The Bird to Gird coastal trail will stay open to the public all winter, except for short closures for avalanche mitigation work, after years of increasing public use during the all-winter closures in the past, the state transportation department said Thursday.
“The department believes that closing the path only during avalanche mitigation work will increase the compliance at the most critical and highest-risk times,” the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said in a statement.
In previous winters, DOT has closed the 13-mile paved path — snaking along Turnagain Arm beneath mountains, joining Girdwood, Bird Creek and Indian — because of high potential avalanche risk and ongoing safety improvements.
But the public kept using it.
The agency said that “over a seven day window last winter, the department observed over 100 people along with 89 dogs entering the trail system, walking past the closure signage.”
“It’s clearly being targeted by dogs and their walkers as a great place to go,” said Shannon McCarthy, a DOT spokeswoman.
Sometimes, state crews were forced to stop avalanche mitigation projects when people unexpectedly showed up on the path.
To mitigate avalanche risk, DOT uses explosives to trigger smaller slides to prevent bigger ones from forming, McCarthy said.
“When we do mitigation work, we really need people to clear out,” she said.
DOT has installed red barricade lights on the Bird to Gird trail that will flash during closures for avalanche mitigation.
The new policy, which DOT developed in collaboration with Alaska State Parks, seeks to balance safety with compliance, McCarthy said.
The new policy will treat the path like other Chugach State Park trails in avalanche zones, with access allowed but avalanche-hazard signs posted at trailheads, DOT said.
During future periods of heightened avalanche risk, the agency will work with Alaska State Parks to determine if closures are warranted, McCarthy said.