Trails have been so important to all of us during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trail use is way up, as is readily apparent to anyone who’s tried to find a parking spot at a crowded trailhead or seen the abundance of people out enjoying trails in a variety of ways. My family and I have often remarked how much harder the pandemic would have been if we wouldn’t have been able to ski, bike, hike and run on great trails year-round. Alaska’s trails improve our physical and mental health and give us all a chance to unwind and reboot. Trails also boost and diversify our economy in ways that we need to further foster. Trails strengthen our community and give us ways, close to home, to get exercise and recharge. For residents and visitors alike, trails get us out, keep us active and help us access the many benefits brought by the outdoors.
Chugach State Park, or CSP, alone offers more than 280 miles of trail right in Anchorage’s backyard. The Mat-Su region features more than 2,000 miles of trails, and the Chugach National Forest more than 250 miles. This represents only a snapshot of what’s out there. There are great trails across the state, and we hope that you get out and enjoy them this summer.
The increased use during COVID-19 has taken its toll on the trails we love. While we all enjoy these amazing trails, we don’t always consider how they are maintained or built. Eroded and overgrown trails need maintenance to make sure that they don’t deteriorate further. This summer, Alaska Trails will team up with local land managers to help protect the trails we enjoy and make sure that Alaskans and visitors can continue to enjoy them. Our Alaska Trail Stewards program is set to return to in-person volunteer events this summer, which means trail users who want to give back have the chance to join up with other volunteers for rewarding trail work opportunities. We are planning safe and fun events with a COVID-19 protocol appropriate to the changing circumstances. We encourage everyone who wants to volunteer to get vaccinated.
This year, Alaska Trails is using National Trails Day — June 5 — to train its volunteer crew leaders on the latest in trail building, maintenance and safety, including COVID-19 protocols. These leaders will guide events in Chugach State Park and other areas throughout the summer. Alaska Trails will have a trail crew on the Little O’Malley Peak trail and also hopes to help the CSP finish the final portion of the Middle Fork Trail reroute. There will be events on both trails this summer, and we hope to see previous volunteers and new faces out there.
Later in the summer, Alaska Trails will host volunteer days in the Mat-Su and on the Chugach National Forest. At our Trails Conference in April, we heard from volunteer groups that are doing great work across the state — including Friends of Kachemak Bay State Park, the Delta Junction Trails Association, the Chugiak Mountain Bike Riders and the Interior Alaska Trails and Parks Foundation. Please get in touch with Alaska Trails to connect with us or the volunteer group in your area.
Summer is coming to Alaska in rapid order this year. As always, it will be a busy time full of packed weekends, fish, fun and friends. We hope you will be able to enjoy the great trails Alaska has to offer. If your schedule permits, we hope to see you at one of our volunteer events — or one of the other great volunteer opportunities in your neck of the woods. No experience is necessary, just sturdy boots, a good attitude and a willingness to learn what it takes to keep our trails great.
Steve Cleary is executive director of Alaska Trails. Volunteer information can be found at the Alaska Trails website: www.alaska-trails.org.
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