I love Anchorage trails — be they paved, gravel, or hidden forest tracks that my family and I discover throughout Alaska's largest city. Our community's non-motorized pathways are a major reason we decided to live in town when we moved to Alaska in 2005.
We live on a fringe of Anchorage that borders the Chugach mountains, and there are myriad options for recreating in every direction, but our favorite mode of trail travel is the snowy kind, and for this, we turn to the Campbell Creek Science Center and Campbell Tract for a winter trail celebration.
After a hiatus of several years, Campbell Creek Science Center's popular Winter Trails Day event returns Saturday Jan. 28, starting at 10 a.m. It's the perfect way to celebrate the return of a true Alaska winter while under the tutelage of community partners dedicated to exposing families to the joys of tromping around this section of public land.
We first attended a Winter Trails Day back when our son was a toddler and we were newbies to the nuances of so much snow for so long. Clearly, we had some learning to do, so when we heard about an afternoon to test our mettle by skiing, snowshoeing, and drinking hot cocoa, we were all in.
Luise Woelflein, environmental education coordinator for the science center, told me the staff was looking forward to welcoming visitors back for the 2017 edition of Winter Trails Day.
"We've always hoped to bring it back, and over the years had people telling us how much they missed it, too," she said.
It's really about community, Woelflein underscored. Local outdoor organizations and businesses like REI donate equipment and offer advice to those new to winter recreation.Volunteers come from Friends of Campbell Creek Science Center, an advisory board founded on the premise of supporting youth and community access to the center and surrounding Campbell Tract. Kids and families can try out snowshoes and fat bikes, roast marshmallows and drink hot chocolate at the outdoor fire pit, or explore the 12 miles of trails crossing Campbell Tract.
Friends board member Lia Keller, mom of two boys and founder of the Alaska Forest School, says the event is a great way for families to become familiar with both Campbell Tract and the science center.
"I love bringing my boys to the science center area — it only takes us 15 minutes (to get there) and feels like we're in a remote corner of Alaska," she said. "We've geocached, used kicksleds, studied salmon from the Campbell Airstrip side, and just wandered. We also like to go into the science center to see the list of animals spotted, and visit the fish tank at the entrance."
Overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, the Campbell Creek Science Center and Campbell Tract are situated perfectly for families, and the agency's website says 80,000 visitors a year use the trails, while half that number participate in programs and events. Located just off Elmore Road and 68th Avenue, the 730 acres of public land also abuts municipality and state property, leading to cooperative efforts for land use that span nearly all non-motorized user groups.
In fact, the last time I visited, I shared space with fat bikers, skiers, and watched a small team of sled dogs run by along the mushing trails that crisscross the property. While there can be occasional disagreements or conflicts among various trail users, most of them are pretty amicable. Parents take quick walks with their youngsters after school; trail runners or nordic skiers start at Campbell Airstrip Trailhead and make their way toward Hilltop or farther; and still others utilize the tricky side trails for maneuvers on their fat-tire bikes, a sport rapidly gaining popularity in Anchorage.
Winter Trails Day is also an opportunity, Woelflein says. Various user groups will be on hand to explore options and connect people with others who have a vested interest in Anchorage-area trails. Safety, courtesy, and respect for low-impact recreation are high priorities, particularly as the number of users grows.
Really though, the free event is simple fun for parents and kids. It's a chance to try something new, connect with other families that enjoy the outdoors, and support a place that works hard to put Anchorage winter recreation at the top of residents' to-do lists.
Winter Trails Day
*When: Saturday, Jan. 28, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Last checkout of equipment at 1:30 p.m.
*Where: Campbell Creek Science Center, 5600 Science Center Road. Take Elmore Road north or south until just before the stoplight at 68th Street. Turn east onto Science Center Road and veer left at the fork. The center is one mile ahead. Leave you dogs at home.
*Activities: Snowshoe demos, fat bike demos (bring a helmet), other activities conducted by science center staff and volunteers. Hot chocolate and marshmallows available at the fire pits. Indoor crafting and activities will be available as well.
*Bring: Warm, weatherproof clothing. Wolflein says the Campbell Tract is consistently 10 degrees colder than the rest of Anchorage, so parents should be prepared. Pack a picnic lunch, water, and your own skis or sleds for exploring surrounding trails. Maps will be available and staff will be on hand to discuss various trail routes suitable for all ages and abilities.
*Donate: Friends of Campbell Creek Science Center will collect soft goods (clothing, linens, towels and the like) for donation to Value Village's FunDrive, whereby the organization receives funds through donations that support the science center scholarship program for low-income schools to attend science center field trips.
*Information: Visit the Campbell Tract/BLM website.
Erin Kirkland is author of Alaska On the Go: exploring the 49th state with children, and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation.