Anchorage's paved trail system could soon get a graphic upgrade, with city parks advocates rolling out picture icons designed to orient trail users and match trails and parks with neighborhoods.
The set of icons are still in draft form and were distributed to Anchorage community councils this week for comment. They represent paved trails, parks and neighborhoods, and include a windmill icon for Spenard, a diamond gem for the Dimond area, a play structure for Valley of the Moon and an image of a chalet for Kincaid Park.
Starting with the Ship Creek Trail as a pilot project, signs with icons are slated to appear as soon as next summer, said Beth Nordlund, executive director of the Anchorage Park Foundation, a nonprofit that supports city parks and trails. Nordlund said the project fits into the city's ongoing Anchorage Trails Initiative, which is being promoted by the Park Foundation, the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and other community groups.
Nordlund said the icons and signs are intended to tell people where they are, which way they're going and how long it will take to get to the next place. She said it's part of a large-scale "wayfinding" effort, or the process of using maps, signs and other methods to help people find their way.
She said the project is aimed at promoting safety and connectivity, and helping locals and tourists navigate the city's five paved trails: the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and the Chester Creek, Campbell Creek, Ship Creek and Fish Creek trails.
But Nordlund said she's hoping to, in her words, "neighborhoodize" the trails, or create more affinity for neighborhoods through the icons.
"They started out as being part of the signs … but now they're going to help people have a sense of place," Nordlund said. "I'm literally trying to build community with little icons."
Nordlund said she imagines the icons showing up on T-shirts, murals or even temporary tattoos someday. She said she ultimately envisions the look of a metro system.
Nordlund acknowledged some gaps in the current set of icons. Because the project is just focused on the paved trails system, many neighborhoods, such as the Anchorage Hillside, aren't included.
"I do think that shines a light on the fact that we need more connectivity," Nordlund said.
Since rolling out the draft icons, Nordlund said she's already fielded perplexed questions about why the Dimond icon is a diamond gem, and why the Nunaka Valley icon is a baseball diamond.
Nordlund said that if an icon doesn't seem to reflect a neighborhood, the Park Foundation wants to hear about it. In particular, she said, she wants people to suggest an icon that would work better.
"We don't know everyone's neighborhoods," Nordlund said. "The artists did the best they could for a first stab."
She said the Park Foundation hired local artists to create the renderings and a contractor has been hired to create guidelines for the signs. She emphasized a goal of placing signs strategically and sparingly to avoid the appearance of "sign pollution" on the trails.
With the city's plans to install a bike boulevard along Peterkin Avenue in Mountain View to connect with a trail astride the Glenn Highway, and the trails initiative underway, Radhika Krishna of the Anchorage Community Land Trust said it seemed timely to put in more signage to help people navigate the neighborhood. The land trust is working with the Park Foundation to install signs on the Ship Creek Trail as a pilot project.
"I think a little signage will go a long way," Krishna said.
Nordlund said the Park Foundation is requesting feedback on the proposed neighborhood icons by Christmas, and comments and suggestions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.