Interior Alaska trails are popular summer and winter, and advocates are trying to expand trail networks before population pressure makes more land unavailable. The Interior Alaska Land Trust is one organization trying to add to trail networks.
A recreation trail in the Goldstream Valley is pretty popular on a winter afternoon, with a bicyclist followed by a skier and a couple of snowmachines. The trail is on state land protected by statute as the Goldstream Public Use Area. On its borders are some other public land holders like the Alaska Mental Health Trust or the University of Alaska, but most of the nearby land in this greenbelt is private.
That’s where the Interior Alaska Land Trust comes in: At a December presentation, President Owen Guthrie showed members a map of the loose S-shape of connected parcels in the Goldstream Valley just north of Fairbanks.
“In the last couple years, our attention toward Goldstream has picked up considerably,” Guthrie said. “The green stuff in here are parcels the Land Trust has title to or an easement on. But you see there’s some pretty noticeable gaps.”
To close those gaps, trail advocates either need to buy the land, or get it donated, or get a guarantee of access across it, like an easement. The Interior Alaska Land Trust is not aggressively locking up private land, in fact, according to Guthrie, landowners are approaching the trust, looking to sell.
“There’s certainly a lot of conservation opportunities in Fairbanks,” he said. “Every day it seems like someone is mentioning to me, ‘Hey, this piece over here is for sale, it has a lot of value.’ I’m like, ‘well, let’s see what we can put together.’ I mean, we try.”
Buying land takes a lot of cash, which the trust accumulates slowly through donations.
The trust, which was started in 1995, is an all-volunteer charity. It has easements on about 20 parcels in the Fairbanks area, and has purchased or been given about 10-12 more parcels across Interior Alaska. The Goldstream Greenbelt Project is just one conservation project in the area. In the last year the trust was given a small parcel in North Pole and a 40-acre homestead parcel off Chena Hot Springs Road.
“There’s some of these rare and beautiful places around Fairbanks that people don’t often see,” Guthrie said. “Ya know, Fairbanks is a city in the trees, but the development trajectory is very rapid.”
Connecting trails is not the only agenda for the land trust. Sometimes it is just to protect open space or wildlife. In recent years, a large stream restoration project of Cripple Creek off the Chena River is slowly restoring salmon habitat. The Chena Flats Greenbelt project on the west side of Fairbanks envisions connected trails from the University to the Tanana River.
Back in the Goldstream Valley, the Trust is working on adding a 20-acre parcel and a 40-acre parcel to the greenbelt this year, if it can find the money. Some of the private land there is considered low-value real estate because it has no road access and is in difficult-to-develop spruce bog. But those same parcels might be high-value to birders, berry-pickers or skiers who know how to share the trail.
The trust gets occasional grants — like one from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to pay for a project manager — or other grants to develop fish habitat and trail work.
The IALT also works with partners, like the Conservation Fund, to buy parcels. There are five other land trusts like this in the state.