OPINION: National Trails Day kicks off a return to trail volunteering

As we emerge, fingers crossed, from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the importance of trails for our communities. The physical and mental health benefits of getting outdoors cannot be understated. 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 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 alone offers more than 280 miles of trails right in Anchorage’s backyard. The Mat-Su area 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 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 hosting volunteer events this summer, which means trail users who want to give back have the chance to join up with other volunteers for these rewarding trail work opportunities.

Alaska Trails is celebrating National Trails Day on June 4 with three projects around Southcentral Alaska — at Glen Alps, in Whittier and on the Iditarod National Historic Trail. Other National Trails Day events around the state include hiking Donnelly Dome, a scavenger hunt in Cordova, trail work on the Pinnell Mountain Trail and the Shoup Bay Trail as well as the Little Su Classic, which will combine a river float and trail maintenance. Please check out the American Hiking Society website for more information on those events.

Throughout the summer, Alaska Trails will host volunteer days in Chugach State Park and the Chugach National Forest. There are many other inspiring 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, the Singletrack Advocates 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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