Alaska Trails Conference Kicks Off Next Week

With all its public lands and scenic values, it’s no surprise that Alaska has an advocacy organization for trails – for walking, skiing, bicycling, off-road vehicle riding and trekking. Called “Alaska Trails,” the group has statewide conferences every couple of years, and the next one starts April 24th at Alaska Pacific University.

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You can start with this – there’s never enough money.

Participants in the Alaska Trails Conference will probably be greeted next week with the news that the $400,000 trail building and maintenance money they wanted in the capital budget did not survive this legislative session – once again. But trail advocates are used to that and this will be about how to build alliances to make things happen. For instance, in and around Park City, Utah, there is now a huge network of trails.

“We have really been lucky with that,” trail builder, designer and consultant Troy Duffin said. “We now brag about having almost four hundred miles of public trails here, and that’s in about in a hundred square mile area.”

Duffin has been involved in making much of that Park City trail network happen. Duffin has been a consultant on several Alaska jobs, including re-conditioning the trails in Anchorage’s Far North Bicentennial Park. He’ll be a keynote speaker at the conference at APU, discussing how to get local buy-in for trails, particularly property owners – nervous about plans for incoming trails:

“It can be a very tough nut to get somebody to understand that a trail in close proximity to their home is a benefit because if you’re not used to it, the first blush is – Well I’ve heard everything, burglary and fire and personal crimes and voyeurism and anything you can imagine that the fears go through a homeowner or a property owner’s mind right off the bat. But without fail, every time a trail has gone in that I am aware of, property owners have just settled in and all those fears have dissipated and, whether they use it or love it or not, they at least are no longer afraid of it and do see it as a benefit,” Duffin said.

Along with a healthy lifestyle the benefit includes real money, with increased property values, and a quality of life valued by a young, creative work-force, and hence the companies seeking to employ them. And a trail holds onto valued green space in a city. The city of Anchorage has already seen this. For Alaska Trails Executive Director Steve Cleary the next task is making the trails connect.

“That’s one of the most interesting questions for me as I look at the conference is that interface between what I’ll just for ease of syntax, say, urban and rural trails, or connecting cities to the trails or the trails back into the cities,” Cleary said.

That’s going in the right direction – right into the cities, says Troy Duffin.

“It’s a very challenging thing to do, but what we’ve found is that most users really appreciate the opportunity to not have to y’know put their bike or skis on or in the car, and to be able to access things directly from their homes, and while it can be very difficult to do in a lot of areas, it seems to be very worthwhile to put in that effort and to connect people that closely,” Duffin said.

But how do you do that with little or no money? Duffin says in Park City they figured out what the benefits of their trail network would be, then backed it up and went out and made their case to civic organizations and local governments to get behind it.

“We were able to work with them and help prove up the fact that tourists and other visitors to the area are more likely to get out and use the systems if there is a connecting trail close in,” Duffin said. “You know, they have to be able to see and touch and feel that. Then those groups, and I’m talking again about the Chamber, the Muni and others, were willing to get behind it with support and funding, and then that led to the ability to offer up things to the reluctant private owners, which is typically, money.”

The money can then be used to purchase easements or corridors to make those last connections between the routes – an issue they call the “last mile.” And it turns out that Alaska’s largest city does have some buy-in, in the form of a “Live-Work-Play” initiative that the civic groups have already signed on to.

The conference is open to public participation, and there’s a free public talk next Friday by Olympic skier Holly Brooks, right next to the trails she trains on.