communities won’t earn the Walk Friendly Community award on their first application, but the application is designed to help communities develop and document their pedestrian safety and encouragement plans. Only about a third of the more than 400 communities that have applied for Bicycle Friendly Community status earned awards at one of the five levels of that program. But completing the application served as a community learning process and that helped even non-winning communities improve their support and infrastructure for biking and walking.

Sitka and Anchorage already have earned Bicycle Friendly Community bronze awards, so they may be ahead of the game among Alaska communities when the Walk Friendly Community applications finally are released. But Alaska communities have some of the highest rates of walking in the country when it comes to walking to work and school, despite our snowy and icy winters, so this new program may be a perfect fit for many Alaska towns.

• Walk Friendly Communities Assessment Tool (released Sept. 1, 2010)

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A black bear fishes for salmon during July 2006 at Gunnuk Creek, near Kake, Alaska.

A black bear fishes for salmon during July 2006 at Gunnuk Creek, near Kake, Alaska.

Living in Alaska, walkers and bikers have more to worry about than vehicle traffic. Sometimes the biggest fear isn’t a truck crowding you out of the bike lane. It’s rounding a corner to find a bear blocking the trail while feeding on a fresh kill.

Sometimes you’ll hear about wildlife encounters that don’t go well for the hiker or biker, such as the Anchorage cyclist who was attacked by a brown bear while riding to work on June 15. (Luckily, the cyclist suffered minor injuries and he eventually was able to finish his ride to the Anchorage hospital where he works. The Municipality of Anchorage is not closing the trail this time, though it did after two maulings in 2008.) But most times, hikers and bikers can avoid problems with wildlife if they follow some basic safety rules.

The State of Alaska has a couple of websites that deal with traveling in bear country. These include “Alaska’s Bears,” “Bears and You,” “The Essentials for Traveling in Bear Country,” “Safety In Bear Country,” and “Living in Harmony With Bears.”

This page about bear safety for kids is from the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers, and this link has bear safety tips from the Municipality of Anchorage. MountainNature.com has this page about mountain bike safety when riding in bear country. AlaskaDispatch.com reporter Craig Medred, who survived his own bear attack about 20-25 years ago, wrote this article on June 10 about biking and bears.

Even with this wealth of information available about living in bear country, some Alaskans still seem shocked to learn bears have wandered into their local downtown area. In recent years, I’ve seen bears in downtown Anchorage (near the Delaney Park Strip), Juneau (in front of the Red Dog Saloon and in downtown Douglas), Sitka (by the fire station and Westmark Hotel), Barrow (three blocks from the North Slope Borough Department of Public Safety) and other communities.

If bears, moose and other large mammals are making their way into downtown areas, then you can expect to find them on the local trails. In most cases, the animals don’t want contact with humans, so there are minimal safety issues. But that can change, especially if the bear or moose doesn’t hear you coming or you get between a mother and its young. Animal encounters can result in severe injuries and even death (moose have been known to kick people).
Here are some basic safety rules (check out the links for more information):

  • Make lots of noise when you travel through bear country. Get bells for your belt or bike, carry a whistle (the sound of a whistle carries farther than a voice), sing, or travel in groups. Your biggest danger is sneaking up on a bear, and mountain bikes can be pretty silent.
  • Be alert at all times while on the trail. Take off the headphones (take out the ear buds) so you can listen for animal sounds. Watch for other animal signs, such as scat in the trail, animal tracks, rubbing patches on trees, birds circling overhead (usually the sign of a fresh kill), etc.
  • Leave the dog at home, or at least keep it leashed. As much fun as it is to take your dog on a hike, they can increase your danger on the trail. Curious dogs have been known to wander into a bear, then bring it back to their humans as the bear chases the dogs down the trail.
  • Properly store food in camp. Bears have a very sharp sense of smell, so make sure all food is stored in air-tight containers. Never leave food out (in fact, hang it between two trees away from your tent so bears can’t reach it). Make your cooking area at least 100 feet away from your sleeping area.

Even though there can be some risk when you go biking or hiking in the Alaska wilderness, you are more likely to be hurt by a twisted ankle than by a wild animal. Please read the safety links, and be alert when in the wilderness. And don’t forget to have fun.

“Bear Safety in Alaska’s National Parklands” flier from the National Park Service (this is a PDF version of the two images posted with the story)

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