City eyes Chester Creek Trail for improvements

nherz@adn.comJanuary 1, 2014 

Jenni Van Muijen gets help from her dogs Elim (far right) and Chevy for her kicksled tour. Friend Christine Tait gets started again skijoring with her dog Ginger. The five of them did a 13 mile trip from Valley of the Moon park on Chester Creek to Point Woronzof and back Saturday, December 28, 2013. Anchorage is planning a refurbishment of the trail this summer.

ANNE RAUP — Anchorage Daily News Buy Photo

The Chester Creek Trail is a prized amenity for Anchorage residents -- a thoroughfare for the city's runners and cross-country skiers, and a pipeline for bicycle commuters.

But over its decades of use, the trail has deteriorated: cracks and potholes now threaten to swallow wheels, and roots nudging up through asphalt can trip an unsuspecting runner.

After a summer of work on the neighboring Coastal Trail, the city's parks department is now turning to its attention to the path along Chester Creek. The refurbishment project will put at least $1.75 million towards trail maintenance, plus $1.5 million more if a bond passes in April.

Just what will the money pay for? That's in part up to Anchorage residents, as the parks department is launching a survey next week to find out what kinds of fixes are most urgent.

"We're trying to get a sense from the public what they think we should focus on first," said Holly Spoth-Torres, the city parks superintendent.

Anchorage has already commissioned an engineering study of the Chester Creek Trail, which found that most stretches were in poor or mediocre condition.

Underground conduits and storm drains have caused frost heaves. Inadequate drainage has left ice and pooling water. And misaligned transitions at bridges and sidewalks can abruptly halt strollers or bicycles.

The city has $1.75 million available now for repairs, from a $1.6 million bond passed last year and a $150,000 state grant from 2012.

That's not enough to pay for all the necessary work. Another $1.5 million in bond funding will go before city voters in April, which would cover close to all the repairs, Spoth-Torres said.

But if that money is approved, it won't become available until July, so in the mean time, the city wants people to tell them which stretches of trail need the most attention -- and whether the plans should prioritize certain kinds of work, like resurfacing pavement or upgrades to narrow, dimly lit tunnels.

Steve Cleary, a trails advocate and board member of the Bicycling Commuters of Anchorage, said he was excited for repairs to the trail surface, citing problems with the pavement near his home off the Lake Otis Parkway that make it perilous for excursions with his five-year-old son.

"There are these 20- to 30-foot cracks parallel to where he's biking that could swallow his tire at any second," Cleary said. "It seems like its time has come."

The Chester Creek Trail is the second in a series of parks department projects, after last summer's repaving of a seven-mile stretch of the Coastal Trail. Similar work is likely to start on the Campbell Creek Trail in two years, Spoth-Torres said.

The Coastal Trail improvements are nearly finished, according to Spoth-Torres, with the exception of one stretch of pavement that will be sealed next summer. The department also is likely to ask the public for feedback on new bridge surfacing that it may not be "completely satisfied" with, she said.

Some people have complained that the Chester Creek Trail was in more urgent need of work than the Coastal Trail, but Spoth-Torres said that her department's approach was deliberate, since the Coastal Trail project was less complicated and could serve as a "test run."

Construction on the Chester Creek Trail should begin this summer, but only on limited sections. The department plans to arrange detours through neighborhoods, Spoth-Torres said.

More information about the Chester Creek Trail project can be found here.

The parks department will introduce its survey, and present its engineering study, at a public meeting Jan. 7 at the Spenard Recreation Center, at 2020 W. 48th Ave.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

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