A long-sought link between two of Anchorage’s most popular but disconnected recreational trails is set to be built, after a voter-approved bond unlocked millions in federal dollars for construction over the next three years.
The new pathway will pass by the city’s Small Boat Launch, a sliver of a harbor on a thumb of asphalt and riprap poking into the mud flats at the northwest corner of the city. It is a hidden gem, with unobstructed views of the Port of Alaska, ringed by mountain ranges both near and far. Floating through the inlet are ice chunks in winter, beluga pods in the summertime.
But unless you know to look for the area — traversing railroad tracks, passing rows of stacked shipping containers and a fenced-in boat storage pen — you’re unlikely to visit.
Park and trails advocates, though, are hoping to change that and turn the semi-industrial jetty into more of a destination for locals and visitors alike.
“We’re excited about this opportunity to introduce people and improve a place that makes Anchorage special,” said Diana Rhoades, community engagement director for the Anchorage Park Foundation.
The site is mid-distance between the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail to the south, and the Ship Creek Trail to the east. The former, one of the city’s most heavily used recreational trails, plugs into popular outdoor areas like Kincaid Park and Westchester Lagoon. The latter heads out toward Mountain View, the Glenn Highway and, eventually, Eagle River.
But there’s roughly a mile-long section between the two trails, and getting from one to the other involves navigating railroad crossings, parking lots and the mud banks sloping down into Ship Creek itself.
“The trail will just go here on the right-hand side of the road,” Rhoades said, walking beside melting snowbanks that parallel railroad tracks running out of the port. “It feels like we’re a coastal city.”
The Small Boat Launch, and the barebones area that supports it, is a bit of a no-man’s land. There’s a parking lot with locked public restrooms, a bronze statue of revered Dena’ina elder Olga Nikolai Ezi drying salmon, the giant anchor from the original USS Anchorage naval landing ship, and empty liquor bottles of various sizes and potency. Two park benches facing the Inlet are speckled and pocked with inscriptions.
The Park Foundation calls the 1-mile connection “the most high profile missing link” in the city’s comprehensive trails plan. The final funding component came together after Anchorage voters approved this year’s park bond, which included $150,000 for the project. Those dollars, along with previous bond appropriations, unlocked $7.7 million in federal funding through the Anchorage Metropolitan Transportation Solutions organization that will pay for the bulk of the design and construction work.
The Alaska Railroad Corp. is in the midst of an extensive overhaul of train bridge infrastructure around the state, including replacing a 123-foot pony truss bridge above Ship Creek. The new design will include room for the connector path to pass under the supports, avoiding the need for bikers or joggers to cross the train tracks. The railroad corporation is working with the design team on planning and permitting.
The Park Foundation is hosting an event on Earth Day, this Saturday, from 1-3 p.m. along the Ship Creek Trail by The Bridge restaurant — about a mile from the boat launch — to enlist residents in upcoming public meetings on the project’s next stages.
“We’re just calling attention to this area and trying to get people to show up at the next public comment period,” Rhoades said.
After designs and permitting are finalized, construction on the trail connection is expected to begin in 2025 and be finished in 2026.